The Waratahs are desperate to get their hands on the Dan Vickerman Cup in 2019 but simply having the chance to play for the trophy makes it a special week for NSW halfback Nick Phipps.
Aside from the opportunity for interstate bragging rights, the week leading up to Waratahs-Brumbies matches is a chance for those that knew Vickerman to share stories about their friend with the next generation.
The Brumbies and Waratahs have played for the Dan Vickerman Cup since 2017, after the former Test lock passed away in February of that year, and the Brumbies have won it two seasons in a row.
Along with a handful of current Waratahs and Brumbies, Phipps played with Vickerman at both Super Rugby and Wallabies level and the Test lock’s influence still lives on in many of those players.
“Vicks was such an important person in so many players’ lives from the Waratahs and the Brumbies,” Phipps said.
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“A lot of the players coming through now probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play with Vicks – I got to play with Vicks a bit and tour with him a bit with the Wallabies and he’s just such a great bloke.
“It’s extremely special for the players and the past players – it’s a tight contest over that cup.
“I’m sure “Big Vicks” will be watching the boys – he’d probably be hoping the ball doesn’t get passed around too much, prefer to just keep it in the forwards, lots of lineouts, lots of scrums and lots of pick and goes.
“It’s going to be awesome. I think the importance of that cup is not lost on anyone in the group.”
It is rare for named trophies to hold such a personal connection with the teams competing for the trophy but the Vickerman Cup is one such rarity.
That connection brings a a sense of responsibility to ensure Vickerman’s legacy is passed onto the next generation, Phipps says.
“On top of that (personal significance), it’s also our task to tell people about Vicks,” he said.
“A lot of the young players have probably only seen him playing, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to really get to know him.
“But me and a few of the boys have – me, Bernard (Foley), Kurtley (Beale) played a lot with him, Adam Ashley-Cooper as well.
“When blokes ask about Vicks, it’ll be very hard to find anyone that could find a bad thing to say about him – the big Jaapie bloke, he was much-loved by a lot of people.
“It’s for us to keep his legacy alive and that’s through performing on the weekend.”
This season will be Phipps’ last in Super Rugby, after signing a deal with London Irish for 2019-20 and beyond, and winning the Vickerman Cup for the first time is something he definitely wants to tick off in his last year with the Waratahs.
“The fact we haven’t held it yet is not lost on us, don’t worry about that,” he said.
“It’s been pointed out that it’s something very important to the club that we get back.
“It’d be nice to tick it off, to hold onto Vicks for a little bit back at the club here and put in pride of place in the middle of the clubhouse.
“It’s very important just like every game is important, every little piece of silverware we can get our hands on, the fact we haven’t done it yet, we want to be the first group to do it.”
The Waratahs saw a glimpse of how the Brumbies can be unravelled in the Rebels’ come from behind win in Melbourne last week, keeping the tempo of the game up right until the final seconds.
Phipps will certainly play a key role should the game be in the balance in the final 20 minutes and it’s a job he’ll be embracing in his comeback from a calf injury.
“Daryl has come from the school of (Michael) Cheika where finishers provide such an important part of our game and you can see through the selections in the finishers there that it’s quite a mobile sort of group,” he said.
“I’m very excited to get on there and provide that edge, especially when the big boys have done the work.
“That’s Waratahs rugby. We try and play a speed and style of rugby where we can put pressure on teams and build back-to-back phases.”
The Brumbies have won four of the sides’ past five clashes, with last year’s 24-17 victory for NSW in Canberra the only exception, and Phipps said a win in Canberra would be a big litmus test for the 2019 Waratahs.
“You can measure how the season’s going on the performance down there in Canberra,” he said.
“At our great years at the club we have won down there and that is a true measure of success for us. Looking forward to getting down the Hume and putting our best foot forward to hopefully kick-start the season throughout the year. “
The Waratahs take on the Brumbies on Friday March 15 at GIO Stadium, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.