The Waratahs go into the Super Rugby match against the Australian conference leaders with the knowledge that even if they win to keep alive their hopes of making the play-offs, they may be without a swag of stars for the last round clash with the Highlanders in Invercargill, which is also must-win.
NSW still have to rest Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley as part of an agreement with Wallabies management in the World Cup year, but Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson says they will play this week at Bankwest Stadium.
Ashley-Cooper felt the drama surrounding sacked teammate Israel Folau this season had taught them to focus inwards.
“I think when it’s out of your hands and out of your control is not to have any feeling towards it and just deal with it,” the centre said on Monday.
“We’ve shown enough resolve this year with a lot of external stuff that’s been happening, so that’s just another area that we won’t allow to distract our game or our preparation.”
The Waratahs showed their resolve with a gutsy 20-15 win over the Melbourne Rebels last round, with Ashley-Cooper enjoying a blossoming centre partnership Lalakai Foketi.
The 24-year-old got the start following a long-term knee injury to Karmichael Hunt and earned praise from Ashley-Cooper.
“It’s obviously disappointing to lose Karmichael but I think Lalakai’s done a really good job to come in and fill his boots,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“K (Hunt) was very solid for us in the midfield in defence and obviously with his ball carries, but Lalakai’s come in and brought a new aspect.
“He’s given us a bit of X-factor in that ball-playing option and changed up the dynamic of our attack in the midfield which has been great for us.”
Ashley-Cooper, 35, said the match wouldn’t be his last Super Rugby match on home soil, hinting he intended to play on for another season.
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