James Slipper thought he’d ended the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign with a single errant pass, but with Scott Sio in severe doubt for the rest of the tournament, the back-up prop now looms as a key man to help win it all.
Slipper was a crumpled mess in the 74th minute in the quarter-final nail-biter against Scotland when his pass meant for Drew Mitchell was intercepted by Scottish centre Mark Bennett,who sprinted away to score under the posts.
The Queensland front-rower was on hands and knees and couldn’t bear to look as Bennett drew the Dark Blues level with an easy conversion to come.
The loosehead prop had slotted in at first receiver with the Wallabies clinging to a five-point lead, with time running out and rain coming down.
Bennett crossed for what appeared to be the match-winning try – before the controversial last-minute penalty kick from Bernard Foley stole the match for Australia.
“He thought he’d lost it for us,” Wallabies assistant coach Stephen Larkham said.
“That’s what happens in games, you make mistakes.
“Like most games, we’ve moved on pretty quick. It wasn’t just him that made a mistake.
“At the time you could see he crumbled and tried to dig a hole in the field.
“But then he came into the huddle and apologised to the boys and they were all around him and they quickly moved on to the next job which is all you can ask them to do.
“And then we haven’t really talked about it.”
The joke all week has been that Slipper will be paying for the beers whenever he catches up with Foley for the rest of his life, after the No.10 spared him the indignity of being the man who put the dagger through the Wallabies’ World Cup hopes.
But with Sio struggling to overcome an elbow injury, despite receiving positive news from scans, Slipper’s importance to the team has never been greater.
The Wallabies insist they will give the 24-year-old Sio every chance to face Argentina on Sunday – and won’t be investigating the possibility of sending him home and sourcing a replacement prop at this stage of the tournament.
Until recently, Slipper had been Australia’s first-choice loosehead prop, starting in 28 straight Tests in the past two years before Sio was promoted during the Rugby Championship this year.
The youngster still had only two starts form his 10 Tests prior to the World Cup, and yet has become a vital member a Wallabies pack that has earned considerable praise in shaking a fragile reputation.