James Slipper says the Wallabies deserve to be “underdogs” against the All Blacks, but the veteran front-rower is just as excited to see what the next generation of players can achieve under Dave Rennie as the public.
Slipper has seen it all during his decade with the Wallabies, which has him on track to become a Test centurion later in the year.
He was there when Quade Cooper and Will Genia emerged under Ewen McKenzie at the Reds and for a time it appeared that the Wallabies were destined for great things with the halves running the show, and others like James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale, Digby Ioane and David Pocock challenging for world class status.
But injuries, consistency and off-field cultural issues meant the Wallabies never quite met the expectations many had over the past decade.
Yet, at long last there’s some genuine optimism in the air, with Rugby Australia getting their ducks in order at board level and a new crop of Wallabies emerging out of the under-20s program, which last year lost in the World Cup final at junior level.
Slipper knows the young talent better than most.
At the Brumbies he saw first-hand the class beginning to shine within Australian rugby, with Super Rugby-winning playmaker Noah Lolesio leading the way.
“I’ve been impressed with both of those players (Junior Wallabies back-rowers Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight), but, even on top of that, there’s plenty of other young players running around from other clubs that are here and they’re doing well,” Slipper said.
“Noah’s a Brumbies boy, he’s putting his hand up.
“One thing I’ll tell you about these young blokes is that they’re full of confidence, they back themselves, so as an older bloke I’m just trying to keep up at the moment and hopefully make that team.
“I’m just excited to see where Australian rugby goes from here because there’s some really good talented players coming through the system and there’s nothing like testing yourself at a Test match level against the All Blacks in New Zealand for a Bledisloe.
“It’ll be fun times for whoever gets that jersey.”
Perhaps it’s because they’ve been in quarantine for the past week in Chrischurch since touching down in New Zealand, but the Wallabies are flying under the radar in 2020.
While New Zealand Rugby has been worrying about the minutes of board room meetings, Rennie’s men have been quietly going about their work.
There’s been no brazen statements about winning back the Bledisloe for the first time since 2002, and for Slipper, it’s all about producing on the field.
“We probably deserve to be under-dogs only because we haven’t won it for so long and deservedly so, but one thing I can tell you is we’re training hard to change that,” he said.
“It comes down to that first Test match to see where we are.
“We’ve been training hard and preparing well, but at the end of the day it comes down to results, doesn’t it?
“So we don’t have a leg to stand on, talking in terms of results in the last 15 years.
“For us as a playing group, under a new coach, we’re just trying to make sure that we’re good to go.”
So are they?
“In terms of training and preparation we’re doing well,” Slipper said.
“It’s obviously been a pretty tough period for us. The year 2020 has been disastrous. We’ve been in isolation over here in Christchurch for a while - it’s been awesome and to be looked after by the
Kiwis in such a good way, and we’ve been able to bond as a team a bit differently than other years, from a personal view we’re on track.
“But, once again, I’ll always bring it back to the result - we need to win.
“We’ve got seven days before the first Test, so that’ll be our true test.”