More impact, fewer brain explosions: Latu still pushing for World Cup selection

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Having worked hard to overcome his propensity to slip from hard-edge play into “brain explosion”, Tolu Latu believes he still has something to offer the Wallabies at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

But as far as impressing Eddie Jones has gone this season, the problem has been less about discipline and all about winning selection for the Waratahs.

Latu was the starting hooker for the Wallabies at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and one of Australia’s best in a disappointing tournament. But the 22-cap hooker was a long way from being considered for Jones’ first camp on the Gold Coast this week, with five hookers named ahead of him, at least.

But that’s no shock, given the 30-year-old has been the third choice hooker at the Waratahs since returning this year from a three-year stint in France, and had played just 99 minutes in seven rounds.

With Wallabies hooker Dave Porecki and rising No.2 Mahe Vailanu preferred by coach Darren Coleman, Latu has had only snatched minutes from the bench and played club rugby for Parramatta last week.

“I feel like I am still finding my feet. It’s tough getting minimum minutes in games but you have to deal with it and do the best you can when you get the opportunity,” Latu said.

Tolu Latu passes the ball playing against the Drua.Credit: Getty

“It’s a bit hard, not getting big minutes, trying to prove myself worthy enough to get that starting spot. But in saying that, I have two quality hookers in front of me, and I knew that coming back to the Waratahs it wasn’t going to be easy.”

Latu’s recruitment in late 2022 was contentious and required board approval given his chequered past, on and off the field. He was fined and suspended for drink-driving in Australia in 2019, and busted for a second drink-driving offence in France in 2021.

Latu’s on-field discipline was also poor in his last season at Stade Francais, where he received seven yellow cards and two reds in three years. The last red led to an 11-week suspension for a reckless tackle and his exit from the club.

“Before signing here I had a Zoom call with [NSW forwards coach] Paul [Taumoepeau] and ‘Bladesy’ [Waratahs general manager Andrew Blades] and chats over message with ‘DC’ [coach Darren Coleman], about that discipline. They said they trusted me and wanted me to keep playing on the edge, but also making sure there would be no brain explosions within that decision-making on the field,” Latu said.

Latu said he’d been keeping a cool head but, with limited minutes, it’s hard to get an accurate gauge on the overall reformation. It’s also been hard gauge whether Latu still has the ability that saw him emerge as one of the Wallabies’ best in the 2019 World Cup.

“I feel like I have more to give in Australian rugby but it comes down to taking opportunities when they come,” Latu said.

“That [2023 Rugby World Cup] was another reason why I came back, with the rules being you have to play in Super Rugby to get picked. But I knew I wasn’t going to just come back and get given the jersey. It doesn’t happen like that.

“I feel like if I do get on the park and do get more minutes, and I play enough footy and play consistently each week, then there is always an opportunity to be called up into the squad. But they can’t really pick you if you’re not playing. So for myself, it’s just when I get the opportunities and making the most of it.

Tolu Latu was named man of the match in Australia’s 39-21 victory over Fiji in Sapporo in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.Credit: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

“I feel like I haven’t made the most of my chances this season so when I do get my opportunities, I have to take them and play better.”

Latu, who also recently became a father, will return to NSW’s bench this week for a clash with the Blues in Auckland, due to Porecki suffering a concussion against the Force.

And with more game time, Latu believes he can prove he has what it takes to play Test rugby. His last Wallabies appearance came on the 2021 spring tour, when Latu was called up by Dave Rennie from Stade Francais.

“I feel like if I do get a chance to play more minutes and prove myself, then I could get myself back there,” he said.

“But it is still taking one week at a time and seeing what minutes I get and making sure I perform when I do get on the field.”

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