'I'll do my very best': Wallabies reliant on out-of-position star against England
He’s come back from countless injuries and even bounced back from a drugs ban but after 112 tests, James Slipper still seems indestructible – and Australian rugby can never have been more thankful.
Amid a chaotic test week before their marquee tour match against England which has seen the Wallabies’ front-row stocks desperately depleted, it’s been up to one of world rugby’s great survivors to prove his worth yet again.
Asked to switch from his usual loosehead prop position to the other side of the scrum to face the might of the English pack again, you get no complaints from 32-year-old Slipper.
Instead, he just dusts down a battered body and promises with a smile: “I am a loosehead, but I feel I can back myself at tighthead – and one thing I know is that I’ll do my very best for the country.”
Australia expects nothing less. Last Sunday, the loss to Scotland was a painful reminder of his tighthead past when the loss of Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou to head knocks forced him to show the sort of propping versatility mid-game that he’s so often shown for the Brumbies.
And with both specialists out of the running for the England match, coach Dave Rennie had no hesitation in turning to ‘Slips’.
“The lower back gets pretty tender,” conceded Slipper, reflecting on a bad day at the office on Sunday.
“It’s funny because at loosehead, you get a bit more pressure through the neck whereas at tighthead, it’s more through the back.
“So I definitely pulled up pretty sore afterwards.
“I can’t say I’m feeling that great – but I will be come game time, mate.”
Nobody knows that coalface recovery process better apart from perhaps the only five props who’ve earned more test caps than Slipper – Gethin Jenkins (Wales and the British & Irish Lions, 134), Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy, 119), Jason Leonard (England & Lions, 119), Tony Woodcock (New Zealand, 118) and Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa, 117).
At the other end of the experience scale, London Irish prop Ollie Hoskins, the former Western Force forward who’s not played in Australia for five years, has been chucked in the deep end for a prospective debut off the bench.
“It’s pretty wild, hard to put into words how I feel,” Hoskins told the BBC. “I’m going to lap up the experience.”
Thinking back to when he first joined the English Premiership club, Hoskins recalled: “I was in a difficult place in my career when I joined. I’d been playing for my childhood, hometown club and they’d let me go and told me I wasn’t good enough.
“Irish gave me a chance and I’ve revamped my life over here. I’ve settled roots, met my wife over here, most of my extended family live here now, so it’s given me a second opportunity.”
Slipper has been quietly impressed. “Ollie’s had a couple of days to train and upskill with all the moves and how we want to play the game. He’s fitted in really well, so we’re excited to give him an opportunity.”
Join RugbyPass+ now and be apart of the conversation with all-new commenting!Join Now