With a fresh lease on his test life, Wallabies forward James Slipper wants to be there for what he views as the new-look team’s moment of truth on Sunday.
The 96-Test prop could notch his century this summer after being included in Dave Rennie’s maiden squad, their first assignment against New Zealand in Wellington.
A test at Auckland’s Eden Park follows, the Wallabies needing to win at least one to keep the series – and hopes of ending an 18-year Bledisloe Cup drought – alive before November’s Rugby Championship in Australia.
Likely to share minutes with fellow veteran and loosehead Scott Sio, Slipper has enjoyed the injection of youth in a squad featuring 16 uncapped players and an average age of 24.
“It definitely feels like a fresh start; plenty of new faces and everyone’s putting their hand up,” the 31-year-old said.
“I haven’t thought too much about the 100 [test milestone] to be honest, I’m just trying to make the team.
“It’s exciting to see these new players come through, an exciting time for Australian rugby and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
While the front row should feature plenty of familiar faces, the deck could be shuffled behind them as next-generation talents like five-eighth Noah Lolesio and backrowers Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight emerge.
Slipper has attempted to simmer the hype after break-out Super Rugby AU performances but admits he’s excited to see how they transition to the next level.
“At the end of the day it comes down to results and we don’t have a leg to stand on in terms of the last 15 years,” he said.
“But 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 and hopefully make that team.
“I’m just excited to see where Australian rugby goes from here and there’s nothing like testing yourself against the All Blacks for a Bledisloe.
“It’ll be fun times for whoever gets that jersey.”
Slipper and his scrum partners have been receiving coaching video sessions from new assistant Petrus du Plessis, who remains stuck in Europe and won’t join the side until next month.
“It’s been different, but you’ve just got to adapt to all situations and it’s been tough for him being overseas and not working in person,” Slipper said.
“The year has been a disaster hasn’t it (because of COVID-19) but it’s been awesome over here [in camp in New Zealand] actually, to bond as a team a bit differently.
“Personally I reckon we’re on track.”
– Murray Wenzel
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