Cape Town - The prospect of a fourth Rugby World Cup campaign has been driving Adam Ashley-Cooper almost since the moment the 2015 journey was done but even he can’t quite believe he is on this year’s end-of-year tour with the Wallabies.
The veteran has been open about his desire to vie for a Rugby World Cup win, in what would be his fourth campaign in 2019, but in his mind that would come via Super Rugby in 2019.
An injury to Reece Hodge changed all that for the Japan-based utility back, whose 116 Tests mean he is eligible for Australia no matter where he plays his domestic rugby.
Ashley-Cooper joined the Wallabies in Japan and speaking to media for the first time since his return, he said the 2019 Rugby World Cup had never been far from his mind.
“I've had three cracks so there was still a bit of fire in the stomach post-2015,” he told Rugby Australia's official website in Cardiff on Monday.
“I moved overseas to France and I came back to Japan but still with that goal and ambition to win a Rugby World Cup because it was still there.
“I wasn't expecting to come on tour - there's an opportunity and there could be the possibility of Super Rugby next year to get to that World Cup but apart from that I wasn't expecting to come on tour.”
When Wallabies coach Michael Cheika picked up the phone last month, Ashley-Cooper didn’t take long to say yes to the touring chance.
“When Cheik rang a couple of weeks ago, I was in Japan playing Top League,’ he said.
“He discussed the potential of coming back into the squad and coming on tour and I told him I'd jump at the opportunity.
“Coming back in was really exciting for me and it's good to be back in the environment. It's been a couple of years but I'm pretty stoked to be here.”
The 34-year-old admitted he wasn’t sure whether he’d win a Test return in the three-week tour, with next week’s Test against Italy arguably his best chance, but that didn’t change his focus in camp.
“My focus is to prepare to play,” he said.
“I think through my preparation, I can share things with the younger guys, I have only been here a week I am playing catch-up.
“But I am finding my feet daily and apart from that I am prepping to play, I am not sure if I will get the opportunity to play but if I have the mindset and I am competing than I am sure I am creating healthy competition around the squad.”
Ashley-Cooper said he his priority off the field was to build some bonds with the new generation of Wallabies that have come through in the past two years.
“Apart from the new faces, this is clearly a young squad but apart from that, just picked up where I left off a couple of years ago,” he added.
“The guys are still using the same language, similar shapes and terminology but apart from that it's just the new faces, so for me I've got to establish those relationships.
“I've been out of the mix for a couple of years so working on that at the moment.”
Wallabies centre Kurtley Beale said Ashley-Cooper’s influence was already proving valuable.
“His experience speaks for itself,” he said
“To have a player like him among our young guys, who are still growing to be at this level, is great.
“He is world class on and off the field.
“I think it’s a great addition and good to have a mate around it's exciting and he has some goals to reach out for and a lot of the boys are really excited to have him back.”