Taniela Tupo will run out from the start for the Wallabies against the Springboks.
Taniela Tupo will run out from the start for the Wallabies against the Springboks.

Why it’s time to unleash the Tongan Thor

WITH just 11 Tests before the Wallabies hit the Rugby World Cup next year, Taniela Tupou's full education as a prop had to start sooner rather than later to finetune his destructive capabilities.

He doesn't even own a real cauliflower ear yet which is as accurate as the growth rings on a tree for telling age or, in his case, experience in the dark arts of forward play.

Pitching Tupou into his first starting assignment against South Africa's 105-Test icon Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning (AEST) is just the trial by fire he needs at scrum time.

Play every Test from now until Australia's World Cup kick-off in Sapporo in a year and Tupou will still arrive in Japan with only 17 Tests under his belt.

It's a taste not a degree at rugby's most elite level when you consider All Blacks tighthead prop Owen Franks had played 72 Tests when he landed in England for the 2015 World Cup.

When the Wallabies last won the World Cup in 1999, tight-head Andrew Blades was a four-season, 27-Test prop when he played his first Cup game.

Tupou’s assignment: Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira. Picture: AAP
Tupou’s assignment: Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira. Picture: AAP

Tupou, 22, has lived a life of runaway expectations since he burst into rugby's consciousness as a YouTube sensation while still at school in Auckland for skittling "little white boys." His innocent words, not mine.

Coach Michael Cheika wants to find out what Tupou can do but on Thursday he wisely talked down Tupou fans getting too far ahead of themselves with predictions of instant greatness.

"Don't go putting him up there under a whole lot of expectations," Cheika said.

"All I'm looking for is for him to be himself, play his game and be very certain about what he needs to do.

"He'll bring emotion and aggression as he always does but it's not a solo show because he's got a front-row and pack to work with."

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has called on Tupou to add fire from the opening whistle. Picture: Getty
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has called on Tupou to add fire from the opening whistle. Picture: Getty

While Tupou's powerful scrum to earn a penalty when the "Beast" went to ground in their Brisbane Test meeting earlier this month was a match-defining moment, no one remembers he was penalised on another occasion.

"Consistency" is Cheika's big word and it goes for every player.

Tupou is delighted with this chance and a phone call to brother Criff, playing rugby in Italy, was his first excited relay of the news yesterday.

"I was surprised when Cheik named the team but nothing changes for me...I've got to do my job," Tupou said.

"I am looking forward to playing more minutes, working with the other boys in the front-row, Scotty (Sio) and Taf (Tatafu Polota-Nau), and getting used to playing with them."

Tupou could have a huge role for Australia at next year’s World Cup. Picture: AAP
Tupou could have a huge role for Australia at next year’s World Cup. Picture: AAP

Full credit to Nick Stiles, Cameron Lillicrap and Brad Thorn, Tupou's scrum coaches at the Queensland Reds over the past four seasons, for all the work they have put in to refine this bedrock area of his game.

A solid scrum is his No.1 mission but there are few better with a bustling, leg-driving pick-and-go from three metres out when the tryline appears like a buffet in front of him.

"The Beast is one of the best and it's obviously a big challenge against him," Tupou said.

"In Brisbane, when he came on, he was pumped for the first scrum and I didn't know what he'd expect from me."

It's fair to say Mtawarira now knows exactly what hooker Malcolm Marx discovered when Tupou and the Reds' scrum gave his Lions a rugged working over in Super Rugby in April.

"I know you need to be 'on' at every scrum," Tupou said.

Reds coach Brad Thorn has had a big influence on Tupou’s development. Picture: AAP
Reds coach Brad Thorn has had a big influence on Tupou’s development. Picture: AAP

Sio, who will play his 50th Test in Port Elizabeth, said he "marvels at the athletic ability" within Tupou who he judges as the Wallabies' fastest and strongest tight forward.

After making his own Test debut at 21 in 2013, Sio had some sage advice that finding a way to grind out stability in a Test after things go a little haywire was a vital skill on the run.

"I'm super proud of him and looking forward to being by his side," Sio said.

"Taf reminded he I'm one of the old bulls now (even at just 26).

"Obviously, I'm very proud. It's a milestone but I've always been a big believer that winning is the most important thing on the weekend.

"It is for us to keep growing as a team and moving in the right direction.

"To win on the road in any competition is massive now. I've never won here in South Africa and it's something I look forward to achieving."

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