Australia’s rookie star Len Ikitau has revealed his first thought when Dave Rennie messaged him last year to invite him into the Wallabies camp.
“I thought someone was taking the piss and lying,” the 22-year-old said on Tuesday after it was revealed he had re-signed with the Brumbies and Wallabies until after the 2023 World Cup.
Ikitau made his international debut against France this season and has played every game in the centres during The Rugby Championship.
His excellent campaign was capped with a try double in the Wallabies 30-17 win over South Africa in his hometown Brisbane on Saturday night.
“I scored two tries, but they were team tries I guess, I was in the right place,” Ikitau said. “I feel like I’m just trying to get better each week and improve my game.”
Ikitau started all games of the Brumbies Super Rugby games at No.13 this year scoring six tries including a match winner against the Hurricanes.
He was picked as a bolter in Rennie’s first Wallabies squad last year after less than 80 minutes of Super Rugby.
It was, he admits, a huge transition and one he struggled with last year.
“When I was in the squad, I was too shy or didn’t want to speak to anyone, kept to myself and I guess a year later it’s different, I’m much more confident in myself and my ability so I’m just happy to be in the squad again,” he said.
There has been plenty of change in the Wallabies centres with Hunter Paisami, Matt Toomua and Samu having spent time there, along with Ikitau having to fit alongside two fifferent No.10s in Quade Cooper and Noah Lolesio.
“It’s been good having Quade there and [James O’Connor] now,” he said. “They’re experienced, they’ve done it all in the game. And that was good to learn from them and keep learning.”
Ikitau sat beside former Brisbane Boys College schoolmate Darcy Swain at Tuesday’s press conference in Townsville.
“He had a big left foot step and two massive shoulders,” Swain said when asked about his early impressions of Ikitau.
“I remember he came out of school for his first session down in Vikings and the man was benching 140 for eight, it was ridiculous for an 18-year-old, I can’t even do 120kgs for one now.
“He’s a big unit so his physicality, he’s one of the most physical centres in the game, and on top of that he’s elusive with great skills and he’s always had that from a young age, he’s just gotten better.”
Ikitau gave thanks to his teammate for helping through his early shyness.
“There was a couple of times I just wanted to go home and he kind of stopped me from doing that, so I’m just thankful for having Darcy there,” Ikitau said.
Swain meanwhile revealed a Wallabies commitment to “project themselves” as force to be reckoned with ahead of the 2023 World Cup.
“At the start of camp we pitched the idea of the World Cup in two years,” Swain said. “Not knowing who will be there but, regardless, it’s about what we can do now for the team in order to project ourselves to where we want to be in a couple of years time.
“Every week is important. It’s building momentum now. And making sure that we play the right type of footy and give ourselves confidence that we can build and build and build towards that.
“The last two games were great wins but they count for nothing if we don’t back it up.”
He said Argentina are a great side despite losing all four matches so far in TRC.
“We know they play with a lot of physicality and a lot of passion,” said Swain.
“We’ll give them the same respect as we give South Africa and New Zealand. Knowing, that there’s going to be threats and at the same time opportunities, we’re going to have to be good both sides of the ball.”
The Wallabies are on a high after the Springboks double but Swain said “from a team perspective, that that means bugger all if we don’t go out there and do it again.
“No one will remember winning two games against South Africa, everyone will remember us losing against Argentina.
“We’ve got to be we’ve got to be just as good if not better this week against the passionate Argentina.”