Ashley-Cooper dedicates Australia’s win to departed friend

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LONDON (AP) After playing a significant role in Australia’s extraordinary win over Wales at the Rugby World Cup, Adam Ashley-Cooper quietly slipped away from euphoric teammates and fans to try and put a smile on the face of an old mate.

Perhaps for the last time.

Guy Grinham played rugby with and against Ashley-Cooper as kids on the central coast of New South Wales state, north of Sydney, and later took different paths but stayed involved in the game – one as a professional player, and one as a referee.

It was among Grinham’s last wishes that he see the Wallabies playing at the World Cup. His brother and a mate put together a “bucket list” for Grinham when he was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago. A big item was the trip to London.

Ashley-Cooper and his teammates did their bit to help out.

“I thought the least we could do as a team was to do as much as we can to get him to that game, and play for him against Wales,” Ashley-Cooper said at the team base near London on Friday. “We got a really good result.

“It was a really nice moment to be able to share that win with him and his family. Everyone was smiling.”

Grinham, who was married with two children, died this week.

His condition deteriorated during the trip to London, to the point where he was bedridden and needed medical support to get to the match last Saturday. World Rugby helped with the ticket, and converted a corporate box for Grinham and his family.

“They got off the plane here in London, and (Grinham’s condition) went down pretty significantly with the cancer spreading through to his back – his vertebrae,” Ashley-Cooper said. “He was told to fly his parents over to say his final goodbyes.”

The 111-test Wallaby made a key tackle in the match to end a Welsh siege of the try line while Australia was down to 13 men with two players in the sinbin.

Ashley-Cooper went to see Grinham in hospital before and after the 15-6 win against Wales, and said the visits helped him keep the tournament in perspective.

“When I went and saw him after the captain’s run … it was emotional,” he said. “You realize how lucky we are.

“I got a lot out of it, given the sad circumstances, it was a real eye-opener. But I was really happy I got to share something with him after the game and put a smile on his face. A genuine smile on his face.”

Ashley-Cooper has one more reason to ensure Australia stays on course for a third Rugby World Cup title, starting on Sunday with a win over Scotland at Twickenham.