‘Lucky he saw something in me’: Tupou reflects on Jones, World Cup ‘nerves’

Mon, Sep 11, 2023, 2:09 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Taniela Tupou reflects on his journey to 50 Wallabies caps. Photo: Getty Images
Taniela Tupou reflects on his journey to 50 Wallabies caps. Photo: Getty Images

Whilst Taniela Tupou believes he still has a long way to go until he reaches the potential of 'world's greatest tighthead' seen by coach Eddie Jones, the powerful prop has reflected on his 50th Wallabies Test after their win over Georgia.

Tupou burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old on the 2017 Spring Tour as a rampaging beast that had delighted fans ever since a highlights mixtape of the 'Tongan Thor' went viral on YouTube.

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However, the past 18 months hasn't been easy for the incoming Rebel.

A long-term calf injury was followed almost instantly by a ruptured Achilles, limiting him to just 14 games in the past 14 months, all at the International level.

During that time, the Wallabies system had completely changed, with Dave Rennie replaced by Eddie Jones.

Rennie was a big fan of Tupou and a new coach bread uncertainty for the 27-year-old, who had already conceded in the past he hadn't lived up to expectations.

“This time last year, I did the injury. I was just coming back from the calf injury I was out for four months with and then ruptured the Achilles,” he explained.

“…When I got injured, Dave Rennie was still coach and I didn’t know anything about Eddie. (I was) real nervous, scared, I don’t know what he’s like (and) if I was his type of player, all I had to do was keep working hard and hopefully come back in and try and earn my spot in the team. 

“I was lucky he saw something in me and lucky enough to be back and play the 50th (Test).”

Ultimately, Tupou had nothing to fear. When asked about his opinion of the prop before Saturday's World Cup opener against Georgia, Jones was glowing.

“He has the talent to be the number one tight-head prop in the world and we believe the way he’s preparing and going about his work and the enjoyment he takes in becoming a better player, we will see that development.

“He’s an extremely powerful scrummager, he’s added versatility to the way he scrummages. There was a period where his only option was to go in. Now he scrums very straight, which is obviously going to be important against the Georgians, who pride themselves on that area.

"He’s also got the fastest feet for a tight-head prop I have seen. He’s just coming to his best years. He’s still a young man for a tight-head prop, so to play 50 tests for his country is a wonderful achievement.”

Tupou delivered on these qualities in the 35-15 win. He dominated the Georgian pack at scrumhalf, threw passes from the base of the ruck that any scrumhalf would be proud of and then delivered a perfect behind-the-back offload for Ben Donaldson's try.

When asked about his coach's praises, the humble Tupou palmed them off, conceding he still has work to do before he reaches those lofty heights.

“Every coach will say that about you. I don’t know how to take those compliments to be honest,” Tupou said. 

“I’ll just keep my head down and keep working hard, and hopefully, I’ll end up there one day. There’s so many in front of me.”