Len Ikitau’s emergence as the rock within the Australian backline highlights how shrewd a pick he was as the bolter of Dave Rennie’s first Wallabies’ camp in 2020.
Of Samoan heritage, Ikitau was born in Australia but grew up in New Zealand and played his first rugby for Massey RC in Auckland. When he returned to Brisbane in 2012, Ikitau played rugby league at “NRL-nursery” Marsden High School. He then accepted a scholarship to Brisbane Boys’ College and played two seasons in the 1st XV (2015-16). Ikitau earned selection for the Australian Schools Barbarians in 2015 however his final year was cut short by injury.
After school, an “unwitting brush-off” from Queensland proved to be their loss and Ikitau’s gain. “My manager said he’d put my name forward to the Reds and they didn’t really know who I was,” Ikitau said. “That was a bit of a kick in the butt.” It was then that BBC coach and former Queensland flyhalf Shane Drahm dropped a line to Dan McKellar at the Brumbies. “Trust me, he’ll be a star. He’s so fast-twitch with his footwork and powerful that he reminds of (All Black) Malakai Fekitoa. Len will be as good or better,” Drahm told McKellar. Although a contract was not forthcoming, Ikitau got lucky when schoolmate Darcy Swain told him that the Tuggeranong Vikings were looking for a centre. Ikitau then upped and left Brisbane on a hope and a prayer however it proved to be a prescient decision as the duo represented the Brumbies U20s and then the Junior Wallabies. They also enjoyed a John I Dent Cup premiership victory in 2018.
Finally, after three pre-seasons with the Brumbies, Ikitau finally secured a spot in their roster and in 2019 made his Super Rugby debut, against the Blues in Canberra. Ikitau won his first Test cap in the second match of the 2021 home series against France, but it was his two-try performance in the win over South Africa at Suncorp that truly announced his arrival on the international stage. Jim Tucker wrote: “His first Test try had everything that Drahm had seen in him in his schoolboy days. There was the super-fast shuffle of feet to beat Handre Pollard on the outside, there was a fend to shed another defender [Marvin Orie] and excellent balance to make sure of the try. It was eight metres of the highest quality, what Test Rugby is all about.”
Two key statistics highlight how crucial Ikitau has become for the Wallabies - he has only missed one Test since his debut and he has won 23 run-on XV caps from the Wallabies’ last 27 Tests through to the end of 2022.
2015 Represented Australian Schools Barbarians against Samoan Schools
2017 Represented Australian U20s in the Oceania Championship
2021 Ikitau won his first Test cap when he came off the bench to substitute Matt To’omua in the 67th minute of the 26-28, loss to France in Melbourne. He then started at outside centre in 12 of the year’s final 13 Tests.
2022 An injured calf in the year’s opening Test, against England in Perth, saw him miss the second match of the series in Melbourne. Ikitau returned as a reserve for the third English Test at the SCG and then wore the #13 jersey in every international through to the end of the season.