Sekope Kepu’s crash course in European scrummaging could prove a key weapon for the Wallabies in Saturday’s must-win second rugby Test against England.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika reacted to scrum problems in the first Test loss by changing both his starting props, with tighthead Kepu and loosehead James Slipper promoted from the bench ahead of Greg Holmes and Scott Sio.
Kepu was a late arrival to Camp Wallaby in the lead-up to the series, as he moved his family back from France after abruptly cutting short his post-World Cup deal with Top 14 club Bordeaux.
The 30-year-old was granted a release by Bordeaux after failing to settle in the country, and has since re-signed for the NSW Waratahs.
But while it might look and sound like a failed stint, Kepu insists he took plenty away from the experience.
Some of the knowledge he gleaned could become immediately useful in the second Test at AAMI Park after the Wallabies were edged by the English scrum in the first Test as Sio particularly struggled against wily opponent Dan Coles.
“In terms of footy, (French rugby) taught me a lot about the scrummaging and the whole mentality around it,” Kepu said.
“They pride themselves on it in France and I would like to think – I am obviously still improving – but I have learned a lot since being over there.”
A veteran of 64 Tests since 2008, World Cup star Kepu was already known as a powerful scrummager before his offshore stint and he also brings another valuable element to the starting pack with his strong ball-running capacity.
Meanwhile, new starting lock Sam Carter – who replaces the injured Rob Simmons – moved to play down fears over the unstable AAMI Park surface after the Wallabies trained there on Wednesday evening.
“I played here about six rounds ago against the Rebels and it wasn’t great, but it was a completely different surface tonight so it is looking good,” Carter said.