One-time Wallabies captain James Slipper has cautioned Australia’s buoyant bunch of Bledisloe Cup hopefuls against getting carried away with the raging success of the inaugural Super Rugby AU season.
An integral member of the Brumbies’ drought-breaking title-winning team, Slipper says Dan McKellar’s men should savour Saturday night’s 28-23 final triumph over the Queensland Reds.
The victory earned an Australian team its first piece of Super Rugby silverware since the NSW Waratahs won the competition proper in 2014 and should serve as a huge confidence booster after years of beat-downs from New Zealand, South African and even Argentine opposition.
“We’ve had a great year. We only lost four games this year and that’s pre-COVID (included),” Slipper said.
“But it was about making sure we got something from it and, Australian teams, we’ve talked in the past about being competitive and that sort of stuff but at some point you’ve got to win something.”
Slipper features in Wallabies coach Dave Rennie’s 44-man squad that will gather in Cessnock in the NSW Hunter Valley on Monday before flying to New Zealand later this week to prepare for next month’s two Bledisloe Cup battles with the All Blacks in Wellington and Auckland.
The 96-Test veteran is excited about the talent in the squad, which has an average age of just 25, while wary of making any bold predictions as the Wallabies look to bust an 18-year Bledisloe Cup hoodoo.
“As a senior player, I’m very excited for where Australian rugby can go just by seeing the young players coming through,” Slipper said.
“There’s a plethora of young players coming through. You look at Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight from the Reds, they’re really good players.
“One thing I will say, though: Test rugby is a step up and Australian players have got to step up. Simple.”
To finally wrestle back trans-Tasman bragging rights, the Wallabies will need to win successive Tests on New Zealand soil for the first time in almost 20 years.
It’s the tallest order in world rugby.
Slipper, though, said the Wallabies had every right to feel optimistic after building confidence during the 10-week domestic competition, played out because Super Rugby was shut down in March due to the coronavirus.
“As players, we’ve really enjoyed it,” the prop said.
“The (Western) Force, they didn’t get a win but they were competitive and every week’s been bloody tough.
“If we could play the Kiwis, then that’d be ideal.
“But I’ve been really happy with the level of rugby that the Australian teams have produced, not just the Reds and the Brumbies but all teams post-COVID (shutdown).”
The Wallabies are awaiting clearance from the New Zealand government before flying to Christchurch on Friday or Saturday.
The minute they touch down in NZ, the clock will start ticking on a strict 72-hour quarantine period.
After that, the Wallabies must train in isolation for another 11 days before being free to join the New Zealand public ahead of Bledisloe I in Wellington on October 11.
– Darren Walton
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