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'He'd been flogged to death': Rebels GM's scathing Tupou claim as Wallaby battles to reignite his fire

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2nd April, 2024
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Melbourne Rebels general manager Nick Stiles says the club is having to put a broken Wallabies star Taniela Tupou back together again after he was “flogged to death” at the Queensland Reds.

Tupou has been the subject of fans’ angst over his fitness – and his 2023 was ruined by multiple injury problems.

As speculation increases about Tupou’s future, with overseas clubs interested and the Rebels’ future appearing bleak beyond this season, Stiles outlined the recovery job being done with Tupou in Melbourne, when he appeared on The Roar Rugby Podcast.

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Stiles also addressed the case of Wallabies World Cup prop Pone Fa’amausili, who has not managed to get any minutes for the Rebels this season at a time when other clubs – notably the Waratahs and Western Force face front row crises.

But it is his comments on Tupou, when asked what he needs to do to go to the next level on the international stage, that will raise eyebrows.

“When you get to international level, he’s had some really good moments, but you want to see that tighthead performance that he’s consistently pulling out that he just totally dominates and we can be led around the park by him,” said Stiles.

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“It’s probably about those repeat work efforts for him. You can do the big run, you can have the powerful scrum, but in international rugby, it’s around the ability to back up those really good moments regularly.

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“And so there’s that repeatability for him. Which I think, to become as good a player as he can be, or should be, would be to nail those aspects. A lot of that’s physically for him. A lot of that’s getting back to being full strength with his body.

“When we recruited him, we put a presentation together and I showed him the amount of minutes he played at the Reds for the previous three years. I think he was the second most minutes in the whole competition of any position.

“So he’d been really flogged to death up there and won a lot of games for them.

“I don’t blame them at all. But he knew his body was about to break and it did unfortunately. So hopefully now we can get him back to being durable and being able to have those repeat efforts.”

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Stiles, a former Queensland Reds coach, played down discussion about Tupou moving overseas in the near future.

“He’s locked in for two years. All this paper talk coming out saying that Leinster’s interested. That’s great,”said Stiles.

“They can be interested with him after 2025 because he’s contracted through to then, whether we’re here or not, he’s still got a bonding agreement with Rugby Australia.

“But I personally believe with what Taniela’s had over the last couple of years, with the injury profile that he’s had, he’s best being managed very closely at the moment just to get his career back to full strength. I reckon you’ve seen his performance is increasing and getting better each game of Super Rugby.

Taniela Tupou of the Wallabies looks on ahead of their Rugby World Cup France 2023 match against Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 16, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Taniela Tupou of the Wallabies looks on ahead of their Rugby World Cup France 2023 match against Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 16, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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“[He’s] definitely not at his best yet. But when you’re that big and that powerful, you put so much stress on your body.

“I think he’s just been getting so much confidence back into his body to go and do what he can do best. And you’re starting to see him be dominant at scrummaging time and starting to get his hands on the ball. And I firmly believe that’s coming from that belief he’s getting back in himself.

“We’ve got to keep pushing him to get him to be the best tighthead in the world and that will be achieved by being here in Australia for at least the next 12 months.”

The Rebels have also benefitted from the form of Sam Talakai, whom Stiles said was “playing his best rugby he’s ever played”.

That’s meant a roadblock for Fa’amausili, with the suggestion he hasn’t been giving himself the best chance of selection.

“I think he’s probably been able to get a position in the team [in previous seasons] without having been at his peak and that’s not the case now,” said Stiles.

“He’s fit and he’s training well and he’s ready to go, but he just can’t crack a position in the 23 at the moment. Not the worst thing.

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Pone Fa’amausili has yet to play a minute of Super Rugby in 2024. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

“You get injuries and that’s why increasing the depth of the front row and the squad was important – as you go through the season we know we’ve got Pone who’s desperate to get out there. If we do pick up an injury, you’ve got a Wallaby who’s been at the World Cup ready to come in and ready to go. So hopefully, for everyone, we get to see him out there sooner rather than later and see him then put pressure on the other two.

“It’s not just what you do on the field. I love Pone, but he’s still, had his times where he’s fluctuated what he does away from the field, which then puts him in a position that he might get injured.”

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