MELBOURNE, July 24 (Reuters) – Tatafu Polota-Nau is the only hooker in the Australia camp with any World Cup experience but knows he has work to do to secure a spot in Michael Cheika’s squad for Japan.
The 33-year-old started last season as the incumbent number two but fell back in the pecking order as Cheika opted to try Tolu Latu and Folau Fainga’a during the season-ending tour of Europe.
He was left out of Cheika’s initial 34-man squad for the Rugby Championship but has returned to the Wallabies camp ahead of the second match against Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday after undergoing treatment on a foot injury.
Fainga’a started in the opening 35-17 loss against South Africa in Johannesburg last week, with three-test rake Jordan Uelese in the reserves.
Latu is also waiting his chance so Polota-Nau has plenty of competition to beat in his bid to get to a third World Cup.
“I must say I feel like a new student, really,” he said in Brisbane on Wednesday.
“But it’s great to be back, all the boys have welcomed me with open arms.
“In terms of the hooking spot there’s a lot of competition but that’s all we can ask for really because at the end of the day we want the best guy stepping up to the number two spot.
“There’s a lot of contestants there which is great and will only bring the best out of me.”
Polota-Nau has been packing down in the Wallabies scrum since 2005, but has been the stand-in man for much of his career, starting only 39 of his 89 tests as Stephen Moore racked up 129 international caps.
He had a difficult, injury-interrupted season with Leicester in the English premiership before returning to the New South Wales Waratahs, his old Super Rugby club, for a short stint in March.
He may yet have a chance to shine for the Wallabies, with Cheika looking to inject fresh players after the long-haul flight from South Africa where their scrum was schooled by the Springboks pack.
The Wallabies are under huge pressure to get a win at Lang Park on Saturday, with only a handful of tests left to build confidence before the World Cup in Japan starts in September.
Polota-Nau, who will be 34 on Friday, said he was hopeful the side would turn things round.
“To be honest I thought we were our own worst enemies,” he said of the Ellis Park test.
“At the same time there’s a lot of room for improvement and I’ve got every single confidence that the boys will pick up from there and take it against Argentina on Saturday.
“I’m just really excited about the prospects of hopefully getting back to the green and gold.” (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)