NFL, suspension and the pandemic can't stop Patu becoming most capped
A flirtation with the women’s NFL, a lengthy suspension and then COVID-19 were all hurdles at Liz Patu had to conquer to become Australia’s most capped female rugby player.
Set to earn her 25th Test cap when the Wallaroos face Japan on Tuesday afternoon on the Gold Coast, Patu will move ahead of retired trio Selena Tranter (nee Worsley), Tui Ormsby and Rebecca Clough.
The Australians are looking to back-up a 36-19 win over Fijiana on Saturday, which was their first Test in almost three years due to COVID-19 cancellations.
“It’s a privilege actually – I wasn’t expecting to be most capped Wallaroo at all,” said the 32-year-old Queensland prop.
“Some of these new faces bring fresh ideas so even though I am the most experienced player, I’m still learning.”
Patu made her Test debut in 2014, making Australia’s World Cup squad that year and was named Australian captain in 2018.
She almost walked away from the sport a year later when she was banned for six weeks for biting the arm of Clough while playing for the Reds against Western Australia.
Patu said she signed to play in the NFL in the United States, but then the pandemic began and she wanted to be close to home.
A remorseful Patu also wanted to show she had learnt from her mistake and to give back to rugby, her first love.
“I was really keen to see what life would be without rugby and so I took the contract for NFL over in the States and then COVID hit and it made me rethink everything,” Patu said.
“I don’t like being too far from my family and I would have left for a year and bit.
“I’m glad that I actually stayed and continued and I found the motivation again from going back to club rugby, and seeing the girls’ faces.”
Patu was initially set on retiring after the World Cup but getting back into Test rugby has stirred the fires and she said she was contemplating playing on.
Patu will start on the bench against Japan with Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning has opted to start last weekend’s reserve front row with Madison Schuck, Ashley Marsters and Eva Karpani.
Japan overcame Fijiana 28-14 in game one of the tri-series, showing their forward prowess to score a second-half try from a rolling maul.
While they won their last encounter in 2019 46-3, Patu expected the Japanese to mount a strong challenge.
“They are a really strong team but if we stick to what we know and stick to our structures and letting our ball-players play … it will just come together.
“But it will definitely be a tough game.”
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