Tolu Latu told to harness aggression in a "smarter" way

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Firebrand Wallabies hooker Tolu Latu says he's been counselled by Michael Cheika to control his aggression and be "smarter" about how to use it on a niggly rival.

Latu was the subject of strong criticism when he was yellow-carded against New Zealand in Japan for pushing Codie Taylor, after his rival no.2 had stood in his face following a scrum win.

The sin, which saw the Kiwis use their extra man to run away with the game, was twice as bad given Latu had been binned in his previous Test as well.

Cheika not only kept faith in Latu, he promoted him to start against Wales and though the NSW hooker's game was far from perfect, his discipline wasn't an issue.

Latu said Cheika had told him to not bite when a rival attempted to draw out a response, but instead store that emotion and only use the next time they ran his way.

“He said I’ve got to control that aggression and be smarter, don’t let guys bait you into doing stuff like that,” Latu said.

Tolu Latu has had some brain fades of late. Photo: Getty Images“That’s part of my game, that aggression and physicality, but I’ve just got to learn to let them do what they want and get them in a tackle.

“The biggest thing he said to me was keep it controlled and be smart about it.”

Keeping a level head is particularly crucial for Latu after a wild rollercoaster of a season.

Ranked third in the hookers at the Waratahs, Latu played for Sydney Uni for much of the season until he worked his his way back into Super Rugby in the final rounds.

That saw him called into the Wallabies' June series squad by Cheika as well.  

Cheika said after last weekend’s Test against Wales he had always been a “believer” in Latu even when he was on the outer in NSW, though the rake has been in and out of Test squads as well.

Latu earned just his second Test start in Cardiff last weekend and said he had learned plenty from the unpredictability of the year.

“It’s been up and down and it’s probably tested my character and tested me and how I can keep moving along and the way I deal with things instead of just giving up,” he said.

“I’m trying to keep pushing to be the best player I can be.”

Whether he earns another starting chance this weekend or has another 2018 twist remains to be seen.

Australia’s lineout was still patchy against Wales and the hooker selection remains one of the most contested each week.

Latu was disappointed with some of his throws late in the loss to Wales, including an overthrow that cost Australia a chance at a game-changing try, but one thing that did improve was his discipline.

“I probably let the team down in a couple of areas in the game, that last throw was a crucial throw for myself and the team, we were in an awesome position to get points and we didn’t get the ball back,” he said.

“So, little lapses in the game probably cost us the game.”

Tolu Latu takes a photo of Sekope Kepu and his family after a Test. Photo: Getty ImagesLatu has often leant on veteran teammate Sekope Kepu at the Waratahs and Wallabies and said he was grateful to have a figure like that in camp.

“It’s perfect for guys like us seeing how he dealt with things and he’s keeping us honest and motivated by coming up to us every day going, ‘Keep your head up, keep going’,” Latu said.

“Just having an older player that you can talk to about situations on and off the field is very handy for us younger blokes, asking him questions about selections, if you’re feeling down.

“Having his advice to keep you going and motivated so you go again next week and the week after is really helpful for the younger guys.”

That in itself hasn’t been easy for Kepu, who has had his own positional competition to deal with this season, switching to the loosehead side of the scrum with the rise of Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou.

Kepu balances internal competition with his role as a team mentor, two elements he has to separate in camp.

"You think about yourself and you think about the team itself. I have had to deal with some my own personal battles in terms of selection,” he said.

“But at the end of the day you have to park those feelings aside and focus on the team goal and the result we want to get at the weekend.

"It's about keeping composure and encouraging guys around you to keep that faith and belief.

“The biggest thing I have learned is being in that moment and enjoying it. But also being clear about what you need to execute.”

Australia takes on Italy in Padova on Saturday November 17, kicking off at 3pm local, Sunday 1am AEDT, LIVE on beIN Sports Channel 515 and SBS.