St.George Queensland Reds prop James Slipper has been chosen as captain in his milestone 50th game for Queensland, coming in Saturday night’s blockbuster Templeton Cup contest against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.
Slipper, 24, regains the captaincy role he held during the opening month of the competition with James Horwill (calf) and Will Genia (knee/hand) to miss one week through injury ahead of next weekend’s Super Rugby Finals Series.
The accolade couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for Slipper with the match doubling as his milestone 50th game for Queensland and in the Super Rugby competition.
It’s a deserving honour for the talented front-rower with Slipper going from strength to strength this year after becoming just the second prop in Queensland Rugby history to win the team’s Pilecki Medal for Players’ Player in 2012.
He has enjoyed tremendous success since debuting for Queensland in 2010 and in a standout 2013 campaign has represented Queensland in all 15 Super Rugby games to date and also for Australia in their recent series against The British & Irish Lions.
“Anytime you get to captain your state is a massive honour and to be doing it on the same night as you reach 50 Queensland and Super Rugby games makes it even more special,” Slipper said.
“I really enjoyed the experience and learned a huge amount from captaining this team earlier in the year. It’s disappointing to be without James and Will, but to get this opportunity again is very rewarding and I’ll be doing everything within my power to get a Reds win on Saturday.
“Anytime you’re playing the Waratahs it’s a huge game and you can sense there is a real determination and resolve within the group at the moment to put in a really strong performance before the finals commence.”
Slipper will pack down with prop Greg Holmes and hooker Saia Faingaa in the front-row while the absence of Horwill will see Ed O’Donoghue and Rob Simmons partner as the team’s locks.
They’ll be joined in the forwards by the young backrow trio of Eddie Quirk, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz.
Scrumhalf Nick Frisby will get his second straight opportunity to wear the number nine jersey with Genia sidelined for the weekend after Frisby starred in Queensland’s historic tour match against The British & Irish Lions in June, scoring the team’s second try.
He will combine with flyhalf Quade Cooper in the playmaking positions while goal-kicking ace Mike Harris has recovered from an ankle injury to win his first starting opportunity since round five and will join Ben Tapuai in the centres.
Ben Lucas retains his place at fullback as part of a back-three that includes flyers Rod Davies and Luke Morahan on the wings.
Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie has chosen a forward-heavy 5-2 split on the bench with Albert Anae, Jono Owen, Radike Samo, Jarrad Butler and Beau Robinson covering the forwards and Anthony Faingaa and Dom Shipperley in the backs.
For Owen it will be his first Super Rugby opportunity with the Reds although he has one Queensland cap from the team’s thrilling encounter against The British & Irish Lions last month.
“We’re in a unique circumstance where we’ve only got one game before the finals so it’s important we begin to get our combinations right and are choosing players who are completely fit and healthy for the next stages of our campaign,” McKenzie said.
“You never wish to see players of the calibre of James Horwill and Will Genia miss games but James Slipper did an outstanding job in the opening month of the season and will lead us well into what is a very important match against the Waratahs.
“Rivalries in Australian Rugby don’t get much bigger and we’re proud to have won the past four games against NSW. That’s an important record to us, as is The Templeton Cup, and we’ll be determined for that to continue.”
Saturday night’s encounter is crucial to the Reds’ Super Rugby Finals Series ladder position with the Queenslanders locked in a battle for fourth place and a home Qualifying Final at Suncorp Stadium.
It’s also an important opportunity for the Reds to continue their interstate dominance over NSW, having won their past four matches against the Waratahs, and also retain The Templeton Cup.
For Slipper, he will become the fourth Reds player to reach the 50-game milestone for Queensland in 2013, joining Rob Simmons, Anthony Faingaa and James Hanson.
Queensland Reds team to play NSW Waratahs
1. Greg Holmes
2. Saia Faingaa
3. James Slipper (c)
4. Ed O’Donoghue
5. Rob Simmons
6. Eddie Quirk
7. Liam Gill
8. Jake Schatz
9. Nick Frisby
10. Quade Cooper (vc)
11. Luke Morahan
12. Mike Harris
13. Ben Tapuai
14. Rod Davies
15. Ben Lucas
16. Albert Anae
17. Jono Owen
18. Radike Samo
19. Jarrad Butler
20. Beau Robinson
21. Anthony Faingaa
22. Dom Shipperley