Slipper’s one wish before crunch Scotland spring tour opener

Edinburgh: James Slipper says the return of Michael Hooper has put wind in the Wallabies’ sails before a banana-skin game against Scotland where better discipline will be the visiting side’s modus operandi.

Speaking on a wet and overcast morning in Edinburgh, a day out from Australia’s opening match of a five-Test European tour, Slipper said the leadership dynamic of the team wouldn’t change too much despite the latter deciding to stand down as skipper for these upcoming matches.

Hooper will return to the international arena on Saturday (Sunday 3.30am AEDT) in the Wallabies No.7 jersey he has been synonymous with for a decade after a 105-day break due to “mindset” issues that led to him flying home from the team’s tour of Argentina in August.

Despite not being captain, Hooper has been particularly vocal at training this week, providing input and insight where necessary as the Wallabies attempt to avoid a fourth straight defeat to Scotland.

It is the first time Hooper has played under Slipper at Test level.

“To have someone in the team like that this week playing is going to give us a bit of wind in the sails,” Slipper said. “He’s a big figure in our team and just even having him around the squad at training has been, for not only me, but the younger players in the team [a big boost]. Nothing’s really changed. We’ve played for a long time, over 10 years, so we know what works best for each other. It’s more of a unified approach.”

A five-week break since Australia’s 40-14 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park has provided ample time for reflection.

James Slipper will captain Australia for the first time in the northern hemisphere this weekend.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

What is Slipper’s one wish for the opening match of a brutal run of Tests against Scotland, France, Italy, Ireland and Wales?

“I’d like a few wishes,” Slipper said.

“My one wish is that we’re a well-disciplined team. It is a simple fix at the moment. It’s the penalties you can control and taking the ref out of it.

“Your simple offsides, lazy work off the ground … that’s the stuff we can control and something we can easily fix. It’s an area of the game we need to be better in.

“Test matches come down to the wire and teams can easily go 3-6-9 up on you.

“We haven’t had the greatest year. What we’ve dished up so far hasn’t been to standard.”

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend rubbished suggestions this week Wallabies are a team in crisis but assured former Australian back-rower Jack Dempsey is ready to make an impact at Murrayfield against his old mates.

Six Wallabies losses from nine matches in 2022 does not make for pretty reading but a 25-17 victory over world champions South Africa and a near-miss in Bledisloe one last month has Scotland wary of what’s to come.

“We know Dave Rennie really well and he’s always had an attacking philosophy,” Townsend told reporters. “It will be a big test for us … we’re aware of the strengths Australia bring.

“I was in Melbourne last month watching them against New Zealand. They lost [39-37] in the last seconds of that game after a brilliant comeback. They also beat South Africa … so they’re a quality team.

“Although they’ve not won as many games as they’d have liked, they’ve shown their quality enough times over the summer to be positive about their northern hemisphere tour.”

The most notable inclusion in Scotland’s team is Dempsey, the 28-year-old New South Welshman who played 14 times for the Wallabies between 2017 and 2019 under Michael Cheika.

Jack Dempsey will play for Scotland against the Wallabies after switching his international allegiance.Credit:Getty

Dempsey will come off the bench at Murrayfield after switching allegiances to Scotland this year following feedback from the Wallabies in 2020 that he lacked physicality.

The Gordon product played at the Waratahs with current Wallabies representatives Dave Porecki, Jed Holloway, Hooper, Bernard Foley and Ned Hanigan.

“He’s already proved he’s got the game to thrive at international level and we believe he’s got the game that can really thrive for us,” Townsend said.

Despite laughing off a question about whether Dempsey had a target on his back, Slipper later suggested a handful of Wallabies players may make it personal late in the game when he is injected.

“I guess it adds a bit of spice to the game and I’m sure there’s a few of his Sydney mates in the team who will be going after him,” Slipper said.

“He’s got a bit of X-factor about his game. Hopefully he doesn’t go too well on the weekend.”

Hooper, Foley and Allan Alaalatoa are the only survivors from Australia’s last victory at Murrayfield in 2016.

“Scotland are excellent post-tackle,” said Wallabies coach Dave Rennie. “They have the ability to get a couple in the tackle and choke you and slow your ball down so they can get a wall in front of you.”

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