ODAWARA, 13 Oct - Fifteen years ago James Slipper and Rob Simmons were schoolmates who dreamed of being rock stars. Now, with a combined 195 caps for Australia, they are preparing for a Rugby World Cup 2019 quarter-final.
"We shake our head at every time, the opportunity that's been given to us," said Slipper, two days after Simmons had played his 100th test for the Wallabies in the game against Georgia. "We're just very humbled by it. We didn't really expect this as young blokes hanging around enjoying ourselves."
The pair, pictured above with Simmons centre and Slipper right, were classmates at the Southport School on Queensland's Gold Coast and they even packed down in the second row together before Slipper moved into the front row. At the time, though, it was not rugby crowds that they wanted to impress.
"Who didn't want to be a rock star?" Slipper said. But after his self-confessed "pretty average" rendition of a Kings of Leon song during a recent Wallabies karaoke session, he knows he made the right career move.
"We obviously enjoyed the game a lot when we were young and both Simmo and I were lucky to continuously make representative teams," Slipper said. "It was just a progression for us."
First the pair won their state-wide school championship title and, two years later, they were in the Queensland Reds squad playing Super Rugby. Neither had to wait long for Australia selection, with both making their test debuts in 2010 within six weeks of each other.
It has not all been plain sailing since those care-free school days.
Firstly, Simmons lost so much form that he not only dropped out of the Wallaby squad but also left the Reds.
Then Slipper, battling depression as he tried to cope with his mother's terminal cancer, was banned for two months in 2018 after twice returning positive tests for recreational drugs.
Lifted by the support of his wife and the arrival of his son, Simmons moved to the NSW Waratahs and rediscovered his love for the game, while Slipper switched to the Brumbies to put his career back on course.
20 minutes left in Shizuoka and the @wallabies lead 17-3.— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) October 11, 2019
Lock Rob Simmons has just come into the game for his 100th Test.#RWC2019 #AUSvGEO
LISTEN LIVE: https://t.co/ZFDO8WFwP4 pic.twitter.com/V2zdiABvA5
"Simmo's always been the same sort of bloke, but me probably a bit of a hot head at times. I guess you go through growing up as a person," Slipper said. "You always make mistakes along the way."
The reaction of their teammates to two significant moments in the past 10 days revealed the pair's standing in the game. Every player on and off the pitch went wild in the game against Uruguay when Slipper scored his first try in his 94th test.
Six days later, Australia captain David Pocock and coach Michael Cheika could not contain their praise when Simmons earned his 100th cap in Shizuoka.
"At this stage in our career both of us are closer to the end than the start," said Slipper, "and we're just enjoying doing our job for the team, and really enjoying the moment."