Upside aplenty in terrific Tupou: Cheika

Thu, 27/09/2018, 02:35 pm
Sam Phillips
by Sam Phillips
Taniela Tupou will make his first Test start in South Africa. Photo: Getty Images

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika believes there is still stacks of "upside" in Taniela Tupou and that's a terrifying proposition for the rest of the Test rugby world.

Tupou's terrific form off the bench this year has justified a starting spot and he will make his run on debut against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.

The 22-year-old boasts legs the size of tree trunks and has used every bit of his 135kg frame to crumble opposition scrums to date this season.

When Tupou runs onto Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium he will have earned just his seventh Test cap yet his impact on matches is undeniable.

That is what excites Cheika.

"There's always upside - with all our players - and definitely Taniela," he said.

"This is part of it.

"This is a chance to step up and improve again but this ain't a practice match either.

"This is a Test match so you make those decisions to put him in there for that with the full belief that he will be more than capable to take his opponent on and win."

Tupou's direct opponent on Sunday morning (AEST) is Tendai Mtawarira.

The man they call "The Beast" is a world class operator but Tupou folded him when they squared off in Brisbane.

Tupou starred in that win and the performance filled him with the confidence required to take Mtawarira down this weekend.

"The Beast is one of the best," Tupou said.

"He's up there with Scotty (Sio) and obviously it will be a big challenge for me to go up against him again.

"I didn't know what to expect from him (in Brisbane) but I just knew he was a good prop and after the first scrum I knew what to expect.

"He's really good so I need to be on every scrum.

"It's going to be tough for me but I am looking forward to the challenge."

Sunday's Test shapes as the start of a decade long mortgage on the tighthead jersey for Tupou.

Having played just seven Tests he is already a world class player packed full with X factor rarely seen from players in the front row.

But while Cheika acknowledges he is watching a star in the making he did not want to heap pressure on the Tongan born talent.

"I don't think we need to go up there and try and put him under a heap of expectation in anyway," he said.

"All I am looking for from him is to be himself, play his game, be very certain about what he needs to do.

"He will bring the emotion and the aggression as he always does when he comes into the game."

Tupou feels the exact same way.

Whether it's from the bench or in the starting XV he simply wants to fire every time a scrum is called or he has his hands on the football.

"Nothing changes for me," Tupou said of his first start.

"I will be doing the same thing - doing my job.

"The only difference is that I will be playing more minutes but I'm looking forward to it."

Whether he would like to admit it or not Tupou must seize the day.

He is yet to falter in his journey from YouTube sensation to Test star and the man that will pack down alongside him believes he is the right man for the job.

"I echoed that a couple of weeks ago when we were up on the Gold Coast," Sio said.

"With the younger guys in the team we are always reminding them it's because of the work ethic - the hard work you put in to get here.

"If you ever get there you just have to make the most of it.

"It's a tough road to be able to represent your country so when you are up there it's because of the hard work and everything you put into it.

"Super proud of him but as I've always echoed to him it's the 80 minutes that matters most on the weekend."

The Wallabies face the Springboks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday morning, kicking off at 1:05am AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS.

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