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QR Reds and rookie Wallabies prop James Slipper has the toughness and mental strength to handle the pressure of Test match rugby should he be called upon against England on Saturday night, according to one of his coaching mentors at the Reds, Matt Taylor.
Taylor, Slipper’s former 1st XV coach at The Southport School (TSS) on the Gold Coast and now the Reds defence coach, said the 2009 Australian Under 20 Player of the Year can expect a tough workout from the grizzled hard heads in the England pack, but says whatever they throw at him the recently turned 21 year old will never give up.
“From the word go he stood out in our team, not just skill wise, but the thing that caught my eye was his aggression and his willingness not to take a backward step,” said Taylor, who coached TSS to the GPS rugby premiership in 2006 and in 2007, the year when he selected Slipper as team captain.
“When the going got tough, he would keep fronting up,” Taylor recalled.
Slipper’s first experience of the front row was in the TSS 1st XV, a testing initiation for any young player. He’d earlier been a second rower and before that a back rower, and before that a flyhalf.
“He always had that strength so he handled it pretty well,” Taylor said of Slipper’s induction to the front row fraternity. “It didn’t take much for him to adjust to it at all,” Taylor said.
“But in saying that, he is very skilful as well. That probably came from his time as a back. He’s got all the skills; he can tackle really well and he’s a very good leader. He leads by example and is a very calm, hard-nosed player.”
The Gold Coast Breakers prop is a reserve to a very inexperienced Wallaby front row, with fellow Breaker Ben Daley making his Wallaby debut at loosehead prop, Reds hooker Saia Faingaa playing his second test and run-on debut and the Brumbies’ Salesi Ma’afu another second capper.
That they are coming up against an England forward pack that prides itself on its scrummaging makes for an even bigger test, but Taylor believes their performance in the Investec Bank Super 14 will stand the Reds in good stead.
“England will try to apply the blowtorch in that aspect of the game as it’s seen as one of their strengths and one of our weaknesses. But I’m sure they’ll be giving it their all and I’m sure they’ll go well,” he said.
“As Robbie Deans has said, Saia and Ben played against the Bulls and that’s basically the Springboks front-row. Against the Sharks they also stood up against another good front-row. They’ve been up against some good packs and held their own.
“Slipper in the Australian Barbarians game came on and did well under pressure and I think that’s why they picked him.”
After coming off the bench for the Reds twice this year, Slipper made his run-on debut in the final game of the season against another bunch of front row hard heads, the Highlanders from Otago, and again stood his ground. The QAS Reds Academy rookie was last month signed to a two year contract with the Reds senior squad.
Slipper’s selection also bears out Taylor’s belief that hard work, strength of character and a determination to succeed is as important as natural talent in a player’s development.
“From my point of view, seeing him succeed is quite satisfying as he was around the fringes, but he wasn’t in the wider NTS (National Talent Squad) while at school. He was picked up by (then NTS coach) Paul Carozza for an NTS tight five squad in his final year of school but before then hadn’t been regarded as the cream of the crop, as it were.”
The Reds are well represented in the Wallabies team, with Slipper, Daley and Faingaa joining incumbents Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane, Will Genia and late inclusion Peter Hynes.
24 MARCH 2019