Out-of-favour Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu says he deserved to be dropped after the Bledisloe Cup opener but has pledged to return to form with a polished performance for Sydney University in this weekend’s Shute Shield final.
After slowly but surely improving his form throughout the Super Rugby season before a brilliant showing off the bench in the third Test against Ireland, Latu had arguably his worst game in a Wallabies jersey against New Zealand in Sydney.
Australia lost six lineouts from Latu’s throws in the second half of their 38-13 defeat. While his throwing might have been slightly off the mark, his taller teammates did him no favours while jumping against the likes of Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read – two of the game’s best defensive lineout generals.
Coach Michael Cheika axed Latu from the match-day 23 for the second Bledisloe fixture at Eden Park, which Australia ended up losing 40-12.
Some believe Latu was a scapegoat for myriad issues in their lineout but the discarded hooker is happy to cop the call on the chin and move forward.
"That’s rugby … I let go of the opportunity to put the jersey on again," Latu told Fairfax Media. "I felt like I wasn’t hard done by. It was the right call and the coaches had to make that decision. It is disappointing to get dropped but at that level you need to execute and take the opportunities when they come along.
"They defended in a pod system and that caught us off guard. They have excellent defence and to be honest my throws probably weren’t good enough. They didn’t hit the mark.
"The team is very disappointed with both results and felt we didn’t showcase what we are as a team. It’s tough to play the All Blacks but we wouldn’t want it any other way playing the best team in the world."
Latu has a chance before the Wallabies’ next Test against the Springboks in Brisbane on September 8 to press his claims for a return. The 25-year-old has been named as University’s starting hooker to take on Warringah at North Sydney Oval on Saturday afternoon.
With Cheika watching on in the crowd, it’s a timely chance for Latu to put his name back in the frame for national selection.
"Coming off the back of last week not getting picked it’s important for myself to get as much rugby under the belt going forward," Latu said. "This is an another opportunity to get minutes under the belt."
One only has to have a quick glance at social media to see heated debate as to whether Uni’s decision to bring Latu and Wallabies teammate Nick Phipps back for the final is the right thing to do.
Ultimately, it is a fuss over nothing, considering Latu and Phipps have both worn a gold and blue Students jersey this year, but it has certainly created extra interest in club rugby’s showpiece game of the year.
"I called RT [coach Rob Taylor] and asked if there was a spot for me on the team," Latu said. "I feel like part of the team because I played half the season here at the start of the year. It’s like coming back home. I haven’t just come out of the blue and tried to glory hunt. The club has done a lot for me and I want to give back."
Latu’s coach defended Latu’s selection in a team that also features the likes of Paddy Ryan, Dave McDuling, Brad Wilkin and Jake Gordon who all have Super Rugby experience.
"I think people have forgotten Tolu wasn’t wanted by the Waratahs at the start of the season," Taylor said. "He’s played the equal number most games as a hooker for us. Tolu goes back as a 15-year-old playing in our thirds colts team.
"Fanga [Phipps] started in thirds colts a long time ago and has played every year since. He bleeds for the jersey. It’s nice to have those guys. It’s lucky with the timing. Hopefully we can help them get back in that starting position with the Wallabies."