Brumbies see 'no downside' in Slipper acquisition

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Brumbies are confident they can be the place where James Slipper can put his off-field demons behind him.

And they're equally sure that he can use Canberra as a springboard to at least one, if not two, more World Cup berths, forming a formidable tag team with Test prop Scott Sio.

Former Reds skipper Slipper was in need of a new Super Rugby home for next year, effectively exiled from Queensland over two positive tests for cocaine.

The 29-year-old served a two-month suspension after the positives and returned to rugby in August’s pre-Bledisloe Wallabies trial.

As part of the conditions of his return, Slipper will undertake targeted drug testing and Brumbies CEO Michael Thomson said he didn’t feel there was any risk taking on the Queensland prop.

“There's a monitoring program for players that have previously breached a test and so that will apply to James,” he said.

“We don't envisage any problems with James, we wouldn't have signed him if we thought there was an issue there and similarly, we've got a good group of young guys playing for the club that know the expectation and also really want to be professional in what they do.”

“We'll have all sorts of support networks available for him, he knows a lot of our senior players very well as well and then our coaching squad's very clued into this sort of thing as well.

“So, we want him to succeed we want to provide the environment where he can show his true potential on the field but also put those demons of the past behind him.”

Interestingly, Thomson said the club’s leadership group had been consulted about Slipper’s recruitment and endorsed the move.

“We never make a decision like this without consulting our leadership group and our leadership group is really positive about bringing James here,” he said.

“The Brumbies has always been known as a club that takes in people, gives people opportunity.

“We've had over the journey some fairly interesting characters involved in the club and we've always accommodated them.

“I think probably we've got a very strong culture, our playing group monitors itself very well, there's expectation and also Canberra as a relatively small town  provides a good environment for people trying to take advantage of an opportunity.”

Slipper will be added to a Test pack at the Brumbies, competing with Sio for the starting loosehead spot.

He has switched to tighthead in the NRC in recent weeks but it seems unlikely that he would fill that spot in Canberra with loosehead his preferred position.

Forwards coach Laurie Fisher said he saw no issue with the prop competition, saying depth was a necessity for Super Rugby sides.

“I look at the Crusaders over the last couple of years and they carry four international props plus a Michael Alaalatoa who probably could be an international prop,” he said.

“That's what wins Super Rugby championships. You need depth, you need competition for places, you need quality and in that loosehead side that gives us genuine quality, absolute quality off the bench. james has played a bit of tighthead as well.

“It's a tremendous boost to the team and I think it really gives us that depth that we need to compete at the highest level in Super Rugby.”

Though Sio and Slipper might ostensibly be competitors, Fisher said they could form a lethal tag team.

“The nature of the game is props can't play for 80 minutes with the output that you need,” he said.

“To have two absolute quality players, that's a seamless transition whether one plays 50 and 30 or how you change, it really doesn't matter.

“You watch any game now and you'll see props dragging their feet early in the second half so I think it again gives us a great opportunity.

“We know traditionally Scotty's been a slow starter to the year with five or six weeks off after the European tour and he's probably started the year with a couple of injuries over the last few years so it may be an opportunity to make sure we're managing game time for both players in a World Cup year.

“There's no downside, absolutely no downside to having two world-class players in the same position.”

Slipper will join the Brumbies in preseason, after finishing his NRC campaign with Queensland Country.