Dan McKellar goes back to the day he sat down over coffee with James Slipper.
The Wallabies veteran was at a crossroads. Injuries and family illness had sparked a battle with depression. He was frozen out by the Queensland Reds after twice testing positive to cocaine.
But ACT Brumbies coach McKellar knew Slipper had more to give when they met late in 2018.
"He came down here to play for Queensland Country against the Vikings in NRC," McKellar said.
"I just knew if I could convince him that it was going to be a good fit for the Brumbies, it was certainly going to be a good fit for James Slipper.
"I had to sell to him that being in the same team as Scotty Sio was going to be a positive for both of them. Thankfully he saw that."
What followed was a stirring rugby resurgence. Slipper re-established himself as the country's premier loosehead prop, working in tandem with Sio to power the Brumbies to a Super Rugby AU title in 2020.
But Slipper's crowning moment is to come on Sunday morning [AEDT], when he leads the Wallabies onto Millennium Stadium as captain for their final Spring Tour clash against Wales.
Injured skipper Michael Hooper left sizeable shoes to fill in the wake of a career-best international campaign.
The 32-year-old wasn't sure what he would say to whip his teammates into a pre-game frenzy. His leadership style is less fire and brimstone preaching, more leading by example.
He just came in with a promise to himself that 'I'll just put my head down and work, earn everybody's trust, earn everybody's respect, and play the best football'.Laurie Fisher on James Slipper
But there was little doubt Slipper was the man for the job, captaining Australia for the second time in his storied 113-Test career.
"With his attitude and commitment to training, his desire to want to win trophies, win competitions, and his leadership, I don't think I've seen a more popular player," Wallabies forwards coach McKellar said.
"The players genuinely love him. That's because of what he does and the way he carries himself on the field, and the person he is off the field. Incredibly proud and pleased for him."
Slipper is a laidback character known to spend early mornings driving down the south coast to go fishing before racing back for training, or dive into Lake Burley Griffin to cool off after a pre-season session.
But every bit of success has been earned by a man who arrived in Canberra "with a promise to himself".
"He came in and he didn't want to come in and be saying this and saying that, he just wanted to put his head down and earn the respect of the group by how he trained and how he played, not by what he said," Brumbies forwards mentor Laurie Fisher said.
"I think that's really good, a bloke who had played 70 or 80 Tests at the time, he just came in with a promise to himself that 'I'll just put my head down and work, earn everybody's trust, earn everybody's respect, and play the best football'.
"Going into the second year, he started to feel more comfortable about helping the younger front-rowers through and making some salient points at team meetings.
"This is the sort of guy he is, he didn't come in expecting that role but he earns that role.
"You don't get picked to play for Australia at the age he did if people don't recognise your capacity to play football. I don't think anybody ever questioned his rugby-playing capacity.
"He's had some injuries, with the Achilles and the shoulders and things like that, and obviously that triggered some off-field issues, but a good bloke, down to earth.
"Once he sorted those things out in his own mind and was able to focus on being the footballer he is capable of being, then he was producing good efforts every week."
There's a reason Slipper's elevation to the captaincy role for the first time since a World Cup warm-up match against the USA in 2015 is "definitely extra special".
"I've been on a journey that's taken me to different places," Slipper said.
"There's a lot of time in between drinks there for me, six years. It's a huge honour for myself. Playing for Australia is very humbling, but to be captain as well, it's something very special for me. To lead the boys out is something I won't forget."
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