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Tuqiri to 'pay back Wallabies in France'

By Tom Wald 15/08/2007 07:21:58 PM Comments (0)

Dual international Wendell Sailor has backed repeat offender Lote Tuqiri to emerge from his spate of off-field dramas to be Australia's prime weapon at next month's Rugby World Cup.

The superstar winger's nightmare season hit a new low this week when he and prop Matt Dunning were slapped with midnight curfews following a late night out in Brisbane.

Sailor, who is currently serving a two-year ban for cocaine, said his close mate would be hurting from the public fall-out from his latest indiscretion.

"I think Lote is that good of a player that if the Wallabies are going to win the World Cup, he is the man (to do it) and he has to stand up," Sailor told AAP.

"This year has not been one of his best years on or off the field but I think he is just too talented not to aim up."

Sailor had no doubts that his long-time teammate would be a key component in Australia's drive for a third World Cup.

"I have known Lote as a kid growing up and I have seen him since he was 15 to 16-years-old," he said.

"He is still a fantastic bloke and we all make mistakes and I am sure he will pay the Wallabies back at the World Cup."

It has been a season to forget for Tuqiri, who signed a lucrative five-year deal to stick with union in March.

His list of minor indiscretions have started to pile up and seriously damage his reputation as one of Australia's most popular sportsmen.

It started in January when he failed a fitness test at a Wallabies pre-season camp and he struggled to find the Super 14 tryline as drawn-out contract negotiations began impacting on his form.

Then he pushed Sam Norton-Knight in the back following his teammate's regrettable last gasp option during a Super 14 match before keeping in the headlines with the speaker phone scandal involving selector Michael O'Connor and Waratahs back Peter Hewat.

With the NSW Waratahs dismal season completed, the highly-paid player was then ordered to undergo speed training and missed two Tests.

He then shone the spotlight back on himself by sleeping in and failing a breathalyser test during the Tri-Nations and was rubbed out for two more Tests, including the Bledisloe decider.

Sailor didn't think the humiliation of the curfew would have Tuqiri - who is signed with the ARU till after the 2011 World Cup - pondering a return to rugby league but Wallabies great Mark Ella felt it would be "testing his commitment to the game".

Ella and former national captain Andrew Slack both felt Tuqiri's latest dramas shouldn't badly affect Australia's World Cup preparations though.

They believed there was sufficient time for the Wallabies to regroup before next month's rugby extravaganza and that Tuqiri's form wouldn't suffer.

"We have probably not got the best out of him but he has the next few weeks to prove himself and he is aware of that and there is no doubt he has the talent and capacity to do that," said Ella.

"What he needs to do now is get all these distractions out of the way and blow everyone off the field in France."

Ella said Tuqiri had to come to grips with the high levels of scrutiny on sporting stars.

"Yeah, that is a fact of life," he said.

"It comes with the position, Lote is always under pressure and will always draw attention but that is the life of a rock star, I guess you just have to put up with it," he said.

Slack said by the time the World Cup begins Tuqiri should have moved on.

"Had it happened just before the first game (of the World Cup) then I guess it could have been contentious on that front," he said.

"By the time the first game comes around his focus will be purely and simply on football, he knows there are some ground rules and if he doesn't stick to them then more fool him."

The Wallabies fly out for the World Cup next Thursday with their opening match of the tournament against Japan on September 8 in Lyon before their crunch pool match against Wales on September 15 in Cardiff.

Brought to you by AAP AAP © 2024 AAP

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