After 18 months of identity building, James Slipper says the new and improved Wallabies version 2.0 is ready to be unleashed.
As anticipation hots up for the series-opening Test against England at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, the long game for Australia resumes.
After last year’s stunning run to the World Cup final, coach Michael Cheika’s Wallabies must take a confident next step on their mission to become the best rugby side on the planet and flex their muscle in what bookies say should be a comfortable series win.
With a sprinkling of young and exciting new faces set to take on the old enemy, loosehead Slipper said the mood was ripe for Australian rugby to make a statement.
“We’re the 2016 Wallaby team and that’s something we want to push forward. We don’t want to look backwards,” Slipper told reporters at the team’s fan day event in Brisbane on Sunday.
“It’s a different team, there’s a lot of uncapped players in our squad. We’re just looking forward to putting our own stamp on the Wallaby jersey.
“We want to hit the ground running this year and really play some good rugby that not only we’re proud of, but our fans are proud of.”
It is that same forward-looking attitude that prompts Slipper to politely dismiss any questions about Australia’s emphatic victory over England that ended the hosts’ World Cup campaign, as many Wallabies players have done over the last week.
Slipper said the team had lodged the memory of the 33-13 result firmly to the back of their minds, branding it as largely “irrelevant” to their current preparations due to the changes in the England team under coach Eddie Jones and the arrival of fresh blood like potential debutants Reece Hodge, Karmichael Hunt and Samu Kerevi for Australia.
As always against England, the scrum will be crucial but unlike in past battles, for once Australia’s appears to be the form pack.
The World Cup front row of Scott Sio, Stephen Moore and Sekope Kepu is likely to be retained for the first Test, although that hinges on Kepu’s condition and training levels after his return from France.
Kepu was expected to link up with the Wallabies on Sunday night after re-signing for the NSW Waratahs on a three-year deal, and Monday’s session at Ballymore will quickly reveal if his brief stint at Bordeaux has held him in the right stead for international rugby.
“We’re pretty confident. He’s a pretty self-motivated kind of bloke,” Slipper said.
The other player returning from overseas, winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, will also join his teammates imminently.
But the wait continues for Christian Lealiifano, who is still in Canberra by his pregnant wife’s side as they expect the couple’s first child.
Lealiifano missed all of the training camp on the Sunshine Coast last week, heightening the intrigue around Australia’s new centres combination.