SYDNEY, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Nathan Charles knows his chance to play test rugby for Australia came because of injury to others but has no intention of giving up the Wallabies number two jersey any time soon.
Wallaby number 881 will face world champions New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday in his second start for his country at hooker after a solid display in last weekend’s 12-12 draw with the All Blacks in Sydney.
Charles made his test debut off the bench against France in June in the wake of the season-ending knee injury to skipper Stephen Moore and stepped up into the starting role when Tatafu Polota-Nau also damaged his knee.
“That was the biggest crowd I’d ever played in front of, and facing the Haka, at that level it was just something else,” he said of last week’s Sydney test.
”(But) I‘m not here to just keep the seat warm, I’ve got an opportunity and I want to take it.
”I want to run with it and keep it. But I need to perform. I’ve got picked for my game and I want to stick to it. Set piece comes first and foremost and then everything else takes care of itself.
“Having a taste of playing 80 minutes of test rugby at the weekend was fantastic and I’d love to do it every week.”
While nothing will ever compare to the compelling central narrative of Charles’s life, his rise from a player in rehabilitation at Australia’s weakest Super Rugby team to Wallabies starter is quite a tale in itself.
A year ago, Charles was in the darkest, early days of recovery from anterior cruciate ligament surgery having missed a large portion of another disappointing season for the Western Force.
He returned this year as a key cog in the revival of the Perth-based team, his workrate around the park, solidity at the set piece and bruising tackling catching the eye as the Force just missed out on the playoffs in their best-ever season.
Charles said the enforced spell on the sidelines was ultimately a good thing for him.
“It’s a tough time and a tough process but it gave me a lot of time to do other things in life outside rugby, which I hadn’t been able to do since I left school,” he said.
“I think I grew as a person and as a player and came out of the other side better.”
Charles is clearly a player who aims for perfection and a “not straight” call against his throw at a line-out in last Saturday’s match still rankles four days later, even if TV replays suggested referee Jaco Peyper got it wrong.
“I made a few mistakes, which are going to happen, but I am (happy with my performance),” he said.
”I still think I’ve got more to give, though, it wasn’t the perfect game and we didn’t win.
”If we had won, it would probably have been different but I was reasonably happy.
“Just a few things, that ‘not straight’, I did not like that at all, and a few scrums were a bit scrappy. I just want to get that sorted, that’s my domain and I want to get it right this weekend.”
Charles is reluctant to talk about being born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects the lungs, digestion and reduces life expectancy to below 40, as he feels it deflects from his achievements as a rugby player.
“There’ll always be a stigma attached, it’s been pretty well documented,” he said.
“I don’t like sympathy and sometimes I feel like people say ‘Jeez, he’s done well, given where he’s come from’ rather than ‘he’s done well, because the Wallabies are a hard team to crack into’.”
“I busted my arse to get here and it doesn’t stop there. That’s something I deal with outside all of this, there’s a lot more to it than just taking a few pills.” (Editing by Ian Ransom)