Adam Ashley-Cooper – “I Am In Disbelief That I Am Here”
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Brian Jackson
When Adam Ashley-Cooper was unveiled as a LA Giltinis player in February, it was clear that Darren Coleman had recruited a player of immense experience. Having started playing senior men’s rugby with Northern Suberbs in 2002, Ashley-Cooper’s first foray into professional rugby was in 2004 as a developmental player with Super Rugby team the Brumbies.
It wasn’t until a year later that the versatile backline player would debut for the Brumbies and his first international call-up from the Wallabies didn’t take long to arrive. During his time playing in Australia, Ashley-Cooper won a Super Rugby title with the NSW Waratahs in 2014, before heading to Europe for newer pastures with Union Bordeaux-Begles in France following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and then across the globe again to represent Japanese Top League team, the Kobelco Steelers.
Up to the point of moving to Japan, Ashley-Cooper hadn’t pulled on the yellow of Australia since the 2016 Rugby Championship. Recalled to the Wallabies in 2018, the player quickly became an integral part of Michael Cheika’s plans for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Selection for that tournament meant that Ashley-Cooper had represented his country at four World Cup’s, and it was in Japan that the 37-year-old won his final two caps, taking his overall total to 121.
WHY MAKE THE MOVE TO MLR?
If it weren’t for a global pandemic, Ashley-Cooper would probably be wearing burnt orange in Texas as opposed to settling into life on the west coast.
Having signed on to represent the Austin Gilgronis prior to Covid-19 hitting North America, when the center started in LA’s inaugural Major League Rugby game, he had not played a game of competitive rugby since the Rugby World Cup.
Waiting for over a year for the opportunity to play domestic rugby on a fourth continent, Ashley-Cooper says that there was barely a moment of hesitation before deciding to commit to playing in MLR.
“The fact of playing rugby in the States and the second thing is that I love playing footy,” Ashley-Cooper said. “And, whilst the mind is still able and the body is still able, it was more a question of why not?
“I have always wanted to live in America and embrace that, in terms of the lifestyle, in terms of the culture and then you put rugby on top of that, it was a no brainer. It was really appealing for me, that I could live here and do something I love.
“I absolutely love it. There are a lot of similarities between here and back home, being on the coast. I am embracing Cali life already; my wife and little guys are really enjoying it too.
“I committed to this a long time ago. I had committed in 2020 to come over and join the Gilgronis, but that never worked out because of Covid.
“I held on all the way through Covid, all through the pandemic in anticipation that I would end up here, so it has been quite a long journey.
“I am still pinching myself in disbelief that I am actually here. I have been in this holding pattern for 12 months, still in disbelief that it was going to happen.”
LA’S START TO MLR LIFE
The newest team in MLR, the LA Giltinis are yet to experience defeat as a professional rugby team. Having picked up wins over New England, Seattle, Toronto and most recently, Houston, there has been plenty of hard work put into their unbeaten start.
It began with a preseason camp in Maui, Hawaii, before relocating to Oxnard, California, for a second camp and then eventually settling in LA. But that was just the time spent together as a team.
Even before players from Australia, Ireland, Canada, Scotland and even further afield embarked on their flights to their new homes, Ashley-Cooper says that the months of preparation that proceeded the camps in Hawaii were unlike any other that he had experiences before in his 16 years as a professional.
“We are 4-0, so we have started the season really well and you couldn’t have asked for much more, but in terms of it being a perfect world, it is not,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“It comes with a lot of challenges, we are a start-up team, and we have all come together from different areas, different backgrounds, so we have had to work pretty hard in terms of becoming a team and putting it all together and gelling in a way where it has been cohesive and warranting of a good performance on the pitch by the time the season started.
“The majority of our group started back in the September or October of last year. We have been individually working pretty hard on our individual fitness and some basic stuff that was sent out.
“We started our campaign online over Zoom and really gelled that way. It is a bit of a first for me, having a preseason that was disconnected, but connected online and I felt like we had really started to come together as a team via the Zoom calls.
“We then got together at the start of this year at different stages, but there has been a lot of work that has gone into building this team and putting in the performances you see on a weekend.”
Turning 37 the day before playing the Seawolves, Ashley-Cooper is very much one of the more experienced heads in the Giltinis squad. Along with the likes of Matt Giteau, Dave Dennis and DTH van der Merwe, the former Wallaby is a sounding board for the younger players in the squad that are still learning the game and hoping to take their burgeoning professional careers to the next level.
In some ways it is similar to the time spent in the Top League. Still a relatively new competition with the aim of driving the country’s national team, Ashley-Cooper says that he is enjoying his role as a mentor for the likes of Watson Filikitonga, Cristian Rodriguez and Ryan James.
“There are guys here that haven’t had the chance to work with the experience of what a Matt Giteau or what a Dave Dennis offers,” Ashley-Cooper said. “You can see them asking questions, watching, analyzing, so it is pretty cool to witness.
“When you see guys who want to learn, that put their hands up, it is really rewarding for someone like me to share experiences, because it feels like you are giving back to the game and it is to guys who are eager to learn and hungry to develop.
“It is similar to Japan, but here we all speak the same common tongue, whereas over in Japan it was very different because you work through a translator. But it is the same wherever you go, Australia, Japan, France, the US.
“With rugby there is a lot of good people, I think that is the beauty of our game, there is a lot of good people that are willing to learn and do better, want to do well for themselves and for the team.”
A CALIFORNIAN DERBY
Having started in all four of LA’s games so far, after two rounds on the road LA will be returning home to the LA Coliseum. With fans allowed in the iconic venue thanks to the State of California allowing a limited capacity of spectators back into venues.
In recent days, Ashley-Cooper’s LA teammate and long-term friend Matt Giteau was at the Staples Center to watch the Utah Jazz take on the Lakers, the former Wallaby receiving tickets from Jazz forward-guard, and fellow Australian, Joe Ingles.
Fans making their way to Exposition Park this weekend are certainly in for a treat, with LA hosing San Diego in an all-California encounter. Having played on five occasions this season, the Legion have won twice and fell short to their opponents on the other three occasions.
Showing positive signs in all of these fixtures, Ashley-Cooper believes that it is set to be an epic encounter on Saturday evening.
“It’s epic,” Ashley-Cooper grinned. “The boys are pumped, really excited. We didn’t think that we would be lucky enough to be playing in front of crowds this year, let alone this week. So the fact that has been allowed is really exciting.
“We are four games into the season, and we have got fans back at the Coliseum, an iconic stadium. So much history has passed through there and the fact that we are allowed to play on it is awesome, the stadium is next level. It is why we are here. That is exactly why I am here.
“To experience things like that, game day in stadiums like that is just epic and I’m really stoked for the fans that are allowed to come and watch it.”
How to Watch
https://youtu.be/MR-5g5VrGO4 Chance Wenglewski joins MLR Mic Check with Dani Wexelman to
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Craig Boudreaux For the first
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