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'Tongan Thor' Tupou ready to hammer Irish and announce his arrival to the world

Under pressure: Ireland’s Johnny Sexton tries to hold off the attentions of Taniela Tupou of Australia
Under pressure: Ireland’s Johnny Sexton tries to hold off the attentions of Taniela Tupou of Australia

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

If you have an interest in rugby and were prone to browsing social media in 2014, chances are you've seen footage of Taniela Tupou before.

On Saturday, the tighthead prop came off the bench to win his second cap for the Wallabies and made a mark by helping to win the scrum penalty that turned the game in their favour.

But it is not the Tonga-born 22-year-old's set-piece abilities that made him a teenage viral sensation.

Instead, it was the outrageous broken-field running that caught the eye as he lined out for Sacred Heart College of Auckland in New Zealand schools rugby.

Tupou's rare blend of size, speed and skills made him a standout in a crowded field and a hat-trick on his 18th birthday attracted thousands of viewers.

"I was 18, (weighed) 142kg or 144kg and was running over little skinny, white boys," he recalled with a giggle on a recent appearance on Australian television.

Online admiration wasn't the only interest the 'Tongan Thor' was attracting.

New Zealand tried to get him to commit to their system, with Super Rugby sides offering senior contracts, while the big-spending French and English clubs also came in with offers.

However, Tupou's older brother Criff lived in Queensland and the green and gold of Australia was always the biggest draw.

"Growing up in Tonga I always watched the Wallabies, but I never thought I'd be able to play for them," he recalled.

"I went to New Zealand, but in the back of my mind I always wanted to go to Australia."

In the end, he signed for Queensland Reds. Steadily, the scrummaging has come on and that has allowed him to start cutting loose at Super Rugby level.

Now, Michael Cheika has him in his plans for the next World Cup, and his impact against Ireland last weekend suggests he will have a big role in this series.

Experienced prop Sekope Kepu said of the young gun: "He has got a lot of energy. He is involved a lot in the laughing, the stuff that goes on off the field, but he is pretty focused.

"Whenever he performs roles, he is always double-checking that he is always all over the roles. He has really matured. He is seeking the calls, so that is great to see, the way he has adapted to the environment.

"When it is crunch time, he is a really good kid, studies hard, and has matured and grown up."

Australia landed a gem and they've been slowly but surely polishing him up. Ireland's misfortune is that he looks ready to be unleashed.

Belfast Telegraph


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