Kamikaze cool down key for Waratahs hooker

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 13:23 30/07/2014
Tatafu Polota-Nau
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HEAD STRONG: Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has learnt to think about tackling instead of diving in head first.

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Tatafu Polota-Nau eventually realised kamikaze-style tackling was jeopardising his lifespan as a professional footballer, so the Crusaders should be relieved he has toned down a suicidal approach to defending ahead of Saturday's Super Rugby final.

The last time Polota-Nau played the Crusaders in 2012, the now 29-year-old was prone to suffering self-inflicted damage - the trade off when the abrasive NSW Waratahs and Wallabies hooker aimed up on a ball carrier or hit a ruck.

"I used to go in like a headless chook and just head butt the opposition really," he said of his dubious work at the breakdown as the Waratahs continued their preparations.

Concussions were often the end result for the uncompromising front rower while in open play he also displayed scant regard for his preservation - Polota-Nau critically came off second-best, and with a broken right arm, when he attempted to stop Brumbies wing Henry Speight in May last year.

Unfortunately a technique based on a "hit and hope" mentality rather than a balanced decision ruled him out of the Wallabies' British and Irish Lion series - a bitter blow compounded by hamstring strains that ended any hope of a comeback during the Rugby Championship.

Polota-Nau ultimately returned to test duty last November in Wales, equipped with some sage advice from Waratahs assistant coach Nathan Grey, another fearless defender during his 35-test career and 94 games for the Sydney-based franchise.

"He spent a lot of time critiquing certain technical aspects," Polota-Nau explained.

"Now I can use my eyes and actually focus on my target and clear him out cleanly, it's perfect."

And when Polota-Nau's in the defensive line, the message was stay on his feet rather than attempt to tackle while airborne.

Grey's advice has obviously been absorbed as Polota-Nau was nearing the end of a Super Rugby campaign not just notable for the Waratahs hosting the final for the first time.

Presuming nothing goes askew at training this week, Polota-Nau will feature in each of the Waratahs' 18 games in 2014 once he runs on to ANZ Stadium - durability that has confined understudy Tola Latu to an average of 12 minutes of action per game.

"It's always the same mentality for me every week (now)," he said.

"I sort of had to dumb down that kamikaze approach.

"That's been the theme for me throughout this year because obviously having those setbacks I had to change something."

Polota-Nau was also hoping for a different outcome when the Crusaders strived to prevent the Waratahs claiming a maiden title in their third attempt.

He played the 2008 final in Christchurch and although Ali Williams and Brad Thorn were no longer impediments at the lineout, Polota-Nau still had to contend with Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, and Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird in the second row.

That loomed as a difficult task for Polota-Nau, who no longer had the security of Dave Dennis calling the lineouts.

The Reds exploited Dennis' season-ending injury to steal six throws in the final round of the regular season; the Brumbies also pilfered three last weekend, though on both occasions the Waratahs won comfortably on the scoreboard.

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However, lineouts and to a certain extent the scrum, shaped as potentially serious deficiencies as the Waratahs took on an All Black-class eight.

Statistically the Waratahs were ranked 11th for lineouts won this season though much of that ball was stilted, meaning the set piece had rarely provided a platform for a potent back line.

Ominously, the Crusaders have stolen 27 opposition throws - the second highest in the competition - so Polota-Nau accepted his accuracy and composure would be tested.

"Nothing usual," he shrugged when asked what to expect from the Crusaders' formation.

"They'll probably attack it because obviously they think they can get some ascendancy on that."

- Stuff

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