Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu has played just about everywhere on the rugby field but it’s his history as a flanker that’s made him one of their most valuable assets this season.
Latu began his junior career as a flyhalf playing for Canterbury juniors, with fellow Waratah Jake Gordon at fullback, before making his progression further down the jersey numbers.
“I moved from the backs to back row, played eight, then wasn’t tall enough, then went to play seven, then wasn’t quite fit enough to play seven, got shifted to the front row and loosehead and then I was a poor scrummager so I got moved into hooker and now I’m still trying to learn how to throw,” he laughed.
The 24-year-old took much of the responsibility for four missed lineouts in the second half of their loss to the Brumbies, a stat he desperately wants to make amends for this weekend..
“To come out and after the first half with a good lineout outcome, coming into the second half and then under throwing those couple of lineouts and them clearing it out of the area really put the pressure back on us,” he said.
This is Latu’s fifth season at hooker, having made the switch from loosehead in 2013 but it’s his ability over the ball that has shone through in a mixed Waratahs campaign
It’s something he honed a little bit more, watching flanker David Pocock on the Wallabies Spring Tour, trying to make the most of his size in the breakdown.
“I learned that he was big as and couldn’t get moved so I thought maybe I could use my weight to not get moved,” he said.
“He’s great over the ball and he gave me a couple of tips, but that’s a secret between me and him.
“The year before last I got a couple of pilfers so this year just trying to help the team in whatever way I can.
“If that’s getting over the ball, trying to steal it, so be it.”
The form hooker of the Australian conference, Latu faces off against one of his possible Test rivals in James Hanson on Friday, but admits he is yet to look too deeply into his review, avoiding rugby when he’s not playing.
The Waratahs are wary of the Rebels’ threat at the breakdown, with Jordy Reid and Colby Faingaa influential against the Chiefs, and forwards coach Cam Blades said Latu would help combat that.
“I think Tolu’s been very good over the ball - he’s probably been our best at the breakdown,” he said.
“He’s a good scrummaging hooker, his lineout work is a work in progress but he’s still very capable in that area and from what i’ve observed one of the better performing hookers in our conference." - Cam Blades
While Latu admitted he missed being able to call on former mentor Tatafu Polota-Nau, who is now at the Force, for advice, Blades said the starter had stood up under the spotlight so far.
“I think certainly we’ve seen an emergence of him as a person, as a well as a player this year," he said.
“He’s taken on the responsibility of wanting to be our lead hooker in the club and we’re in the fortunate position we've got three very good hookers so he’s really taken that challenge on at the moment.
“I think stepping out of that shadow and being able to be himself and lead from the front has been a really good area of growth for him.”
The Waratahs take on the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via radio on RUGBY.com.au.