Allan Ala’alatoa will become the Wallabies’ first new skipper since 2015 on Saturday, and the prop master nicknamed “Captain Grumpy” ascended the throne, fueled by huge helpings of KFC.
To mark the occasion, Alaalatoa’s teammate Tom Wright was asked about his Brumbies skipper’s leadership qualities ahead of a match where regular captain James Slipper will be rested.
“He’s a real personable guy,” said Wright of Alaalatoa. “He’ll never pigeonhole himself to guys he’s comfortable with or the older crew.”
“He’ll shoot me if I retell this story.”
To set the scene, Wright had been training hard for a few months after moving to the Brumbies from rugby league ahead of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Alaalatoa was back on deck in Canberra after an extended break following a long Wallabies campaign in 2018.
Take it away, Tom.
“He made himself known and welcome,” Wright said. “After the first day of training he said ‘should we go and grab dinner’? He and his roommate Lachie McCaffrey picked me up.
“He said ‘oh, should we go here?’ He put the blinker on, turned left, and we quickly found ourselves in the KFC drive-through. I quickly learned the sort of guy he is.”
Within a few hours, word had got back to the soon-to-be 85th Wallabies captain that Wright had spilled the beans on their KFC dinner date.
No punishment for Wright, just a chuckle.
“Isn’t that being a leader? Taking one of the younger guys out for a feed?” Alaalatoa told the Herald. “I think that’s being a leader without the actual title. It’s good that he’s brought that up.
“I asked if he wanted to go for a feed and he was actually very shocked we pulled up at KFC. It’s one of my Sunday spots.”
A veteran of 61 Tests and valued member of the Wallabies leadership group, it’s lucky Alaalatoa leads by example on the field, and not off it, as the excitement in his voice suggests when the conversion turns to every prop’s favourite subject: fast food.
“What didn’t I eat? That’s the real question,” Alaalatoa said. “Coleslaw was definitely there on the side but my go-to order to would be a 10-piece box, but all specifically chicken thighs. Gold Creek KFC in Canberra is probably the only KFC that doesn’t speak back at the drive-through. So when I say, ‘can I get a 10-piece box, mostly all chicken thighs’, it’s sweet. Other KFCs don’t do it.
“I even get a ‘thanks Al’ sometimes.”
Back onto the serious stuff – a chance to lead the Wallabies after returning from a concussion suffered against Scotland.
Dean Mumm was the last player to make his captaincy debut for the Wallabies, doing so for a one-off Test against Uruguay in the 2015 World Cup.
Going back through the list of Wallabies captains reads as such: Slipper, Michael Hooper, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, David Pocock, Will Genia, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom and George Smith.
“Dave [Rennie] gave me a heads-up on Monday,” Alaalatoa said. “My initial thought was ‘wow’. It’s a huge honour to captain my country but most importantly to captain our squad.
“If I’m going to ask the boys to do something, I’ve got to do that through my actions.”
Ten years ago, Alaalatoa was working graveyard shifts in the pokies room at the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL in Sydney.
Desperate for an opportunity to play professional rugby, Alaalatoa got his chance at the Brumbies in 2014 after being overlooked by the Waratahs.
Fun fact: Alaalatoa’s father Vili, who played 10 Tests for Samoa, named his young bloke after former Australian Test cricket captain Allan Border.
“I remember asking my dad about it,” Alaalatoa said “He told me that when Allan Border was captain of the Australian cricket team, he inspired him when he was playing for Manly and in rugby.
“He was a huge fan of the Australian cricket team and loved Allan Border and the way he led the national team. That was why he named me after him. It’s a fitting story.
“I didn’t play cricket. The boys will tell you when we have a little social cricket game I’m no good.
“At some stage I’ll probably get to reflect on it down the track. It’s a huge privilege and I want to make sure that I do my job and do whatever I can to fulfil the role.”
Make no mistake, Alaalatoa has the utmost respect among his peers.
“It’ll be easy for him,” said Brumbies and Wallabies second-rower Nick Frost. “He’s a natural leader who leads by example. The boys joke around about him being the uncle or the godfather of the group.”
Wright added: “I doubt you’ll find footage of him walking off a game without some kind of blood. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve played with. Slipper would probably be off me for that. Slippy is up there too.”
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