Sydney University Football Club hooker Tolu Latu became Australia’s 902nd Test rugby player when he took to the field in the 77th minute in Australia’s 32-8 win over Wales at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on Sunday morning (AEDT).
The 23-year-old rake had to travel to three continents and endure 237 minutes on the bench before making his Wallabies debut.
Latu, who made his NSW debut this season, was in the Wallabies squad on the Rugby Championship trip to South Africa in September but didn’t get to take the field off the bench.
He was then one of seven SUFC players in the squad for the October Eden Park Test against the All Blacks in Auckland, but once again didn’t get a run.
Having been named in the squad to make the Spring Tour to the northern hemisphere, with Tests against Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England and France, he was more than hopeful of earning his first Test cap.
When Wallabies coach Michael Cheika named him on the bench for the first of the grand slam Tests, he sat with his fingers crossed – for 77 minutes – in front of a crowd of 55,000.
As he told The Daily Telegraph’s Jamie Pandaram, he owed the moment to his mother Sharon, who brought him to Australia from Tonga 21 years ago.
“Putting on that jersey just made all the sacrifices my family made, my mum being a single parent she sacrificed a lot, and being a single child she had to put stuff aside for my rugby, putting on that jersey just hit home,” he said.
“Moving over to Australia, it wasn’t a goal, it was a dream, but now that dream has come true for myself.
“Working long hours being a single parent, single parents out there would know – it’s probably easy that she didn’t have six kids like every other Islander family – she sacrificed a lot working late shifts, long hours.
“Growing up seeing that made me want to work hard and make both of our futures better.
“It’s just me, she used to work in factories, working long hours, not ideal for a single parent but she did what she had to do to make sure I had food on the table and I could go to my games on the weekend without worrying if I had boots, or food when I was a little kid.
“My whole family is a big motivation for me, coming from a Pacific Islander background we’re all really tight with our families.”
Latu replaced Wallabies captain Stephen Moore in the dying stages of the game but wished he had more time on the field. “I got called up with probably 10 minutes to go, we were on our line there with the scrum, but I couldn’t get on because the sideline officials just didn’t want me to get on,” he said.
“So that made me a bit more nervous. I just wanted to get on and get my first bit of contact, just wanted to get that out of that way.
“When I ran out there Scott Fardy and Rory Arnold were telling me ‘Just get your hands on the ball early’, telling me what I already knew in my head I wanted to do.
“They said enjoy every moment. It was awesome, especially in a stadium like this, you don’t get to play in ones like these in Super Rugby. It’s probably one of the biggest crowds I’ve played in front of.”
Latu joined SUFC teammates, fullback Israel Folou, five-eighth Bernard Foley and halfback Nick Phipps, on the field for the Wallabies historic 600th Test match.
Foley directed the Australians around the field in the five-try-to-one win and contributed 12 points with a try, a penalty goal and two conversions.