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'Big roar' from the Wallabies after they name stand-in captain

By AAP
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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James Slipper will replace the injured Michael Hooper as Wallabies captain against Wales this weekend in Cardiff with the promotion of the veteran prop a popular choice among the players. The Wallabies gave a “big roar” after it was announced Slipper would step in for Hooper, who suffered a mid-foot sprain against England to miss their final tour Test.

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Hooper’s absence is a hammer blow for their hopes of salvaging some tour pride as they look to avoid a first winless spring tour of Europe since 1976 after losses to Scotland and England.

While the champion flanker will remain with the team, Slipper will lead the team for just the second time with his only previous experience during his 113-Test career coming against the USA in 2015. Playmaker James O’Connor said while the loss of Hooper would be keenly felt at Principality Stadium, the 32-year-old Slipper would bring a steady presence. 

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In The Know with Michael Cheika
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In The Know with Michael Cheika

“It’s obviously devastating losing our captain but the boys are pretty excited and there was a big roar when we heard that James was captain,” said O’Connor from Cardiff on Tuesday. “He’s been there and done that and everyone can rely on him – he is a very steady presence on the field.”

Like O’Connor, Slipper has his own redemption story, bouncing back from a recreational drugs ban in 2018 to become Mr Dependable. Against England, he was a rock for the scrum after switching from his usual loosehead to cover at tighthead due to an injury crisis with Taniela Tupou and Allan Alaalatoa both out after head knocks.

“That’s just credit to the hard work he puts in and just how much he loves the game – he leaves it all out there,” O’Connor said of Slipper. “He hadn’t played tighthead prop since 2012 so we asked a lot of him and he delivered big time. He has been on his own journey but he is someone you get around. He is very authentic, a great bloke and we are excited for him to lead us out for our last game this year.”

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Teammate Rob Valetini also acknowledged it would be tough going against Wales without their talismanic leader. “Obviously Michael is a massive loss,” Valetini said. “He is our captain but he is probably the biggest workhorse in our team. He never stops and that is something that the team will miss.”

With the team named Thursday, Pete Samu is set to replace Hooper or former Melbourne Rebels flanker Colby Fainga’a could be a shock selection to make his Test debut after being drafted into the squad from the French club Lyon. Fainga’a’s older twin brothers Anthony and Saia both played for the Wallabies. Valetini said the Wallabies were intent on finishing the year on a high and recognised they needed to improve their discipline and errors to overcome the Welsh after giving away 18 penalties against England.

He called their multiple offside and high-tackle penalties “pretty dumb”. “We let ourselves down with our discipline. It’s hard to win a Test match when you give away 18 penalties,” Valetini said. “It’s a new week this week and we want to end the tour on a high so we will prepare well and hopefully go out with a bang on Saturday.”

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