World rugby, be warned – the ‘Tongan Thor’ can now scrum with the best of them.
One of Australian rugby’s most exciting prospects, Taniela Tupou, is set to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench for the Queensland Reds on Friday night in Canberra, and interim co-coach Nick Stiles has warned it’s his technical nous, not just his incredible frame, that the Brumbies will need to worry about.
Tupou, 20, shot to fame two years ago when clips of him bullying his way through Auckland schoolboy rugby emerged on YouTube, prompting an international clamour for his signature that the Reds eventually won.
At 175cm and 133kg, Tupou is a monster who captain James Slipper says is “blessed” with attributes any prop would gladly have.
But after being schooled in the fine art of scrummaging at Ballymore, Stiles said Tupou is now a weapon on several different fronts.
“I reckon we’ve done a pretty good job here at the Reds with our front-row development. You look at Greg Holmes, hadn’t played Wallabies for eight years and comes out and contributed very well,” Stiles said.
“Ben Daley, Sef Fa’agase, all of them, they’ve done really well.
“What that has meant is that Taniela’s been packing at training against Super Rugby-quality props for the last two years.
“He got to us as a schoolboy, pretty raw, but to pack against that quality has made him a very good scrummager.”
Expect that to be his focus on Friday, rather than his incredible ball-running ability for which he made his name.
“I told him, I don’t care about YouTube highlights this weekend, unless it’s a five metre scrum pushover. For him, he’s just got to get the basics done – the running game to him comes naturally,” Stiles said.
“I’m sure you all watched his scrummaging (at training), you saw a 130kg tighthead prop scrummaging very dominantly. I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes in a game situation.”
Tupou was the spearhead of Queensland’s winning Super U20s Championship side this year and would have gone with the Australian side to the World U20s Championship this month were it not for an ankle injury, from which he has now fully recovered.
“He’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve seen and he’s quite a humble kid,” Slipper said.
“He’s been working really hard this year. He had a bit of a hiccup with injury mid-season, but to see him get his chance is quite remarkable.”