TEAM NEWS: Latu cleared to face Brumbies, John Folau granted release from NSW contract

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

UPDATE: Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu has been cleared to play against the Brumbies as he awaits sentencing on a drink driving charge while coach Daryl Gibson revealed the club had granted John Folau an early release for "personal reasons".

Latu had been bracketed alongside Andrew Tuala in NSW's 23 to face the Brumbies after he pleaded guilty on Thursday to drink driving but the club confirmed on Thursday night that the Test hooker was officially eligible to play on Saturday..

Latu's court case was adjourned to June 14, with the 26-year-old yet to be sentenced for the offence.

The rake has already missed two Super Rugby matches after being stood down over the charge, news of which emerged just hours before the Waratahs' round 14 match against the Reds.

Latu, who was allegedly found slumped at the wheel the Thursday before the Reds game, failed to inform anyone at NSW Rugby or Rugby Australia about the incident and though he played against the Reds, he was then stood down until his court date.


That absence, coupled with an earlier six-week suspension and a mid-season calf injury, has meant the Wallabies contender has played only five matches from a possible 14 this season. 

NSW Rugby released a statement late on Thursday night confirming Latu would be available for selection for this weekend, after showing contrition and committing to education and counselling during his two-match suspension.

The organisation did not rule out any further sanction for Latu once his sentence is handed down.

"We have taken into account the steps that Tolu has taken in recent weeks to address his actions and behaviours and acknowledge his time served on the sidelines," NSW Rugby CEO Andrew Hore said.

“While he is still subject to potential Code of Conduct processes pending the outcome of his sentencing, Tolu will be available for selection for the NSW Waratahs until such time.

“While NSW Rugby Union does not condone this behaviour, we will be sure to also provide support to Tolu as he works through personal issues.”

Tolu Latu will return to the NSW team on Saturday. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyGibson said he was keen for Latu to play, confident he was on the road to rehabilitation.

"We're just seeing what his lawyers advise us around the next steps,"  he said earlier on Thursday.

"Obviously we're keen for him to take his place this weekend and get some games for us.

"It's hard to say (what punishment there will be).

"He's served his two-match suspension, he's taken his drink driver education courses, he's sought counselling. So, he's making the steps necessary to, in our view, to make a successful rehabilitation."

Gibson said Latu would be a valuable addition to the side in a must-win clash against the Brumbies.

Andrew Tuala is in line to make his Waratahs debut on Saturday night. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"He'd be an excellent boost," he said.

"Obviously, he hasn't played a great deal of rugby this year due to suspension so we're obviously keen to give him that opportunity, bearing in mind there is a World Cup coming up."

Meanwhile, rookie back John Folau has been granted a release from his contract for "personal reasons" in the wake of brother Israel's sacking.

Folau was named on the bench for one match this season but failed to make a Super Rugby debut in 2019.

He has been playing for Western Sydney in the Shute Shield, coming off the bench against Randwick last weekend, but it is unclear whether he will continue playing rugby.

Gibson said the Waratahs had given Folau time away from the club with the 24-year-old struggling with "divided loyalties' after brother Israel had his multi-million dollar contract terminated last month.

John Folau will run out for his first Waratahs appearance. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"We gave John some time off for leave," Gibson said.

"He's come back to us recently and asked for a release, which we were happy to grant.

"John's been in a difficult position for the last wee while.

"He's got really divided loyalties around, to his family obviously and his brother, but then also to the team.

"He wanted to stress how much he enjoyed being with the team and what a difficult decision that was for him.

"We can all understand the loyalty he has to his family and to his brother and totally respect that position."

The Waratahs have named Tautalatasi Tasi, who has spent time with the Rebels and played for Brisbane City in the NRC, on the bench for the clash.

Tasi has been added to the NSW squad in place of injured centre Karmichael Hunt, who is set to miss three months with a medial ligament injury.

Tom Staniforth will start in the second row, in the only change to the Waratahs' starting team this weekend with Ned Hanigan failing his concussion protocols.

The Waratahs take on the Brumbies on Saturday June 8, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.

TEAM

Waratahs to face Brumbies

1. Tom Robertson

2. Damien Fitzpatrick

3. Sekope Kepu

4. Tom Staniforth

5. Rob Simmons

6. Lachlan Swinton

7. Michael Hooper

8. Michael Wells

9. Nick Phipps

10. Bernard Foley

11. Curtis Rona

12. Lalakai Foketi

13. Adam Ashley-Cooper

14. Alex Newsome

15. Kurtley Beale

Reserves

16. Tolu Latu

17. Harry Johnson-Holmes

18. Chris Talakai

19. Jed Holloway

20. Will Miller

21. Jake Gordon

22. Tautalatasi Tasi

23. Cam Clark