Re­vived Polota-Nau is still a Wal­la­bies force

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

MEL­BOURNE: A trans­fer to an en­dan­gered provin­cial team in the rugby back­wa­ter of Perth has proved an un­likely cat­a­lyst for Tatafu Polota-Nau’s re­turn to the Wal­la­bies front row af­ter an in­jury-plagued sea­son.

Af­ter 11 suc­ces­sive cam­paigns at the Waratahs, the vet­eran hooker was poised to sign for English side Bris­tol last year, look­ing to re­ju­ve­nate a ca­reer he felt had grown stale.

How­ever, a lin­ger­ing fore­arm in­jury not only scup­pered that move, it ended his in­ter­na­tional sea­son two months early and forced him into a hasty back-up plan.

Plan B was a one-year deal with the bat­tling West­ern Force, a team sev­eral time zones away from rugby’s east­ern heart­land in Aus­tralia and one fight­ing to avoid be­ing axed from Su­per Rugby.

The Aus­tralian Rugby Union has com­mit­ted to cut­ting ei­ther the Force or the Mel­bourne Rebels as the 18-team com­pe­ti­tion con­tracts to 15 teams next year, say­ing it will help save the cash­strapped lo­cal game from go­ing bank­rupt while lift­ing the na­tion’s com­pet­i­tive­ness across the board.

Polota-Nau says that ax­ing the Force would be dev­as­tat­ing for rugby in West­ern Aus­tralia, where Aus­tralian Rules foot­ball, the pop­u­lar in­dige­nous sport, tends to hog the head­lines.

“If they axe the team it’s not ideal for rugby in Aus­tralia,” the 71-Test hooker told Reuters by tele­phone from the Wal­la­bies train­ing camp in New­cas­tle, some 4 000 kilo­me­tres east of Perth.

“It’s just a shame we don’t get the same cov­er­age that AFL (Aus­tralian Foot­ball League) does.

“It’s just about try­ing to keep the faith­ful and cre­ate more of a buzz for rugby to thrive be­cause at a com­mu­nity level, it’s amaz­ing to see how many ju­niors there are out there.”

The Force have vowed to fight the ARU in court if they move to axe the team and are sched­uled for mediation with the gov­ern­ing body.

Mean­while, there is noth­ing Polota-Nau and his Force team­mates can do but wait, their ca­reers in limbo and fu­tures un­cer­tain.

The Rebels blamed the con­stant spec­u­la­tion over their fu­ture on their mis­er­able sea­son of one win from 15 games.

The Dave Wes­sels-coached Force, how­ever, got on with the job, fin­ish­ing with a 6-9 win-loss record, the sec­ond best in the five-team Aus­tralian conference and su­pe­rior to the “safe” provin­cial teams in Bris­bane and Syd­ney.

Polota-Nau’s bul­lock­ing pres­ence helped drive the Force through its re­spectable sea­son and de­lighted Wal­la­bies coach Michael Cheika, who gave the Syd­ney-born hooker his first start in the No 2 jersey for two years dur­ing the June in­ter­na­tion­als.

While well-re­ceived by Polota-Nau, it had the awk­ward side-ef­fect of rel­e­gat­ing cap­tain Stephen Moore to the bench for the matches against Fiji and Scot­land.

Polota-Nau said there had been no need for any quiet chats to smooth things over with the sea­soned skip­per.

“Stephen and I have an un­der­stand­ing that who­ever starts and who­ever fin­ishes will do the job,” said PolotaNau.

“That’s all we got told. If any­thing we just want to make sure we both put our best foot for­ward be­cause we both have the ca­pac­ity to start and fin­ish, but ob­vi­ously he has the lead­er­ship role be­ing cap­tain.” – Reuters

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