Revived Polota-Nau is still a Wallabies force
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