Brumbies legend Stephen Larkham has backed Adam Ashley-Cooper to bounce back to form against New South Wales Waratahs tonight but speculation is mounting the star centre will follow it up by joining Phil Waugh’s side.
Ashley-Cooper has indicated he will make a decision on his provincial future after the match, having signed with the Australian Rugby Union until the end of 2012 but been granted extra time to decide between the Brumbies and the Waratahs.
Initial confidence in Canberra that Ashley-Cooper would stay seems to be slipping, with the Brumbies camp now rating it more a “50-50” call that the Wallabies centre will move to be closer to his partner in Sydney.
The Brumbies appear to have more certainty on the coaching front after boss Andrew Fagan recently flew to South Africa to meet Jake White, although Ashley-Cooper remains unhappy he was singled out over the axing of Andy Friend.
“He contributes so much on and off the field, he has a great social nature,” Larkham said. “Obviously at the Brumbies we’d love to have him stay but I guess if he moved on we’d have to live without him.”
Despite being one of the first Wallabies picked, Ashley-Cooper’s struggle to exhibit the same class in recent seasons at Super Rugby level has continued this year.
Larkham said a failure of the Brumbies’ attacking shapes had seen Ashley-Cooper too often caught working in tight, and not getting the ball in space where his free-running talent is lethal.
“We are trying to free him up, we have spoken a lot about it,” Larkham said. “If we can get through the patterns we want to get through as a team, we are confident he will be given more time and space to use his speed, footwork and that strong fend.”
Larkham said while they’d “certainly thought about” moving Ashley-Cooper back to fullback, he was likely to stay at No. 13 to play against NSW.
The Brumbies will name their side on Thursday, with Matt Giteau tipped to move back to inside centre and either Matt Toomua or Christian Lealiifano at No. 10.
The Waratahs will give star hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau until the 11th hour on Saturday night to prove his fitness after returning from a knee injury.
Polota-Nau and captain Waugh were named in a 24-man squad on Wednesday, with Jeremy Tilse also added for the injured Benn Robinson.
by Buford Balony