The Tongan Thor videos rugby coaches might not want to see

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

Taniela Tupou's rugby career has been punctuated by video highlights.

His high school Youtube reel set him on a path to internet stardom before he secured a Super Rugby contract with Queensland, and his performances for the Reds and Wallabies have only added more moments to that list.

The vision of 22-year-old Tupou overpowering some of the world's best scrummagers, as he did against the Springboks in Brisbane, would excite any prospective coach and already "Tongan Thor" has earned cult status among fans.

But there is one clip online that Brad Thorn and Michael Cheika might not want to watch too closely, if they're worried about the potential dangers of life outside rugby.

When Tupou returns to his native Tonga, his Instagram feed is full of videos focused on his culture and his family's day-to-day life.

Some of his best videos feature the 22-year-old cracking open coconuts with a machete, while teetering on the back of a moving ute on an uneven gravel road in his village.

It's footage that would send shivers down a coach's spine but Tupou says he's been doing it for so long, he's never even suffered a paper cut.

He first learned how to segment a coconut when he was seven, when he would cut on the ground, and from the age of 12 he's been doing it from his hand.

“When you start doing it when you're young, you put it in the ground and just start cutting it like that but when you get confident, you pick it up and just cut it with one hand," Tupou told RUGBY.com.au.

Four years of high school in New Zealand and a move to Australia in 2016 left him a little bit rusty but Tupou said he is quick to brush up on his ability when he returns home.


“If you watch that video, I just hold the coconut in one hand and cut it up like this. I went away for a bit, went to New Zealand for four years and came here.

“When I went to Tonga, I started on the ground again and after a few days, I was back to normal.”

Online fame has followed Tupou since he burst through defensive lines in his high school days with speed that belies his enormous frame.

In a time where many high-profile athletes are increasingly turning away from social media, Tupou sees it as a way to connect with his fans and show off his personality and his heritage.

“On Instagram there's a lot of people, young guys that message me and ask me how do you get so big and what do you eat and why are your legs so big? and just stuff like that,” he said.

“Instead of me just telling them what I do, I just show them.

“It just shows in the videos and that's mainly why I put up videos just for them to see what I eat, what I do and off the field.”

His scare tactics on Reds teammate Ruan Smith have become another regular feature of his Insta hits and the prop is on the hunt for his next target.

“JP and Ruan the Smith brothers, JP always scared Ruan but then I did it once and I couldn't stop laughing with his reaction and I did it again a second time and I did it a few times and then I kind of stopped because I felt so sorry for him,” he said.

“It was so funny - a lot of people kept messaging me to do it again but I didn't want to do it.

“I think I need to do it again, I need to go back to it because he's so funny his reaction is just hilarious.”

Tupou's relaxed off-field nature is a contrast to the 'Tongan Thor' intensity he displays on the field, a level of focus that has made him into one of Australia's most influential players in recent Tests.

And as long as he keeps a close eye on those fingers when he cracks open a coconut, Tupou's rise is only set to keep going.