Folau influence led Te’o to England

Date published: November 16 2016

England’s new centre could come up against the Wallaby star who inspired him to switch codes at Twickenham later this month.

Ben Te’o’s first cap for England finally came last weekend off the bench against South Africa, after missing out on the three Tests in Australia back in June.

Despite the frustration of that tour there were obvious benefits, primarily being able to gel with his new team-mates, having met them for the first time only the day before England departed.

“It was lucky we had a 25-hour flight to get to know each other,” he explains.

“Now it seems like I have known the guys a long time. Looking back that Australia tour was a really good thing.

“[Winning a first cap] wasn’t meant to be, and probably gave me a little bit of fire during the off-season to really prepare and work hard on my game and to be here now.”

By all accounts Te’o has impressed since, a different type of inside centre to Owen Farrell with his ball-carrying and presence in defence. A first start for England is a very real possibliity against Fiji, completing an unlikely journey.

Te’o left Australia an NRL champion and a winner in Stade of Origin with Queensland, looking for a new challenge at 27. The transition from the end of his League career to this point now, on reflection, has been remarkably smooth.

“The first thing was wanting to play Union. Obviously my time in League was fun but I was looking for something else,” he added.

“I had some questions myself, about had I stayed in Union as a kid – would I have made it? Would I have been a good player? I needed to answer those questions myself.

“I was living with Israel Folau at the time, we were living in Kensington (in Sydney). I was at Souths and he was at the Waratahs. I was feeling a little bit stale and asking myself some of those questions and I bounced it off him a little bit.

“I said ‘I’m 27, do you think it’s too late?’. He said ‘No, no it’s not too late’. I asked if he thought that I would be alright or is it too hard? He was saying ‘No I think that you can do it’. So he’s probably someone that gave me a lot of confidence to give it a go.

“That confidence of someone playing Union at the time in a successful team saying that you’ll be alright… it helped.”

Folau has led the way for cross-code converts in recent years and the two may cross paths when the Wallabies travel to Twickenham on December 3.

Hype around his switch to the Waratahs and Australia was instant, whereas Te’o somewhat went under the radar outside of Ireland where at Leinster he developed his skill-set and was praised as a result.

“Skills are obviously something that is different. I wouldn’t have passed a lot in my league days, would have been much more of a carrier,” Te’o explained.

“There are some good things I can translate and then some things that can change. The hardest thing is muscle memory, training yourself out of your old habits. You work so long to make them a good habit and then sometimes they can end up being a bad one, so that’s a challenge.

“But that’s why I love it. I feel like I’m on a second career and every day I’m learning, every meeting and training session, and that’s why I enjoy it.”

His admission that there were doubts over the switch shouldn’t come as a surprise either, but now Te’o admits there is no turning back to League – a decision not made by the success of his transition between codes, but earlier, watching last year’s Rugby World Cup as a fan.

“To be honest I left the door open when I first came because I didn’t know. If I have left it too late and I am just not on everyone else’s level I would have gone back,” he adds.

“Once I got over here, the initial part was hard but then I really started to enjoy the game and fall back in love with the game. The World Cup was a really big thing for me.

“I watched every game and really enjoyed it as a spectator. I started getting the love back. Then I shut the door. There was no way I was going back then.

“The door is shut. I just don’t see myself as someone who wants to go. I enjoyed my time but I a really enjoying what I am doing now.”

by Ben Coles