Representative Honours: New Zealand Under 17s 2003, New Zealand Under 19s 2004-2005, New Zealand Under 21s 2006, Australia A 2008, Australian Wallabies 2008-
Senior Tours: Hong Kong & Europe 2008, Japan & Europe 2009, RWC (New Zealand) 2011, Europe 2012; UK/Europe 2013
NSW Waratahs prop SEKOPE KEPU was one of only six players to feature in all 15 games for the Qantas Wallabies in 2013 as he again proved himself to be a hugely valuable front-row asset for Australian Rugby.
After another influential campaign for the Waratahs, Kepu earned selection as one of five props in the Qantas Wallabies squad to face The British & Irish Lions before going on to feature as a replacement tighthead in all three Test matches.
First introduced to Test Rugby during the 2008 Spring Tour, Kepu continued his fine form to win a place in coach Ewen McKenzie’s inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship squad.
McKenzie would rely on Kepu in all 12 games he took charge of last season with the talented front-rower earning a start against South Africa in Brisbane and in Australia’s final three victories of the Spring Tour against Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Comfortable on both sides of the scrum, Kepu’s impressive form last year came after another successful campaign in 2012 where his powerful scrummaging, athleticism around the field, and general reliability in both defense and ball carrying were paramount at a provincial and Test level.
Such is the extent of Kepu’s work-rate and overall ground coverage; he often covers the amount of territory in a Test match to reflect the loose forward he used to be.
He was predominantly used as a loosehead in 2011, while the past few seasons have seen him almost exclusively in action as a tighthead.
Kepu featured in all 11 Test matches for which he was available in 2011. The run only ended when he was ruled out of the final three games of the year due to an injury sustained when accidentally poked in the eye by a team-mate during the Rugby World Cup semi-final.
That work load was cut in 2012 due to a knee injury which removed him for much of the inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship, although he made a pleasing return in the second half of the drawn Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand prior to figuring in all four matches of the Spring Tour.
That trip was his fourth European tour after a graduated introduction which saw him play just three Test matches in his first three years as a member of the Qantas Wallabies squad. This was partly due to the log jam of props at the Waratahs where he was positioned behind experienced props Benn Robinson and Al Baxter.
A strong season with the Waratahs then vaulted him into Test contention, taking over from Robinson after he was ruled out of the entire 2011 Test campaign due to a knee injury. Kepu is a former No.8 who was converted into a prop by the current New Zealand assistant coach, and front row specialist Mike Cron.
Although born in Sydney, where his family had moved from Tonga, Kepu was sent to New Zealand for schooling. This led to him being educated at Jonah Lomu’s old school – south Auckland’s Wesley College. Kepu returned to Wesley to be hosted at a special homecoming school assembly during the Rugby World Cup, presenting the school with the jersey he wore during Australia’s Tri Nations-sealing Test victory over New Zealand at Brisbane.
A star from No.8 for the New Zealand Under-17 and Under-19 sides, Kepu was switched up front and made the Chiefs wider training group of players for three consecutive years between 2005 and 2007. He shared the front-row duties with current All Black propping brothers Ben and Owen Franks in the New Zealand Under-21 side of 2006, while also further honing his front row craft playing 20 matches for Counties Manukau in the New Zealand NPC.
The opportunity to return to Australia came up in 2008 when he was recruited by the Waratahs, and the move paid an almost immediate return with inclusion on that year’s Qantas Wallabies Spring Tour of Europe. After appearing off the bench against Italy and France, Kepu had the misfortune to tear his pectoral muscle during the dramatic tour-ending 18-11 win over the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium. He made it back in time, towards the end of the Super Rugby season, in order to win a place on the 2009 Spring Tour, but played just the Scotland Test, while also featuring in the mid-week wins over Gloucester and the Cardiff Blues.
Although restricted largely to duty off the bench in the 2010 Super Rugby tournament, Kepu was ready to advance when the opportunity arose the following year, with the ability to prop on both sides of the scrum significantly enhancing his selection claims.
Befitting his previous ‘life’ as a loose forward, Kepu brings explosive strength and mobility to his game. The Randwick prop is the second member of his family to play international Rugby: elder brother Sione Kepu was a New Zealand Sevens rep in 2001, while also appearing for Auckland and Counties Manukau in the NPC as a No.8.