Recalled to the Wallabies squad after a brief hiatus, hooker Folau Fainga’a is the first to admit buying into his own hype was a leading factor in him being dropped from Australia’s ranks
Being ignored isn’t something Folau Fainga’a has become accustomed to thus far in his rugby career, having presided for several years now as one of the best hookers in Australia.
A large figure both in terms of stature and what he can bring to the squad, the Brumbies front-rower earned his debut in 2018 under Michael Cheika, who was one of his most ardent advocates.
Fainga’a, 26, played only once at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, however, and might have had more involvement had he not led Cheika to doubt his commitment off the field.
Fox Sports recounted the No. 2 had garnered a reputation for being prone to a drink in his spare time, and it was during the build-up to that World Cup that then-coach Cheika raised concern.
“He [Fainga’a] needs to get his rig in order, he needs to get fitter, shed a few KGs.
“I’m sorry to say it on TV mate but you need to get into it and get fit because the guy is a quality player.
“He can play.”
Dave Rennie kept the player in his plans after taking charge of the Wallabies in 2020, but his omission from the squad thus far in 2021 has been a glaring one.
Four hookers were called up for the three-Test series against France earlier this summer and the initial Rugby Championship that followed, but Fainga’a wasn’t among them.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Fainga’a credited arrogance as the primary contributor behind his absence: “I was just falling in love with myself.
“I was inconsistent throughout the Super year and it bit me in the backside. I’ve put my head down and worked hard and I’m grateful I got called back into the squad and I’m making the most of the opportunity.
“It wasn’t a word from Dave I just had a proper look at myself in the mirror.
“I was getting too comfortable with myself and put myself in situations that weren’t really going to happen.
“It hurt not being called into the French series. I had to have a proper look at myself and go away to chip away at things that I had to work on.”
Australia face the All Blacks in Perth some three weeks after they lost 57-22 at Eden Park in Auckland, failing to win the Bledisloe Cup for a 19th successive year.
While that piece of silverware might be lost, there’s time to turn the tide in this year’s Rugby Championship, and Fainga’a can bring something different for a Wallabies side seeking change.
The Sydney-born talent would be wise to remain on his toes in an effort to keep the hooker competition at bay, with Brumbies team-mate Lachlan Lonergan set to be his back-up on Sunday.
Brandon Paenga-Amosa started in each of of the last two Tests against the All Blacks, but a neck injury has ruled him out of contention for their third meeting in Perth.
Rennie complimented Fainga’a for earning his place back among the reckoning as he told reporters: “We’ve asked to get more out of him certainly training wise and he brings really good physicality and a strong set piece.
“He’s earned the right with the way he’s trained over the past 3-4 weeks and we were very close to picking him at Eden Park.
“It’s a credit to him. He’s made really good shifts physically, shown that throughout his performance and we expect to see that put on the field come Saturday (sic).”