Ex-Reds skipper reveals dark days of drugs ban
IN the darkness that engulfed James Slipper early last year, one of the Wallabies' most decorated props made the blunt assessment he'd never wear the gold jersey again.
He worked out he had depression but it was too late to turn back the clock to delete the dabble with cocaine which shocked teammates Australia wide when it was picked up in two out-of-competition tests.
Slipper never expected those results to be aired but the major fallout and being forced to confront his demons more publically turned into a tough yet cathartic 12 months.
He was isolated from rugby for longer than his two-month ban when "very significant personal issues", including a family medical crisis, were noted by Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle.
The Queensland Reds moved on their captain but landing in the polar-fleece capital of Canberra in winter became the jolt he needed with the Brumbies.
He has turned around his life and his rugby to such a degree he will be the smiling "Slips" of old when he packs against the giant South Africans in Johannesburg early on Sunday morning (AEST).
His first Test in more than two-and-a-half-years will be No.87 and the Gold Coast product is still only 30.
"It's definitely humbling. There was a point there where I probably didn't see it happening," Slipper said.
"That's probably what makes it special."
A whole raft of supportive family, his partner, friends, teammates and coaching types have helped him rebuild and it has been more than on the mental health side.
"I'd have to say my parents, my two brothers and partner were probably the people closest who helped me most during a pretty dark period of time," Slipper said.
He had been down on himself too at the unsuccesful Reds when niggling injuries took away his identity as a top prop and his enjoyment.
How could he be a real prop when his playing weight dipped under 110kg and his strength was compromised.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar, an old prop, was in his corner but it was a Slipper who showed how much he wanted this comeback by not moping and ripping into private training.
He no longer copped banter as a "fat backrower" because he was jolting opposition props with a fulsome 118kg frame and his tackle completion rate was over 90 per cent with a repaired body.
"Just my enjoyment in playing rugby has come back a lot," Slipper said.
"Going to Canberra and changing up the scenery was really good and refreshing.
"I'm really loving my rugby at the moment and that's really important to perform.
"That's probably the biggest thing I've taken from it but having my family and partner around me with the support they've shown me is pretty much why I'm back here."
Slipper's experience in 13 Tests against the Springboks is needed in a big way, with top props Scott Sio (adductor muscle), Allan Alaalatoa (foot) and Tom Robertson (ankle) out injured and red-haired bench rookie Harry Johnson-Holmes untried against a Test scrum.
"We know what's coming ... the South Africans are always physical, big teams and play the fundamentals really strongly, set piece, big maul, big defence," Slipper said.
"I just want to go out there and do my job for the team which is the best way I can repay Cheik and the selectors."
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