In one of the most sensational shots in Australian rugby in years, Taniela Tupou says being injured and away from the Queensland Reds was “the best thing that ever happened to him”.
In a candid interview ahead of his return to the field for the first time since May, the new dad, who celebrated the birth of his first child last week, says he is “mentally” and “physically” ready for action.
It’s a terrifying prospect for the England side of Eddie Jones, who are one-nil behind in the three-Test series and now must battle the world’s most destructive tight-head prop back into the equation.
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But Tupou’s comments also focus on the Reds, who have been rumored for months about an unhappy environment under Brad Thorn.
As reported by Foxsports.com.au in April, Tupou’s grievances centered on adultery and burnout. Therefore, Tupou could leave the Reds in 2024, even if he re-signs with Rugby Australia.
While others rest in Australian rugby, as well as across the ditch, Tupou was asked to repeatedly play up front and play big minutes.
On Thursday, Tupou said his calf injury, which forced him to miss the last month of the Super Rugby competition, had been a blessing in disguise.
“I’ll tell you, it’s probably unfair to say this, but I’ve really enjoyed being off and not playing for the past few weeks,” he said.
“I would have loved to have played last week and last weekend for the Reds, but I didn’t miss a moment.
“I liked being off the field and I liked not having to get ready to play.
“I’ve played a lot of games in the last few games…I’m ready to play now. But when I was injured I didn’t miss it and I didn’t want to come back to play anytime soon.
“But I’ve done a lot of work with some of the guys and I’m in a good space now, and I think I’m ready to go out and have a little fun.”
When asked if the injury was the best thing for his career, Tupou didn’t mince his words.
“100 percent. I don’t know how to put it into words, but I think being injured was the best thing that ever happened to me mentally and physically and I was ready for something different,” he said.
“That happened and I stayed away from footy, I spent some time with the madam and the family, and now I’m ready to play again.”
His return is a timely boost for Rennie’s Wallabies, who are missing five players who started a week earlier in the 30-28 victory in Perth.
“He can certainly carry, he’s got great footwork, he’s amazingly explosive for a big man,” Rennie said.
“The scrum is the most important; very, very powerful.”
While Tupou is known for his erratic free-course play, Rennie said his core role was what he wanted the Reds prop to focus on against an English peloton that was defeated last weekend.
“He hasn’t played much rugby lately,” Rennie said.
“We want a really good set piece from him initially – and anything else would be a bonus.”
It’s been a whirlwind week for Tupou, whose partner gave birth to a baby boy, “Nela,” last Friday.
Rennie revealed that Tupou had shared the news via text message, but the gentle giant had to confirm his baby’s weight after his coach thought he was 11.9lbs instead of being born at 11:19am.
“He must be very proud,” Rennie said.
“He texted me when his son came out. He said ‘he’s gone’. And then he told me what time it was, 11:19 am.
“Most people wouldn’t sell the time, they’d talk about the weight, so my first thought was it was 11lbs, but it turned out he was 7.4lbs, so not a huge baby, but he’s so proud. ”
Tupou later told the story, saying that Nela was “little”.
Rennie said Tupou would likely grow as a player after he gave birth to a child.
“I think when you become a father, you play for something bigger than yourself and you become less selfish, so that’s cool,” he said.