Running man: Adam Ashley-Cooper training with the Waratahs on Thursday.
Decorated NSW utility Adam Ashley-Cooper is only six games off his Test century but he has rotten luck in finals football.
There were four junior rugby league grand final losses with the Berkeley Vale Panthers and The Entrance Tigers, a semi-final exit and two grand final disappointments with the Ourimbah Razorbacks as a rugby convert, and the heartbreak of Norths' loss to Sydney University in the 2002 first-grade colts grand final.
Since then, there has been one Tri Nations trophy and 55 Test victories, but no World Cup or Bledisloe glory and not a single Super Rugby finals match.
"I was nine years down the track last year without an appearance," Ashley-Cooper said.
"I questioned myself early on in junior footy when I lost about five or six grand finals, that maybe I wasn't ever supposed to win one.
"But being a part of it on Saturday night with a team I respect and love being part of, makes it all worthwhile."
A home crowd expected to reach close to 40,000 – 499 short of the Waratahs' biggest home crowd at any venue – will add to the atmosphere at Allianz Stadium.
It is also the first time this season the Waratahs have not had a game up their sleeve. Their dominance of the regular season means this is the first sudden-death scenario they have faced.
"It's pressure that's needed for you to perform at your best," Ashley-Cooper said.
"I've always known big games bring the best out of me because there is that extra pressure and expectation of performance, there's a little bit of game anxiety and there's a lot of nerves. But you use it, you use it in games to play well."
The Brumbies arrived in Sydney on Thursday afternoon, bringing with them heightened intrigue over their strategy heading into the semi-final clash.
After a season dominated by their trademark pressure game, the Larkham-isation of last year's runners-up – as coach Michael Cheika puts it – resulted in their most expansive display yet against the Chiefs last week.
Waratahs assistant coach Nathan Grey predicted a mix of styles to test the minor premiers' resolve.
"They're finding that balance well, when to kick and when to run, and certainly it's reflected in their play," Grey said.
"Bernie [Larkham]'s a great coach ... He was a fantastic attacking player, and the team's playing in that style.
"They can fall back on a solid kicking game as well if they need to, so I think they're going to bring a mixture of the two, according to how things are going on the pitch."
Ashley-Cooper said physicality would be the Brumbies' foundation on Saturday.
"They're going to bring a lot of intensity and urgency into the breakdown and they'll look to kill our attack," he said.
"First and foremost, it's about taking care of that, making sure we have ball to attack with and a nice little platform or foundation to use guys like Izzy Folau and KB [Kurtley Beale].
"Not only will they be hard on our ball, they'll be pretty solid across their back line defensively, so it's going to be a real challenge.
"I'm hoping there's not too much stop-start. I'm hoping it's going to be free-flowing and a semi-final that people want to turn up to watch."
Ashley-Cooper spent seven seasons with the Brumbies before moving here at the end of 2011.
It is fitting that the NSW and Wallabies vice-captain will try to break his finals hoodoo against the province that handed him his professional debut almost a decade ago.
"All that history is water under the bridge," he said.
"It does make it a little bit interesting knowing I have a lot of friends down there who still play in that team, but like any other interstate rivalry and game, there's always that extra heat and I'm looking forward to it."