Wallabies rookie reveals 12-test wait for his international debut
All things come to those who wait.
Just ask ever-patient Wallabies centre Lalakai Foketi, who’s been gazing dolefully at Dave Rennie’s dreaded black book for four-and-half months now, waiting for the moment the coach might give him the news he craves.
For 12 tests – be it at home to France, in the Rugby Championship, in Japan or now in Britain – the Waratahs’ stalwart has been a diligent member of Rennie’s Australia squad but never got the call for the match-day 23.
Each week, he reckoned, followed a pattern. “Normally, Rens comes around the room or the hotel with a black book looking for you if you’re unfortunate not to make the 23,” explained Foketi.
But at the lucky 13th time of asking on Monday, Eureka!
“I’ve been there for a while now, so I’ve had a few of them, so I was waiting, waiting for him to come up to me – and he never did,” added Foketi.
“And when 22 came up on the screen in the team meeting and my name was announced, I was grateful – and shocked.”
So, at last, Foketi is a chance to make that long-awaited debut off the replacements’ bench against Wales on Sunday morning (AEDT) and it’s left the 26-year-old New Zealand-born back overjoyed.
“I just want to play some footy,” said the former junior Wallaby.
It can’t have been the easiest time for Foketi as he’s had to miss out on playing while also not having seen his partner Mason and their one-year-old girl Huxlee seemingly for an age.
“Not being selected in the 23 for however long, you get those moments where you start doubting yourself,” he reflected.
“But I know why I’m here and as soon as I’m around the boys, it’s a lot easier and on training days you forget about it and refocus on your goals.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has painted Australia’s end-of-tour clash against Wales in Cardiff as a battle between two sides “desperate” to end injury-hit campaigns on a high. #Wallabies #WALvAUS #AutumnNationsSeries https://t.co/1l5FXVmIru
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 19, 2021
Rennie has been supportive. “Just honest and good feedback about where I was as a footy player and what the team needed,” said Foketi.
“Obviously, I’ve been disappointed but the team comes first. It wasn’t my time – until this week.
“He (Rennie) gave me a few points each week to work on and I guess instead of walking around with my head down, it was, ‘What can I do to make them have to select me?'”
Rennie appreciates the professionalism of the former Melbourne Rebels centre.
“Lalakai’s trained the house down. He deserves the opportunity,” says the coach.
“He gives us versatility, can generally cover 12 and 13, excellent distributor, really good feet, making really big shifts around the physical side of his game, a clean tackler with a really good kicking game and a really good communicator.”
Who will Foketi be thinking of as he lines up in Cardiff? “My family back home will all be with me when I’m out there – and I’ll be thinking of them,” said Foketi.
Especially one small fan.
“We left in June so I missed Huxlee’s first birthday in July,” he sighed. “On video, she’s been walking, talking, starting to feed herself and it’s awesome to see.
“She’s changed my life for the better, so it’s great.”
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