Rising Test prop James Slipper is on track to be the Wallabies most-capped forward of all time.
Wycliff Palu can only marvel at what sort of Test rugby records fellow milestone man James Slipper may break before his Wallabies career ends.
In the same game 31-year-old Palu plays his 50th Test, against France at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, Slipper will notch the same mark – just a day after his 25th birthday.
While it’s taken the bulldozing NSW No.8 nine seasons to get to his half-century, the Queensland front-rower has defied logic to rush there in four.
Normally, it’s at 25 that grizzled props make their Test debuts; while the only 30-cap players that young are a few fleet-footed stars out in the backline.
“I am young but I don’t feel young,” Slipper told AAP.
“I might be 25 but it feels like 30. It’s a lot of footy, nearly 115 professional games in nearly four years.”
Slipper’s resilience and ability to snaffle his shock Wallabies call-up at 21 has him well on track to become one of the most-capped players in not only Australian rugby, but world rugby.
The last Wallaby forward to hit 50 caps so quickly was Mr Indestructible George Smith, who brought up the milestone when he was just a month younger.
“Look at him,” Palu said of Slipper. “I debuted in ’06 and it’s taken a long time to get my 50.
“He’ll be looking at 100-plus.”
Smith finished with 111 Test caps, while Nathan Shape currently stands as Australia’s most-capped Test forward with 116. Current skipper Stephen Moore, 31, is set to play his 92nd at Suncorp Stadium.
England’s Justin Leonard holds the world record for a front-rower, playing 119, but he’d only registered 27 caps by his 25th birthday.
Unlike Smith and Sharpe, Slipper was forced to bide most of his time on the bench in his early years but he nailed down the No.1 jersey in a breakthrough 2013 by starting all 12 games under Ewen McKenzie.
A 51-Test prop himself, McKenzie – who debuted at 25 and retired at 32 – is another to marvel at Slipper, but more for his mobility and work-rate, playing much like a back-rower.
It’s at the scrum where props earn their keep, though, and the oft-maligned Australian pack can go into the three-Test series with France confident in Slipper’s ability against veteran tight-head Nicholas Mas.
It’s a challenge Slipper is relishing after four strong efforts against Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to silence critics late last year.
“It’s going to be a big day at the office,” the 117kg birthday boy said. “They will look at their scrum as their strength and probably see our’s as our weakness.
“We’re happy with that, we’re used to that.”