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LONDON, 16 Oct - Australian wing Adam Ashley-Cooper talked with great emotion on Friday about wanting to win the World Cup with the Wallabies in honour of the memory of a childhood friend who died this week.
Along with Wallabies management and World Rugby, vice-captain Ashley-Cooper helped fulfil one of the dying wishes of former junior rugby teammate Guy Grinham by helping arrange for the cancer sufferer to see the Wallabies play in the World Cup in England.
Ambulance transfers from his hospital were arranged so that Grinham could watch last weekend’s victory against Wales from his bed in a private box at Twickenham and, afterwards, Ashley-Cooper bounded up through the stands, still in his boots and playing kit, to hug him and his family and to see his old pal with a big smile on his face one last time.
Sadly, Grinham, who had been a popular rugby referee in New South Wales, passed away just a few days later with his wife and two children at his bedside, leaving Ashley-Cooper and his team-mates, on hearing the news, to share a moment’s silence before training to mark his passing.
After a week of high emotion for the 31-year-old - his old NSW central coast team-mate was the same age - Ashley-Cooper said Grinham's memory would continue to inspire the team as they prepared to face Scotland in Sunday’s quarter-final at Twickenham. He says it's his personal wish now to go on and win the Webb Ellis Cup for his friend.
"He put watching us at the World Cup on his bucket list of things he still wanted to do when he was diagnosed with cancer over a year-and-a-half ago, and I thought that was pretty special," Ashley-Cooper said.
"I thought the least we could do as a team and as a country was to do as much as we could to get him to that Wales game and play for him."
On arrival in England, Grinham's condition deteriorated swiftly, and his parents were advised to fly out from Australia to say their final goodbyes.
"When I went and saw him on the eve of the game, it was emotional because it puts life into perspective and makes you realise how lucky we are. I got a lot out of it," Ashley-Cooper reflected.
"Given the tragedy and sad circumstances, it was a real eye opener but I was really happy I was able to share something with him after the game and put a smile on his face. A genuine smile on his face.
"I grew up playing junior rugby with him and when we both left the central coast, I stayed in the game at a professional level and he absolutely loved the game, but the only way he could stay in it was to become a referee. He’s been officiating since we left school and we occasionally saw each other at Super Rugby level when he helped officials there on the Waratahs' game day.
"It was a really nice moment before he was to leave us to be able to share that win with him and his family on a day where everybody was smiling, everyone was happy."
Following Grinham's death, Australia coach Michael Cheika asked Ashley-Cooper to share the story with the team and they were all moved and inspired to hear of the fight he had put up just to get to England to see them play.