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It takes a certain type of rugby fan to get revved up about a prop making his first start for his country.
But Taniela Tupou is a special type of front-rower, a hulking forward that doesn’t lumber as you’d expect a 130kg frame to lumber.
He’s been named to make his run-on debut for the Wallabies against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth this Saturday night after six Tests coming off the bench.
A typically bullocking ‘Tongan Thor’ is what Australian rugby could do with right now.
Most importantly, his explosive charges and scrum power can hopefully spark the Wallabies to a run of sorely-needed Test wins. But his eye-catching bursts and power surges also have the potential to get Australian rugby fans finally feeling upbeat a year out from the next World Cup.
For the Wallabies have lacked physically dominant bruisers for a while, and hopefully Tupou is the man to consistently jolt his teammates into action.
It would’ve been hoped someone like Taqele Naiyaravoro, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Will Skelton or even Sean McMahon or Tolu Latu would develop into that Wallabies player that could get Australia on the front foot in tight with the ball or provide defensive aggression and intimidation.
They’ve been either injured, ineffective or overseas and failed to make a significant and consistent impact.
Adam Coleman and Rory Arnold showed glimpses of being that enforcer but they haven’t filled the role often enough.
Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock often set the physical standard for the Kiwis, as do the Boks second-rowers Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert.
All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo, Boks hooker Malcolm Marx and England No.8 Mako Vunipola are a few others that come to mind when asked to pinpoint powerhouse international players that can ignite their teams when often little is on.
Of course it’s misguided and far-fetched to think Tupou’s going to shred tackles against South Africa and the other top nations like he does in one of his viral high-school YouTube clips.
However, he’s proved at Super Rugby level that his power and fast feet can make fools of some quality defenders.
Tupou’s scrummaging is another reason to feel positive about his starting inclusion. He’s proven himself to be very effective at scrum time for Queensland and the set piece has been an issue for the Wallabies again recently.
There’s hardly anything more infuriating for a Wallabies fan than admiring their discipline and aggression in defence over 15 phases, forcing a dropped ball, but then witnessing a scrum fold and a penalty conceded.
Tupou will hopefully ensure the Wallabies can at least hold firm at scrum time.
He’ll face a massive task at Nelson Mandela Stadium, packing down against South Africa’s veteran loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira, who has been recalled to their starting line-up.
Tupou was solid up against ‘Beast’ Mtawarira in Brisbane earlier this month when they both came off the bench in Australia’s only Rugby Championship win this year.
Tupou’s progression will be intriguing to watch. Since the Wallabies made the 2015 World Cup final, few have come through the so-called professional pathways to stamp themselves as top-drawer Test players.
Reece Hodge, Dane Haylett-Petty and Coleman have been the pick of the next wave, but still the Wallabies are relying heavily on the core that were part of the decider: David Pocock, Will Genia, Michael Hooper, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley.
The All Blacks, England and Springboks have in the same time brought through a good chunk of young talent that have matured to become elite internationals. Hopefully Tupou continues on his trajectory to become a fully-fledged Wallabies enforcer and entertainer.