Skipper’s selfless act that saved teammate’s Wallabies career
RECALLED Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu has revealed how a selfless act from Australian skipper Michael Hooper helped save his flagging career.
It was only a month ago that Latu couldn't buy a Super Rugby spot. Now the fiery rake is in line to make his second straight appearance in gold after a stellar cameo against the Irish to help the Wallabies go one-nil up in the series.
But were it not for Hooper, it's likely he'd still be stuck toiling away in the Shute Shield for Sydney University over this June international window.
Told to get fitter, stronger and work harder on his unique positional skills by his Waratahs coach, Daryl Gibson, Latu risked becoming another player to have wasted his immense talent and fail to add to the four Test appearances he made in 2016.
A glaring omission from the Waratahs team in their first two matches of the season, Latu reappeared for the match against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires - a 27-minute cameo off the bench - but failed to gain selection for another 10 weeks after being relegated behind teammates Damien Fitzpatrick and Hugh Roach.
It was during that time out of the match-day team that the light flicked.
It was also then when the leadership qualities of Hooper came shinning through.
Having noticed the hard yards Latu was putting in on the training paddocks at the Waratahs' training facilities at Daceyville in Sydney's inner suburbs, Hooper went old school and took it upon himself to help his teammate out.
"He (Hooper) knew that I needed to get my reps up," Latu said.
"He's like, 'mate, just grab me whenever you want. I'm here to help you out'.
"So every morning Hoops comes in at the Tahs and I'm throwing to him.
"He's standing on a ladder and I'm just throwing to him.
"Probably 100 throws every morning.
"By the end of the day I've probably thrown 200 balls.
"He saw that I wanted to get back into the side and he's that type of captain that if you need him, he'll be happy to help out and he gets there pretty early.
"He's the first one there, so he gets there pretty early and he's willing to help anyone out who's wanting to do extra."
"Sitting down with 'Gibbo', getting told I'm being out worked (by other players) really lit the fire, and made me put in the hard work and do the little things like more throwing and the extra stuff," Latu said.
The perception was that Latu, 25, had become lazy and that his fitness had therefore waned.
Not so according to Latu though.
"I don't think I was complacent," Latu said.
"Failing to pick it (the level of intensity) up a notch and doing those extras early in the season didn't help me.
"Coming off the back of a shoulder reconstruction made it tough to start throwing as early as I would have liked.
"But having a chat with Gibbo a month or two ago, he just said I needed to work harder on my position skills like throwing and scrummaging."
Eventually, the hard work paid off and Gibson brought his Test hooker back into the side last month and Latu didn't let either his coach or captain down.
"(Coming back) it felt like it was my first game for the Tahs," Latu said.
"Just that excitement and wanting to get out there and do your best for the team and perform and take that opportunity.
"It was so exciting."
On the back of his encouraging performances as a reserve against four tough New Zealand outfits, Latu was invited to train alongside the Wallabies as a non-official member.
But a devastating season-ending knee injury to Rebels rake Jordan Uelese opened the door for the Waratah to be included as one of three hookers in the squad.
And with two other fresh faced hookers in the squad, Latu beat Brumbies youngster Folau Fainga'a for the reserve spot and his composure and strong work-rate in the final quarter of the match after coming on for Brandon Paenga-Amosa proved valuable for Cheika's Wallabies.
His selection and strong second half performance for the Wallabies is rich reward for his toil.
And by the sounds of it, Latu's not going to let slip his golden opportunity.
"It definitely feels like a second chance," Latu said.
"If you look at all the hookers that have been playing Super Rugby they're performing and playing consistently week in, week out and performing the house down.
"For me to come in on the back of three or four games for the Tahs has felt like a second chance."
"I'm itching for more.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity and hopefully I'll get another one this weekend."