Wallaby star not keen on breaking Gregan's record
SPOTLIGHT: Already Australia’s longest-serving prop, James Slipper says he’s not sure if he wants to go past George Gregan’s record as the most capped Wallabies player.
Slipper will join an elite Wallabies group of scrumhalf Gregan and wing Adam Ashley-Cooper, who have played in four World Cups, earning the honour when he runs on for Australia’s clash with Fiji in Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
It will be his 132nd cap – the second most behind Gregan, who played 139 Tests before retiring in 2007.
The 34-year-old didn’t feel he was in the same echelon as Gregan, who was part of the Wallabies’ 1999 World Cup triumph.
In shades of former cricket captain Mark Taylor, who declared rather than take the chance to beat Sir Donald Bradman’s batting record for the highest individual score by an Australian, Slipper wasn’t convinced about breaking the record.
“George is is a Wallaby iconic player, a legend of our game and Australian rugby, and a little bit inside me doesn’t want to break his record, just for that fact – I’ve got that much respect for him,” Slipper said.
“I didn’t come over here to break records, I really wanted to come here and win the World Cup.”
Slipper is signed with the Brumbies and Rugby Australia until 2025, so the mark is well within reach.
He missed the Wallabies’ opening World Cup match against Georgia with an tendon issue in his foot but said he was otherwise in great shape.
“I’m really confident my body at the moment as I’ve played a lot of rugby this year,” Slipper said.
“I have only missed the last two Tests so I get to get the opportunity to lace up this weekend and I’m 100 per cent ready to go.
“I’m excited to be out there putting on the jersey again as it’s something I really take a lot of pride in.”
Slipper said he initially thought he’d retire at 30 so had already gone “a bit over time”.
It hasn’t always been easy, with Slipper suffering depression while dealing with his mother’s terminal cancer.
In 2018 he tested positive for cocaine twice but Rugby Australia showed leniency, only banning him for two months while giving him specialist mental health help.
He didn’t play for Australia in 2017 and 2018 and then left the Queensland Reds in 2019 to try and restart his career with the ACT Brumbies.
He returned to the Wallabies fold just prior to the 2019 World Cup and has continued as a mainstay, offering a rare talent to be able to play both as tighthead and loosehead prop.
Captaining the team for 12 Tests and highly regarded by his teammates, particularly young props Angus Bell and Blake Schoupp, Slipper said he would continue to play as long as he was contributing to Australian rugby.
“I always get asked the questions ‘why didn’t I go overseas, why didn’t I chase the cash?’ but I’ve always wanted to, I guess, squeeze the sponge with Australian Rugby as best I could,” he said.
“That’s probably been the drive for me to push on in the Wallabies jersey and try and keep making the squads and the teams.
“What you go through up front is always the hard bit but I always find the training a little bit harder than the game so if I can get through training I can get through the game.”