Kepu ready to bear extra load in 2019

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Sekope Kepu will be carrying some extra weight on his shoulders in 2019 but the 100-Test prop says he is prepared to take the load.

In their strongest matchday 23, almost half of the NSW side would fall on the elder side of 28 but drill that down to the team's props and Kepu stands out as the sole senior player.

The 33-year-old's importance to the Waratahs has been exacerbated by injuries to fellow Wallaby Tom Robertson, who isn't expected back until April, and rising tighthead Shambeckler Vui, set to miss at least the opening weeks of the season.

Across the board, Kepu pointed to the number of "over-28s" - nine among the 38-man squad and almost all of those regular starters - as proof of their credentials when asked if this group could find the success of the title-winning 2014 side.

"The over-28s as we put it the other day, there's a whole heap of us," he said.

"There's a lot of experience there, we've got Adam Ashley-Cooper coming back and Karmichael has been added. We've got a wealth of experience, not to mention the guys who were already there.

"There's a good balance of youth and older guys, it's going to be a hell of a year and we're going to need a whole squad mentality."

Sekope Kepu was pleased with the Waratahs' derby win. Photo: Getty ImagesEven in a fully fit squad, that equation doesn't translate to the front row and with injuries to Robertson and Vui Kepu's value has only grown.

In a year where Australia's Wallabies are being asked to rest more, one could almost question whether the veteran prop may end up being the exception to the rule.

Kepu said he was happy to leave his load discussions to coaches but admitted he had to be more careful about looking after his body after a run of 2018 setbacks.

"I think last year was a massive learning curve - two calf strains and a hammy last year, so touch wood that I've got through the preseason quite well and really raring to go now," he said.

"Ready round one compared to last year.

"It's a little bit harder to get the engine going in the mornings and takes a little bit longer to get back into the intensity and find that fitness level but I've really thoroughly enjoyed the preseason and look forward to the season kicking off this weekend.

"I'll leave that (resting decision) with those guys and I'll just back whatever they do. At the end of the day I've just got to communicate how I feel and I'm sure we'll come to an agreement at some stage."

No matter how many minutes he plays on the field, Kepu's role will be as pivotal off the field as he helps develop the next generation of props.

“It's something I want to do after rugby as well is mentoring and helping young front rowers coming through and already started that last week with a couple of the 20s boys but also helping our guys,” he said.

“Sharing everything that I know and all the experience that I have, it's only going to be beneficial for everyone at the end of the day.

“I try to make myself available every single time and as much as I can after training as long as I'm not too buggered I try to hang around and help the young guys but I love it and it's something I really, really enjoyed doing.”

To get back to the Super Rugby finals, let alone the decider, Kepu said they would have to play to their strengths of mobility and speed again this year.

“Looking back at last year, obviously it was a young pack and not the biggest but I think there's a lot of space for growth this year as well, in terms of got a few big guys that have come in and we've got a lot of guys now like Jack Dempsey and Ned Hanigan and those guys that have got two or three years under their belt in Super Rugby,” he said.

“They know what's required and it's just feeding off that experience and that energy off each other's going to be crucial.

“We spoke about working on our strengths and being smart in the way we play.

‘Every team's got their strengths and weaknesses and we'll just build on those strengths and make sure that we're prepared for every game.”

The Waratahs take on the Hurricanes  at Brookvale on Saturday February 16, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.