Kepu back to the scene of debut in Padova

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Wallabies fielded three Test debutants in their last match in Padova in 2008 but few might have predicted which would be the one returning to Italy in 2018.

Mercurial flyhalf Quade Cooper and wunderkind utility James O’Connor stole the headlines that week ahead of their first Test appearances and Cooper in fact stole the match at the death.

But it was the other name in that trio - Sekope Kepu - who has proven the ultimate Wallabies stayer, back in Padova this week.

Kepu played his 100th Test last month against the All Blacks, becoming the first Australian prop to achieve the feat.

He remembers that first Test clearly, standing alongside Wycliff Palu during the anthems and receiving his cap from Australia’s Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

“I remember that game very well, Sir Peter Cosgrove last week came into the sheds and told me, ‘I remember presenting your cap at the after-match [function].

“That was very nice of him to mention.

“In that game, I was standing next to Cliffy during the anthem, as we were getting ready to get on the field it was Quade, myself and James O’Connor, it was alphabetical order so it was 830, 831 and 832,” he said.

“We weren’t going very well until the dying minutes when Quadey has pulled something out of that, as he does, steps and scores under the posts and we came out on top.

“That made it a good memory for me, for all of us that debuted that night.

Back then, everything was a learning experience for Kepu. Now, he is the one passing on the wisdom.

“Ten years ago I was just happy to be on the tour and learn as much as I could,” he said.

“I quickly realized it’s all the hard work you put in and the people you have around you that have an influence on how far you go, and how you deal with situations.”

Kepu is a family man, a trait he brings through to his role in the Wallabies squad as much as with his own recently expanded brood.

Sekope Kepu was one of a number of high-profile rookies that went on the 2008 Spring Tour. Photo: Getty ImagesThe 32-year-old is a quasi father figure to many of the side’s young front rowers on tour and being around the next generation keeps him on his toes.

“It’s pretty surreal, a full circle coming around. I look at someone like Taniela, 22, that was me 10 years ago. He’s come a long way.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are starting their careers off, Jordan [Petaia], Robbie [Valetini], we actually had dinner with those guys and it was nice to chat to them.

“It’s their first time so it gives me a buzz seeing how they’re feeling.

“You are reiterating to them that it’s a special group to be a part of and it’s not everyday you travel with 30 guys around the world and do what you love.”

It’s his wife Anna and their four children that motivate him every day, even when he is halfway around the world from them.

“Having a family at such a young age, having my wife there pushing me along the way, and the kids to inspire me to come away on tours,” he said.

“It’s funny, I look at some of the memories that pop up on Facebook and it’s always 10 years ago, eight years ago, five years ago, it’s always them saying goodbye.

“That’s been the cornerstone of my success, having the right people around you. You’re always working hard for them and wanting to make them proud.

“There’s a heavy responsibility on myself to do well for them because they’ve sacrificed a lot themselves for me to be here.

“Every day I’m grateful to be here, be around guys like Tolu who keep me young, keep me updated with everything that’s happening in this world, some songs you’d never hear of until they bring it up.

Australia takes on Italy on Saturday November 17 in Padova, kicking off at 3pm local Sunday 3am AEDT, LIVE on beIn Sports Channel 515 and SBS.