There was plenty of steel and concrete and Adelaide Oval hill grass lush from thousands of spilled West End beers, but no wood for James Slipper to touch as he reflected on a relatively drama-free lead up to Saturday’s Test against South Africa on unfamiliar turf.
The last time Australia played in this arena was in 2004, a year after their famous World Cup slaughter of Namibia. The Adelaide Oval is all grown up now, the famous scoreboard and Don Bradman stands the notable survivors from that time.
Slipper doesn’t seem particularly superstitious but couldn’t help reflect on the Wallabies’ run of woe with injuries so far this year.
Slow starts have seriously impacted the team. In all five games this year they’ve gone behind, making it 16 times in 25 Tests under Dave Rennie. The last time they led at halftime in a Test was against Japan nine Tests ago.
“That Argentinian tour was one of the toughest I’ve been on,” Slipper said on Friday.
“We had plenty of blokes drop out of the team after it was been named. We had our captain leave the group. So there was a fair bit of adversity but from adversity, you grow stronger and that’s where I’ve pushed the team.
“We get challenged every day. So it’s about turning up every day and trying to get better. In terms of this preparation, it has been great. We’ve worked hard. We go into the game with confidence and that’s all I can ask for the boys and make sure that we do the jersey proud.”
Slipper, like Rennie, can’t seem to put his finger on the slow start issue.
“If I knew the answer to that, I guess I’d be the head coach,” he said. “The way we train, the way we prepare, I guess preparation is everything, isn’t it when you come into a Test match?
“Out of all five Tests we’ve played so far this year, we’ve lost the first 25 minutes in each game. It’s been spoken about, the start of the game, and hopefully, we can put South Africa under a bit of heat early.
“It comes down to creating opportunities and then taking them. We’ve created a lot but probably haven’t had the polish to put them away or take points when they’re on offer.”
The size of the task is obvious against a Springboks team that has two quality front threes to throw into battle.
“They’re the defending world champions and World Cup winners. They knocked off the All Blacks in the last couple of weeks as well. They’re big men. It’s going to be a physical game. So we’re looking forward to that and hopefully we get the result,” said Slipper.
His Brumbies teammate Noah Lolesio faces yet another moment of truth in his nascent career.
While Rennie doesn’t seem fully convinced by the young flyhalf, it’s needs must with Quade Cooper injured, James O’Connor in an alarming form dip and Bernard Foley not yet up to speed.
Rennie and assistant Dan McKellar have both ratcheted up the pressure on Lolesio this week with Foley waiting in the wings.
“Being a five eighth in a rugby team is probably the most important position. Noah is a young man but one thing I know about Noah, playing with him at the Brumbies is he’s confident,” Slipper said.
“The occasion won’t get to him but for us as players and teammates, we’ve just got to win the battle up front. We’ve got to be physical. We know where South Africa are coming from. They’re gonna come with a big set piece focus time really bash us up in the middle and they’ll kick a lot so it’s about nullifying the kicking game and giving Noah some good clean ball.
“Noah’s as chirpy as ever. But that’s what you expect from him. He’s a great player to play with. He plays on the front foot really well, and that area of managing the game is where he’s improved a lot. So hopefully we can see a really good game from him but we now we’ve got to do a job around him.”
Slipper has increased his voice in the dressing rooms having taken the captaincy from Michael Hooper.
“I’ve been in touch with Hoops and I don’t think there’s a timeline on his return and nor should there be,” said Slipper, who has had his battles with mental health issues.
“The most important thing is that he takes the time that’s needed for him to be alright to come back. He’s got the full support of the playing group and the wider rugby community because mental health is a big part of the world we live in today and it’s something that we’ve got to take seriously.
“At no stage did I start this year thinking I was going to be the captain. It’s something that doesn’t drive me but it’s something I’m capable of doing and something I’m very proud of doing as well.
“Until that time comes where I get the tap on the shoulder and move away that’s when I’ll just give it my all. I’m quite comfortable in the job at hand.”
Rugby – The Roar