A reinvigorated Suliasi Vunivalu on how Eddie Jones' 'jokes' have made him run faster
Suliasi Vunivalu’s code switch has been far from the journey the former NRL champion expected, injuries have kept him off the field while certain coaching directives have taken his mind away from the game he loves.
Earlier last month, Eddie Jones hosted his first Wallabies Camp of 2023 and while selections for the camp was the primary talking point, the presence of a cattle prod on the camp’s first day also found its way into public knowledge.
The cattle prod was intended as a comedic method of sending Vunivalu a message, and it was well received by the one-time Wallaby.
“I actually didn’t know about the cattle prod,” Vunivalu told The Sydney Morning Herald ahead of Saturday’s clash between the Reds and Waratahs. “When he mentioned it, I had to ask one of the boys next to me, ‘what do they use that for?’
“It’s funny. Eddie is a funny coach. He has some jokes in him. It’s made me run faster in the last few weeks.
“It was really quiet when he entered. We thought he was going to be really serious, but he was cracking jokes. Everyone enjoyed the camp. I took a lot from it and I know what I need to work on in my game.”
Eddie Jones’ message was clear for Vunivalu; keep it simple and be yourself.
“He just said, ‘mate, I want you to be you. Try and be yourself. You’re a try-scoring bloke. Go back to being that bloke. Don’t try and do other stuff. You’re getting away from your football’.
“I thought, ‘it’s true’. I just have to do my job so I can help the team out.”
A simple message might just be the perfect prompt for a remarkable athlete who admits he’s struggled when his focus is taken away from the fundamentals of the game.
Under previous Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, Vunivalu suffered a number of setbacks while chasing the goals set out for him.
“Every interview (with Rennie) was just based on speed, speed, speed,” he told AAP earlier in the Super Rugby Pacific season.
“It put pressure on me; I started getting my technique wrong and I kept pulling my hamstring.
“I struggled mentally, dealing with serious back-to-back injuries for the first time, I didn’t have confidence getting back and running full speed.
“I’ve never been that guy, I never hit top speed until game day… I’d been focused too much on trying to get my speed back, I forgot about the footy.
“Now that’s behind me… I just want the footy in my hands again.”
Despite the struggles, there’s been no second guessing his decision to switch to rugby union, with a clear goal in sight and now a clear pathway for how to achieve it.
“Everyone wants to play in a World Cup. It’s always in my head. I want to represent Australia. If I do, it’s a big goal for me and my family. I have to put my head down, put the work in and let my footy play out.”
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