Why 2023 was Len Ikitau’s ‘best year’ despite World Cup ‘frustration’

Wed, Jan 17, 2024, 4:51 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
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Len Ikitau won't be defined by his World Cup snubbing. He doesn't need to look far to see the good in the year after a rollercoaster 2023.

No player featured more for the Wallabies in 2022 than Ikitau, with the centre established in the starting squad after debuting a year earlier.

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However, he embarked on a new chapter of his life to start last year, with Ikitau and partner Sammie welcoming their firstborn son Maddox in March.

“It makes you realise how important family are," Ikitau reflects to Rugby.com.au.

“My partner (Sammie) was probably the best support for me and encouraged me to keep pushing. Family is pretty much the most important thing to me and got me through."

Ikitau was expected to play a big role for the Wallabies before injuring his shoulder against Argentina in July.

The outside centre continued before copping an errand knee in the ruck, intensifying the pain and forcing him off in the first 20 minutes of their heartbreaking defeat in Sydney.

“Initially I thought it was a stinger in my AC (joint). I kept playing and thought it was going to come back and then the third tackle (I made) I tried to roll away from the ruck and someone’s knee went straight into my scapula," he explained.

“Straight after that I couldn’t move my shoulder and that was it…the knee in the back and the pain from it, I just couldn’t continue. I reckon if I didn’t get the knee in the back I would’ve continued a bit longer.”

Ikitau’s injury was a 6-8 week recovery, putting him in line for a recall in time for the World Cup. He was optimistic about selection before he was surprisingly overlooked by former coach Eddie Jones.

“I was in contact with the doctor every couple and days and they had me on a conditioning program for a couple of weeks, he explained. "They had this one-off Wallabies training if you were based in Brisbane. It was myself, Quade (Cooper), Taniela (Tupou) and the rest of the Brisbane boys

“They trained for two days and then named the squad on the Friday and I saw Quade there and said ‘I think I’m a chance to be in the squad’. 

“When they said they were announcing, they were going to call all the players the night before and it wasn’t until 9:30 pm when I thought ‘what the hell is going on’ and I get a message from ‘Webby’ (World Cup team manager Chris Webb) to get in touch with Eddie and he’ll let you know what your plans are. I was like ‘does that mean I’m not in the squad' and he confirmed."

Here is where the frustration lies for the Brumby, confident he would’ve been fit for the opener against Georgia as he had to watch other injured players head to France.

“I was just disappointed at the comms I received. A good head coach would’ve called you and told you why you weren’t in the team but at the end of the day we got the manager doing the rounds," he admits.

“I was disappointed with that and the reasoning around why I wasn’t in the squad was because they didn’t want to take injured players and there was three or four guys injured guys in there. 

“It was quite disappointing because at least be honest with the reason why I wasn’t in the team.

“I was ready (for the World Cup). I was already on my way to Barbarians and thought I was fit to play but I sent (former coach Eddie Jones) a message saying I’m ready to go if anything happens and he just wrote back ‘that’s good.’"

You wouldn't blame Ikitau for letting the frustration and anger dictate his season as he watched on from afar.

However, the 25-year-old has all the motivation he needs, returning to Brumbies camp with a renewed focus and goal to recapture his Wallabies jersey.

“It was obviously disappointing not being in that World Cup squad but I think everything happens for a reason,” he said.

“Everyone who didn’t make the World Cup squad sees 2023 as a terrible year but it was the best year for me because I had my little boy (Lennox). I can’t dwell on not making the squad when the best thing that’s ever happened to me happened in 2023.

"That’s what I’ll look back on 2023 for: my little son."

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