"Be a good bloke, be open": Why James Slipper's try meant so much to so many

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Nice guys can finish first.

It’s a twist on the old saying that James Slipper has been trying to live for the past year or so, and so far it seems to be working out well.

‘Finishing' first may be a subjective test but all the proof needed it’s the right path was when Slipper scored a first in Oita on Saturday; his first Wallabies try.

Slipper had played in 93 Test matches prior to the Wallabies’ third pool game against Uruguay but never scored a five-pointer in a gold jersey. 

The try drought had become so well-known that Slipper had been copping grief about it when he passed 50 Tests, let alone nearing his 100th cap.

"I am more relieved to be honest,” Slipper laughed post-game. 

"When are you in the 90s and you haven’t scored a try ... it has been a running joke for a couple of years that I am the only one who hasn’t scored.

"Obviously the more games you play, the pressure keeps building.”

🎉 Worth the wait. #AUSvURU #RWC2019

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It should probably be a badge of honour for a tight forward to not score a try; given it means they’ve probably selflessly laid on hundreds for others with unsighted industry at the previous scrum or ruck.

But sadly for forwards, honest industry doesn’t make highlight reels, tries do.

So given players often have to do a nude run if they don’t score a try in a season, what punishment lay in wait for a try-less century of Tests, dating back to 2010?

"There was none talked of, but I am sure there would have had to be something if I hit it,” Slipper said. 

"The only other person was Owen Franks, so I can’t say I am disappointed to miss out on that claim.”

The try was a barrelling run of about three metres, off a Will Genia pass and finished with a burrowing dive. It probably should be worth 10 points given Slipper had also helped win a scrum penalty just seconds before. 

But the reaction from Wallabies teammates was probably more insightful into Slipper, and his valued place in the team.

To a man, Slipper’s teammates yahooed and, with genuine joy, ran over to congratulate the popular 30-year-old prop. Taniela Tupou even gave Slipper a peck on the cheek.

It was the nice guy getting a first, and a rare moment in the sun for a guy who’d endured a few years of much darker times.

"A year ago I didn’t think I would be at another World Cup, so to be here and to contribute is nice,” Slipper said.

At the start of last year, Slipper tested positive to cocaine twice and was suspended for two months.

It emerged that the prop had spiralled out of control, with chronic injuries and a cancer diagnosis for his mum Deb among a number of things that saw Slipper battling depression. The positive drug tests, while still a source of shame, ended up serving as the catalyst for Slipper to seek help.

James Slipper has been added to the RUPA board. Photo: Getty ImagesThe former Reds captain served his suspension but his days at Queensland were over, and he sought a new start in Canberra with Dan McKellar and the Brumbies.

It was a huge success, and with changes off the field as well, Slipper’s form in Canberra for the Brumbies in 2019 saw him win selection in his third Rugby World Cup squad.

"I’d say I have found the love for the game again,” Slipper said.

"There were personal things I did with my family and that, I think just becoming a better person helped with my footy. Just seeing life a bit differently, having a better perspective on what matters a bit.

"It’s more worrying about what you can control, and then enjoying the little things that come a long with it. And just working hard."

Resuming a Wallabies career after all his trials and tribulations has made Slipper’s parents “very proud”, he said.

“And that’s what makes it so much sweeter for me,” Slipper said.

"Last year was a tough year and the year before there were a few things in my life that weren’t going right. 

"A lot of that was external as well, things I can’t control and I went about it in the wrong way.

"I always bring it back, you just have to be a good person. 

"Be a good bloke and be open.”

Fit, healthy and happy, Slipper has returned to being a go-to selection for Cheika and the panel; mostly coming off the bench behind Scott Sio.

It gets lost behind Adam Ashley-Cooper being at his record-equalling fourth World Cup, but Slipper is one of a still-small handful of Wallabies who’ve played in three.

Indeed, with his 16th World Cup game, in Oita, Slipper joined Matt Giteau and Sekope Kepu as the third-most capped Wallaby at World Cups. Only George Gregan (20) and Adam Ashley-Cooper (19) have more.

"They’ve all been good. They’ve all been in different parts of my career,” Slipper said. 

"The first one (in 2011) I was only 21 so probably like Jordy (Petaia), it was all a big blur. The last one was satisfying because we went all the way to the final and it was a really good trip.

"This one has been tough, it’s been hard. I am a bit older now. The training leading up took it out of me, but in terms of being here, yeah, I am really happy and I just want to contribute. 

"Whether I am on the bench, whether I am not playing, whatever my role, I just want to make the team better.”