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AS he runs into the field for his 100th NSW game on Saturday night, the pursuit of perfection will be on Sekope Kepu’s mind.
Not just because the tighthead prop will be the point of the Waratahs’ arrow in a decisive set-piece battle with the Brumbies.
But as Kepu leads his team out of the tunnel, he’ll pass on the sideline the Daniel Vickerman Cup; a newly minted trophy the Waratahs and Brumbies will now play for annually.
Vickerman played for both franchises and remains a favourite son in Canberra and Sydney. Such is his esteem at the Waratahs, the Dan Vickerman trophy is only the third annual prize they compete for, and the other two are named after Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop and Bob Templeton.
Kepu’s inspiration for a big milestone game against the Brumbies by will be stoked by another reminder of Vickerman, however.
Reflecting upon his NSW debut for the Waratahs in 2008, Kepu recalled how his joy at a boilover win against the Highlanders in the rain at Carisbrook was put in perspective by Vickerman post-match.
“I can’t remember whether it was “Hassy” (Adam Freier) or Tatafu (Polota-Nau) at hooker but we didn’t win a line out that night and although we won and I was celebrating first cap, he was so filthy,” Kepu said.
“That’s the man he is, and we fixed that pretty quickly. He is a man of great aura. He was a man of perfection and you didn’t want to muck up a line out for him.”
Kepu said the Waratahs would attempt to play with Vickerman’s famous passion but that’ll only get the home side so far, according to coach Daryl Gibson, because the Brumbies will be equally motivated.
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“The way he played the game probably epitomises both clubs and the culture each represent,” Gibson said.
“He has had a big impact on both clubs and that legacy remains. Also players still remember who he is, and that’s important.”
It’s a game that will also see Michael Hooper (Brumbies/NSW) and Nick Phipps (Rebels/NSW) celebrate 100 Super Rugby matches.
It would be a big night anyway but with Gibson predicting the set-piece battles to decide the war, Kepu will be the Waratahs’ most important player.
“He’s crucial really,” Gibson said. “You look at both tight fives, just about all of them have represented Australia so for me, it is going to be won upfront.”
The swift return to the Brumbies starting side of Wallabies no. 6 Scott Fardy, who was rested last week against the Force, points to a forward rumble.
Fardy’s return is offset by the loss of underrated former Waratahs flanker Chris Alcock, though, and the Tahs have welcomed back several key forwards just in time.
Giant lock Will Skelton is back from a hamstring injury and one of NSW’s most impressive players last year, no. 8 Jed Holloway, also returns from a hamstring.
Gibson has also stacked his bench with six forwards — including the returned Ned Hanigan and benched Michael Wells — and two backs.
“It will be a set-piece battle. every team you play the Brumbies it always is,” Gibson said.
“They have a very strong tight five and have very strong strength areas around the set-piece. I am expecting it to be won upfront.”
Kepu will have a horde of family in the stands, proudly watching on.
For a kid who grew up playing backrow in New Zealand, playing 100 games as a NSW prop is not something he ever dreamed of.
“I came over with a dream to get one cap for NSW and to play 100 on Saturday is certainly something that is a humbling experience,” Kepu said.
“I still remember walking over and coming in through these doors, and seeing guys I’d watched growing up; Lote Tuqiri, Phil Waugh, the late Dan Vickerman, Tatafu (Polota-Nau). It was a very overwhelming experience. But also to be here for a long time is a massive privilege.”
Originally published as Why Dan’s still the man for Sekope