Kepu to enter rarefied air against All Blacks

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Sekope Kepu will enter Australian rugby's most exclusive club when he runs onto Nissan Stadium for his 100th Test match on Saturday.

He will join George Gregan, Stephen Moore, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nathan Sharpe, George Smith, Matt Giteau, Stephen Larkham and David Campese in the 100 club and while that's rarefied air, Kepu will break fresher ground again against the All Blacks.

He will be Australia's first prop to crack the century.

Having played the majority of those 100 Tests at tighthead - widely considered the most physically draining position in the forward pack due to the scrum time toll - makes the achievement that little bit more remarkable.

His stellar decade-long career isn't finished yet but the veteran prop did take a moment to reflect on the standout moments to date when he spoke to media in Tokyo on Monday.

"Your first (Test) you always remember," Kepu said.

"That was in 2008 and I remember singing the anthem next to Wycliff Palu.

Kepu is still a force up front for the Wallabies. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"You never look past the British and Irish Lions - that was a great year.

"Winning against the All Blacks in 2011, playing in that World Cup, the final in 2015, the English game that year.

"They're the Test matches that I remember, regardless of the result.

"I'm just truly humbled to still be around this group nowadays."

The 100-Test mark was not on Kepu's radar even three years ago when he signed with Bordeaux for the 2015-16 season, despite remaining Test eligible under the Giteau Law.

The 2015 World Cup final could have very well been his last Test but having pass that 60 cap Giteau Law mark during that campaign he never said his farewells in the sheds after the Wallaibes' loss to New Zealand.

Kepu returned to Australia for family reasons just a season into that Bordeaux contract and three years later he is still one of the first players picked in coach Michael Cheika's 23.

Keeping his mind and body in the shape required to remain a fixture in Cheika's plans has been the biggest challenge since returning from France and a chat with Reds coach Brad Thorn earlier this season tipped the veteran prop into a few tricks on the durability front.

"(Thorn) gave me a few tips and whatnot, hence why I have the calf skins on," he said.

Taniela Tupou is part of Australia's Generation Next. Photo: Getty Images"As you get older your head is sharp but it's about maintaining your body and looking after it as much as you can.

"The recovery, the sleep, the eating, everything that comes with it.

"You get older and I find that's the challenge now - keeping your body in tip top shape and then managing yourself at training.

"You have to enjoy every moment and every week."

While Kepu remains a regular in the Australian fold, he faces more contenders in the no. 3 jersey than he has in recent memory, competition that has forced him back into the loosehead side in recent Tests.

Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou, 24 and 22 respectively, have both had their crack in the No. 3 jersey this season and the latter now appears the man for the job moving forward.

The sky is the limit for that duo and Kepu relishes the competition.

"I'm just excited to be around them," he said.

"They keep me young.

"(Tupou) has got that raw strength and power and if he can channel that into his scrummaging - where he is doing really well - he will get there.

"It's about him working on the little things that the coaches give him.

"I'm very excited for both of those guys.

"To be 22 and running amok in Super Rugby and dishing up scrums is something that he can be proud of."

Both Alaalatoa and Tupou have the talent required to crack the 100 cap milestone themselves.

What they lack - for now - is the experience Kepu has in spades.

He's been through the troughs required to fully understand the meaning of the peaks and knows what it takes to drag a team from the trenches.

"You can't buy that experience," he said.

"You have to go through those tough times and get to those dark places and know what it's like so you know what to expect.

"You only have to look at the guys that have played for the Wallabies in this position - there are some legends of the game.

"It's a tough place to be at and to play international footy I am just grateful for the opportunity every single time.

"It's no different this week."

The Wallabies face the All Blacks at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm local, 5pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS.