Faingaa on new ground in London

by Sam Phillips

Saia Faingaa's move to London Irish has taught him two things.

Just how much physical and mental attrition is required to play consistent top line rugby in Europe and how to settle into a new club without identical twin, Anthony, by his side.

Both of those lessons have hit Faingaa in a short time at London Irish, where he has forced his way into the best 23 after an injury-riddled start to his time at the club.

"In Australia we don’t really understand how many games they play and it’s amazing," Faingaa told RUGBY.com.au.

"They literally play week in, week out, midweek games, it’s never ending and it’s wet, dirty, tough rugby.

"Coming from a squad that I have always known - about 35 max - we have a squad here of 59 players - nearly double.

Saia Faingaa has been given a physical test in the UK. Photo: Getty Images"Everyone gets reps but there is only one person that can start per week and if you’re not playing you’re doing your own conditioning."

While the 30-year-old has been quick to adjust, it's been without Anthony by his side, for the first time in their careers.

The pair signed identical contracts in their time in Australian rugby - they were a package deal.

They learned their craft at the Brumbies before becoming integral parts of the Queensland Reds title run in 2011, with a shift back to Canberra in 2017 their final move on Australian shores.

That'a a world away from the 9,500 kilometres that separates the pair now, as Anthony plies his trade for the Kinetsu Liners in the Japanese Top League, Saia forced to find his feet solo.

"30 years of rugby and it’s the first time I have been without him," Saia said

"That’s a big change and a big career change.

"But, in saying that, I have adapted and I am loving it over here.

Saia and Ant Faingaa have spent their whole careers together. Photo: Getty Images"It’s been awesome, getting a different experience."

While he has embraced the new experience, Faingaa still keeps a close eye on the Wallabies, in particular.

He praised the vision of coach Michael Cheika, who has blooded 27 fresh faces since the 2015 World Cup, in preparation for 2019.

"The good thing about is that we’re building for the World Cup and, as a true Aussie patriot, I do think we are building," he said.

"We are getting younger, Cheika is doing the right thing by playing those younger guys, giving guys the experience and giving them that opportunity to play.

"With opportunity comes either success or failure.

"The guys are relishing the opportunity and taking it with two hands."

With Stephen Moore putting the cue in the rack and Tatafu Polota-Nau now playing for the Wallabies only under the 'Giteau Law', after joining Leicester, the door is open for a new hooker to take the reins.

Polota-Nau, on current form, remains Australia's best but Faingaa floated a few names outside of the incumbent and emerging star Jordan Uelese that have caught his eye in recent years.

Tatafu Polota-Nau made his Leicester debut last week. Photo: Getty Images"The guys that are coming through now haven’t really been mentored yet," Faingaa said.

"Having Stephen and Tatafu there for myself - it wasn’t just one or two seasons - it was back-to-back seasons of learning.

"Taf leaving is a big loss for Australia but I think with guys like Alex Mafi, we have some good up and coming guys.

"Even Andrew Ready is a top class player and Robbie Abel is another one on my list that will get a chance to wear the Wallaby jersey soon."