Tupou taking serious strides at tighthead: Slipper

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Taniela Tupou has come a long way since he walked into Ballymore as a "raw boned" 18-year-old kid, according to interim Reds captain James Slipper.

Tupou, now 21, has re-signed with the Reds until the end of 2020 as one of the premier props in Super Rugby but it has been a slow burn up until this point.

He became an overnight sensation when a YouTube clip of his devastating runs at Sacred Heart College in Auckland went viral but any prop worth the boots he's wearing must be able to scrummage against the world's best.

It's taken all of four years to get his game to this point but now, Tupou has added elite scrummaging to his forte and subsequently, a Test cap, making him one of the most valuable prospects in Australian rugby at the tender age of 21.Tupou is one of Australian rugby's hottest prospects. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley"Just looking at his performances this year, he has really grown into the tighthead role," Slipper said.

"It's the hardest position on the field and he's taken it with both hands so far.

"Scrummaging itself is a fine art and tighthead is the hardest position on the field.

"It's a position where you have to be mentally switched on at all times and I think with age you get better at it.

"For Nela, who's still very young, he's doing alright at it and he will only get better."

Slipper still remembers the first day he laid eyes on a "raw boned" Tupou.Tupou has come along way in a few years. Photo: Getty Images"The first thing I thought about was size - the size of the bloke," he said.

"Me and Greg Holmes, who was here at the time, we looked at each other and Holmesy was on the other side of 30 at the time - we were a bit taken aback just with his raw power and his strength.

"He's just a nice kid, too.

"He's really improving and in the years that he has been here, he has come a long way.

"The club has done great things for Nela and I think Nela has paid the club back with hard work and the intent to work hard and improve."

While Tupou still has plenty of growing to do, the Reds have added another experienced head in JP Smith's twin brother, Ruan.Ruan Smith has signed with the Reds. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelHaving been released from the Sunwolves so he could return to Brisbane to be closer to family, Slipper said Smith adds more valuable depth to a Reds front row that is shaping as one of Australia's best.

"He's kept his head down, worked hard and he's going to be another great addition for us as well," Slipper said.

"They're both great props - they've both had Super Rugby careers.

"They add a lot of value to the squad and when they get together they're a bit of a different pairing, that's for sure."

The Reds face the Bulls at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, kicking off at 6:45pm AEDT, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and on RUGBY.com.au radio.