Tupou crunches way into Wallabies pack
THREE pulverising scrums against his own team have won powerhouse Taniela Tupou his first start for the Wallabies despite only 28 minutes of action since coach Michael Cheika said there was "no hurry" to rush the project prop.
"Tongan Thor" has been thrust into the front-row to help the Wallabies make a start of real authority against a South African side which will be roared on by 46,000 home fans in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
It is no backflip from Cheika, just a realisation of how quickly Tupou, at 22, has become a weapon.
Cheika said there was "heaps of upside" in terms of improvement in Tupou and younger players like him.
"This is a chance for Taniela to step up again but it ain't a practice match for him to get better, it's a Test match," Cheika said.
"I've made this decision with the full belief he is more than capable to take on his opponent and win."
At Tuesday's training session, Tupou was at tighthead in the reserve pack when it crunched the nominal Test eight backwards in three consecutive scrums and forced skipper Michael Hooper to urge his main men to regroup.
It was an irresistible scrummaging audition against Test prop Scott Sio. As a result, Tupou has taken the spot of Allan Alaalatoa, who moves to the reserves bench.
"He's done really well and we thought this would be a good opportunity in a pretty difficult atmosphere and against a good front-row," Cheika said of Tupou.
"I believe in him a lot as a player and I'm sure he'll do a really good job, build the concentration from the start and make sure he nails it all."
After Tupou came on as a replacement to win a vital scrum penalty in the 23-18 win over the Springboks in Brisbane earlier this month, Cheika said: "There's no hurry, let him grow."
Since then, Tupou's only game time has been 28 minutes against Argentina, but Cheika did say earlier in the week a trait of a good selector-coach was not being "too stubborn".
Cheika has retained Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua as the starting axis in midfield, with Foley looming as a 20-minute style replacement.
The key changes are in the forwards where blindside flanker and lineout target Ned Hanigan will make his first start in 10 months. He replaces the non-touring Lukhan Tui.
New dad Adam Coleman is back at lock.
In the reserves, there is no specialist back-rower which means Rob Simmons is the back-up at blindside flanker - a role he has filled occasionally for the Queensland Reds but not in any of his 88 Tests.
There's some horses-for-courses theory to Simmons' selection to combat the Bok pack's big bodies and provide more lineout nous, but it also says Caleb Timu and first-time tourist Angus Cottrell are not considered ready.
The personnel changes are less important than the Australians playing with clear minds and sharp skills.
Just how wasteful the Wallabies were against Argentina has been laid bare by the Fox Sports Lab.
They frittered away their most turnovers (23) since 2016 and made their most handling errors of the year (21) to make a mess of the greatest number of line breaks (nine) created all season.
Any repeat and this will be a 20-point smash-up at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium because new Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus has created an energised, better organised squad than the flawed Boks sides that the Wallabies could not put away in Pretoria (2016) and Bloemfontein (2017).
No back-row specialist on the bench means reserve lock Rob Simmons will also be blindside flanker back-up ahead of the overlooked Timu and Cottrell.
"It's a bit more experience and for the set pieces at the end of the game so we have bases covered," Cheika said.
Winning in a city where no Wallabies team has won on four previous visits since 1933 didn't make bouncing back any more difficult after the 23-19 misfire against Argentina on the Gold Coast, Cheika said.
"It was a tough loss, yeah, but sometimes it's games when you are against the odds that it's the right time to stand up against that sort of hsitory," Cheika said.
"We're playing in a fantastic stadium, it's going to be full and we want to play in big atmospheres like that."
Cheika did give an inkling that the countdown clock to the World Cup was now ticking louder.
"It's 11 games for us before it starts so we're getting less and less time to train and prepare together for it," Cheika said.
"The dream is lifting the Cup without a doubt.
"What we need to do beforehand is believe in ourselves, build the connection between ourselves, build it with our fans and play in a style that makes them believe in us too."
An upset in PE would work wonders.
WALLABIES: Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua, Marika Koroibete, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper (c), Ned Hanigan, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Taniela Tupou, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio. Res: Folau Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Jack Maddocks.
SPRINGBOKS: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse