Ashley-Cooper: It's my fault
Greg Growden - RugbyHeaven
Durban - Australia's most versatile rugby player, Adam Ashley-Cooper, proved he is the hardest of markers by blaming himself for the Wallabies' failure to end a 47-year drought on the South African highveld last Saturday.
The team and staff are still hurting after wasting a 21-7 lead against the Springboks, but none more than Ashley-Cooper, who believes if he had scored in the 58th minute it would have led to a historic victory.
With the line open, the Test outside-centre found himself at the end of a sweeping Wallabies attacking move with only the Springboks halfback Francois Hougaard to beat. Hougaard hit Ashley-Cooper in the midriff, dislodging the ball from his left arm and ending the threat.
If Ashley-Cooper had scored, the Wallabies would have regained the lead at 36-34, with a conversion attempt to follow. Instead, the Springboks regained possession through the knock-on, and went on to win the match 44-31.
While Ashley-Cooper's play was hampered by poor service from his inside backs - he was forced to take dangerous and often unnecessary cut-out passes - he did not help himself by ignoring the basics at crucial moments, such as when he was confronted by Hougaard.
''I can safely say that had a direct result on the match,'' Ashley-Cooper said on Tuesday. ''And it all comes down to doing the basics well, and I didn't do it at the time.
''It was probably the wrong side to hold the ball. It probably would have been a different result if I had carried it in my right hand. He [Hougaard] did very well to make that tackle, and it popped out of my hand. I was obviously very disappointed with that because I know that's a non-negotiable for me, and the other nine times out of 10, I would have kept that ball.''
The Wallabies are most irritated by the fact that, for the second time this season, they ruined the chance of destabilising a prominent opponent. Their inability to beat England a second time this season certainly saved the jobs of several members of the touring coaching staff.
High-level Australian Rugby officials were told by their England counterparts before the Sydney Test that head coach Martin Johnson was in line to lose his position if the Wallabies had followed their Perth success with a Sydney triumph.
Now the eccentric Springboks coach Peter de Villiers has succeeded in keeping at bay his many critics at home by at last achieving a Tri-Nations victory. As one notable South African media observer said before the Pretoria Test: ''If de Villiers suffers another loss today(Saturday), there's bound to be carnage next week.''
Then again, touring Wallabies sides have a knack of propping up ailing Springbok teams by falling apart on the highveld. Ashley-Cooper said the players were devastated by what occurred in the final hour of the Loftus Versfeld international. ''There was an opportunity to make history there, and to lose a game in that nature is obviously very upsetting for yourself, your team and your country,'' he said.
But he said Wallabies fans should not lose faith. ''I know we will bounce back and will come back harder in Bloemfontein. There is a good belief in this squad … We feel we're improving in areas each game.
''We [have played] the two best teams in the world over the last couple of weeks, and have come up short. But it is not as if we are losing to poor opposition. These guys are the best in the world, and we're competing with them. There's certainly a lot we can take out of this.''