Edinburgh star Aleki Lutui aims for World Cup

Aleki Lutui played in the last World Cup for Tonga. Photo: Phil Walter (Getty Images)
Aleki Lutui played in the last World Cup for Tonga. Photo: Phil Walter (Getty Images)
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VETERAN South Seas scrummager Aleki Lutui is hoping to use his spell at Edinburgh Rugby as the springboard for a third World Cup appearance for Tonga.

Lutui will be 37 years old by the next tournament, in England in 2015, and has been off the international scene since 2011.

Nevertheless, the hooker is tempted by the prospect of joining an elite group with a “hat-trick” of World Cup finals on the CV.

While realising the journey could begin tonight with only his second Edinburgh start – and the first at Murrayfield – since signing from Worcester Warriors over the summer.

“If my body is strong and I put in good performances for Edinburgh then maybe I could squeeze in another World Cup,” said Lutui.

However, he qualified his remarks by saying: “This is the last match before the league breaks for internationals. We can climb a few places and what is really important is we get everything spot on going into the break so that we come back feeling even more competitive.”

The last time Lutui started at Murrayfield was in 2001 when he was part of the Tongan side beaten 43-20 by a Scotland team for whom Gordon Ross set a points record of 23 for a debutant.

Lutui spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin that day for reckless play at a ruck.

And in the course of his one Edinburgh start so far, Lutui was also on the receiving end of disciplinary measures having been cited for dangerous play in the defeat at Ospreys.

Lutui is unrepentant, insisting: “It was frustrating because the collision was unintentional and I felt sorry for the player who received a bad injury. I didn’t know anything was wrong until the citing but the two-week suspension didn’t disrupt me and I felt they had to give me some sort of ban because the other player was hurt.

“As a professional you have to make sure you keep fit during time out due to suspension so that when you return you are fit enough to take any opportunity, however quick it is to arise.”

The need for Scotland No.1 Ross Ford to rest up ahead of next week’s viagog Test with Japan provides the opportunity for Lutui to add to his considerable experience.

“I started out playing in Tonga where I also worked as a police officer but the chance to emigrate to New Zealand and play for Bay of Plenty meant I could concentrate on rugby,” said Lutui.

“When I was young my father had to leave myself, three brothers and three sisters to move to Hawai to get money for the family because that is the way it is in the islands and we were always encouraged to emigrate to get an education.

“Bay of Plenty gave me my opportunity and I also played Super 14 with the Chiefs before Worcester’s call meant moving my family – my wife and I have three girls, aged seven, four and two – across the world.

“Moving from Worcester to Edinburgh was maybe harder because they were settled but what time I have left in rugby I want to use to help Edinburgh.”

Coincidentally, when Aleki was on the bench for the Pacific Islands side which went down 22-34 to Scotland at Murrayfield in 2006 his counterpart was Stevie Scott, now Edinburgh’s forwards coach.

Scott makes it clear Aleki would have had further opportunities if it wasn’t for the fact head coach Alan Solomons is trying to develop momentum by virtue of fielding a settled side. He also insists that tonight’s opponents represent a potential banana skin, especially as their current tally of seven league points is only three short of that aggregated over the entire 2012/13 campaign.

“Zebre are improving,” said Scott. “They got a good result against Cardiff and Rhys Priestland had to kick a penalty in the last play to get a draw for Scarlets against them.

“Others might be looking at Zebre as the minnows of this league but we have to treat them with respect

“You get the same points for winning against Zebre as you do against Munster.”

The victory over Munster in the Heineken European Cup was a personal triumph for Scott and his line-out jumpers, Sean Cox and Grant Gilchrist, who laid the foundations.

Since then it has emerged that Englishman Cox would be welcome to try to qualify for Scotland on a three-year residency which will be completed early next summer.

Scott says of national coach Scott Johnson’s invite to Cox: “Coxy has been a good club man for Edinburgh. “I was at Sale with him when he was there and he moved on at the right time.

“Since he came here, he has been a good squad member as well as a good athlete.

“Sean is English at the moment but Edinburgh means something to him.

“If Coxy keeps improving then any player that wants to play for Scotland ... great.”

Meantime, Scott underlines the opportunities at stake against Zebre for a side to be captained by Roddy Grant, saying: “Players who come in have a real chance to make an impact. In the win against Treviso last week, we took our foot off the gas and that showed.

“We need to keep getting momentum but consistency is the big thing.

“Every coach is looking for that full 80 minute performance.

“It doesn’t often happen but if we keep improving every week it will come.”