New Waratah in Polota-Nau mould

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by AAP & Beth Newman

The Waratahs announced their latest signing on Monday, and already new hooker JP  Sauni is attracting lofty comparisons.

A former junior All Black, Sauni is eligible to play for Australia, New Zealand or Samoa at Test level, but he'll be playing in Australia in 2018.

Waratahs prop Tom Robertson said Sauni was a lot like former NSW teammate and Australia's first-choice hooker, Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Polota-Nau has tallied 82 Tests for the Wallabies and is currently plying his trade with Leicester in the English Premiership.

"He scrums like a brick something-house and he's a big unit," he said.

 

"I guess when you have a guy that's got that much speed and power around the field, and he can scrum and throw a lineout, which he can, it just makes an all-round front rower and they are very hard to  come by.

"He reminds me of Tatafu Polota-Nau a lot and if we can get in good training and put him around the right people in here, I can't see why he can't be like Tatafu as well."

Sauni is on a development contract for 2018 and the 20-year-old said on Monday he felt the Waratahs were the best place for his development.

"The main reason is I want to be at a club that really wants me," Sauni said.

"The Waratahs have offered me something really positive and will help me develop my rugby to get to where I want to be.


"Secondly, my family is in Melbourne. Being in Sydney it feels like Melbourne is like a two-minute drive."

Born in Auckland, Sauni moved to Melbourne with his family when he was 16-years-old and played rugby for the Endeavour Hills club.

Sauni may not have progressed very far in the game if not for the tough love of his uncle Filipo Saena, who played five-eighth for Samoa at the 1991 World Cup.

Sauni had ballooned to 150kg and his uncle whipped him into shape, training him so hard it made him cry.

"My uncle saw potential and rugby skills at a massive weight," Sauni said.

"He said how 'bad do you want to play? What are your goals?'

"I told him I just want to play rugby.


"He gave me his honest opinion. He said 'if you want to play rugby you have to chop that weight, you are way too heavy'.

"He trained me really hard every day.

"I remember my first session I cried.

"I couldn't really run at that time and he just kept pushing me."

Sauni, who is now a trim 104kg, played for the Melbourne Rebels in the Super Rugby U20s competition in 2016 before returning to New Zealand for a year.

He played for the successful New Zealand U20s team at the world championship in Georgia last year.

Sauni decided his future lay in Australia after he was spotted by Australian U20s coach Simon Cron, who is now the Waratahs forwards coach.

"My goal is to take it step by step," Sauni said.

"The first step was to join the Waratahs and just kick off the pre-season.

"I'm not really thinking further ahead."

As for his Test ambitions, Sauni hasn't pledged allegiance to any nation just yet.

"I'll go to whichever country wants me," Sauni said.

"All I care about is getting back with my family."

The Waratahs open their Super Rugby season on Saturday February 24, against the Stormers at Allianz Stadium, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT. Buy tickets here.