Tolu Latu is once again a Waratah, and the hooker could yet emerge as a player of national interest should he keep on the straight and narrow over the next 16 months.
After weeks of negotiations with the Waratahs, the 21-Test hooker signed a one-year deal with the Super Rugby franchise last week.
By doing so, Darren Coleman has opted for the immense capability of Latu over rising hooker Tom Horton to compete with Wallabies incumbent hooker Dave Porecki and Mahe Vailanu.
It can be revealed Horton, 25, will instead join up with England Premiership champions Leicester, who are coached by Eddie Jones’ former right-hand man Steve Borthwick.
With Argentine international Julian Montoya unavailable, Tom Youngs retired and Sydney-born England squad member Nic Dolly injured, Borthwick needs a hooker and Horton will compete for the role once his visa is approved and he touches down in the region.
The short-term deal is the perfect opportunity for Horton to grow after a frustrating few years where injuries have slowed his development.
But the Sydney Uni hooker need only look at his former teammate Porecki for inspiration, with the 29-year-old plying his trade in England for years before an opening popped up back at the Waratahs last year. Porecki’s Wallabies debut was delayed by a year because of an injury, but the experienced rake was one of Dave Rennie’s best players against England in July.
Latu’s return is hardly surprising.
He has been linked to a return with the Waratahs ever since he was let go by Stade Francais earlier in the year.
His departure from the Paris-based Top 14 outfit came after more ill-discipline off the pitch and reckless moments on it, which ultimately saw the 21-Test hooker farewelled.
But his incredible potential, where he is one of the best in Australian rugby over the ball and at the scrum, has seen Australian rugby give the cat with nine lives another chance.
It shapes as his last, with Latu to be shown the door if he puts one foot wrong given his history.
Latu has joined on a contract worth barely six figures, but if he manages to keep on the right side of the boot greater riches lay ahead.
He is unlikely to come into the reckoning for the Wallabies this year unless a number of injuries, but given his outstanding World Cup campaign in 2019 he is a bolter for next year’s tournament in France.
He will compete with Porecki, Folau Fainga’a and Lachlan Lonergan – all three of whom are in Argentina ahead of the Wallabies’ opening Rugby Championship fixture against Michael Cheika’s Los Pumas in Mendoza on Sunday (AEST).
Sunday’s Test shapes as a season defining one, especially with the All Blacks fighting fires on a number of fronts.
Not only do the All Blacks have the immense challenge of taking on the Springboks twice in South Africa, they are likely playing for coach Ian Foster’s future.
Foster, unlike two of his assistants, might have been spared the ax following their first series loss on home soil since 1994, but New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson hardly filled him with confidence when he stopped short of saying he would lead the All Blacks through to next year’s World Cup.
“He’s certainly the person to lead the team to South Africa, and we’re making sure they’ve got everything possible in the way of resourcing and support to make sure that’s successful,” Robinson told Newstalk ZB from Birmingham.
Robinson’s comments came after former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said relations between the New Zealand Rugby board and the players were at their lowest ebb.
“The relationship between the board and the [executive] with the players at the moment is probably the worst it’s ever been,” he said on local radio.
“I don’t think they’re doing their job right at the moment.”
While former NZR boss David Moffett called for Robinson to stand down.
The rumblings in the front office, and the lingering feeling the All Blacks have the wrong man coaching with Scott Robertson waiting in the wings, have left the feeling the All Blacks are at their most vulnerable in two decades ahead of the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup .