Australia survived a last-quarter breakdown to take a 25-19 win over Argentina on Sunday, securing their spot in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand.
A try by Rob Simmons within the first two minutes and a hat-trick from man of the match Ashley-Cooper was enough to guarantee the Wallabies victory at Twickenham, though the Pumas mounted a ferocious second-half fight back.
Though the Wallabies were greatly boosted by the return of Israel Folau and David Pocock who regulated the breakdown, Argentina were often their own worse enemies, squandering chances by not exploiting the overlaps.
Fate did not favour Argentina, however, and untimely injuries to three key players – Juan Imhoff, Juan Martin Hernandez, and captain Agustin Creevy – effectively ended their attempt to claw back a ten point disadvantage.
Australia made the perfect start when Simmons picked out a lethargic pass by Nicholas Sanchez pass to claim a try within the first two minutes, while a string of errors by the Pumas culminated with Sanchez taking a quick penalty subsequently knocked-on.
Bernard Foley, who had earlier saved his side from conceding a try with a tackle on Marcelo Bosch, sailed a long pass from the ensuing attacking scrum to Ashley-Cooper for a clear run into the right corner.
Sanchez hit back with two penalties to give the Pumas hope, but their spirit was dampened once more when lock Tomas Lavanini was sin-binned for an illegal tackle on Folau and Imhoff went off with what seemed to be a concussion.
Australia were bold to chance two penalties into touch rather than kicking for goal, but though the results were not immediately obvious, as gaps developed in the Pumas’ rearguard, Matt Giteau floated a pass to Ashley-Cooper for the wing’s second try.
Foley missed the extras but Sanchez was nerveless to land a penalty and reduce the Wallabies’ halftime lead to ten points.
Argentina returned from the break in full knowledge that only France had ever overturned a ten point half-time deficit, but they were unlucky to lose captain Creevy to injury, while only desperate tackles prevented wing Santiago Cordero and centre Juan Martin Hernandez from crossing.
Foley missed a penalty and the normally strong Australian scrum collapsed beneath the posts to give Sanchez another opportunity to kick and claw back the score to 19-12, amid a jittery start to the second half.
Foley and Sanchez exchanged penalties, but it was Australia who nearly broke through the disciplined Argentina defense courtesy of Australia’s Kurtley Beale’s flick-kick to Foley, though the finishing pass to Ashley-Cooper fell short.
Yet when Foley’s attempt at drop-goal was off-target and Folau drop-kicked into another Australian player to end up accidentally offside, the Pumas sensed an opportunity to begin their attack.
Argentina worked the phases to move past the gainline, but after repeated errors found themselves caught off guard as Mitchell charged as far as the 22 before offloading to Ashley-Cooper for the wing’s third try.
Ashley-Cooper’s hat-trick proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Argentina as the Wallabies held firm until the final whistle to end the Pumas’ World Cup campaign.