Taniela Tupou admits he faces a race against the clock to be fit and firing for Rugby World Cup
The Rugby World Cup is just four months away, but Taniela Tupou admits there is an element of uncertainty about whether he will be in Paris to run out against Georgia on September 10.
A candid Tupou also opened up on his international journey, saying he doesn’t think he’s close to reaching his potential with the Wallabies.
Tupou, one of the world’s most devastating scrummagers and runners, has yet to run since rupturing his Achilles in Dublin last November.
The 27-year-old, who in February signed a multi-million-dollar, two-year extension with Rugby Australia to join the Rebels next year, hopes he will be able to start running again by the end of the month.
From there the tight-head prop hopes to make his return via club rugby in Brisbane by July, before potentially being eligible to be picked by Eddie Jones for the Wallabies.
But with the Wallabies’ first Test of the season against South Africa in Pretoria on July 9 and their last match in the Southern Hemisphere against the All Blacks in Dunedin on August 5 before Jones names his World Cup squad, the returning head coach will likely have to take a gamble on whether his star prop can feature prominently in his tournament plans.
“It’s up to Eddie if he wants me to be a part of the team,” Tupou told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday before tickets go on sale for the Wallabies’ Test against Argentina on July 15.
“At the moment, I’m focusing on getting the strength back in my Achilles and calf and I’m still two weeks away from running. Can’t wait for that.
“I’m not sure, maybe around July I’ll be playing some club footy and who knows.”
Whether he can hit top form overnight remains to be seen, with Tupou likely to spend some time working with Jones’ new sports psychologist Corinne Reid to help his recovery.
“If I have a month or two before the World Cup, I won’t be as confident,” he said.
“Coming back from a big injury like this you need a few big games to get that confidence back. I’m lucky enough to have three months to try and get back. Fingers crossed.”
Tupou admitted he feared the worst when he lay near the 22 metre line at Lansdowne Road against the Irish on last year’s Spring Tour.
“I didn’t know much after that because I was on some stuff (medication), but I rolled up the next morning and everything goes through my mind. It was my last year of my contract, World Cup year. Everything was on the line,” he said.
“There was a lot of pressure. But it was all out of my control. It took a few weeks to finally calm down and I spoke to a few people and six months later my contract was sorted.
“I think I should be back for the World Cup.”
But tipping the scales at the best part of 150 kilograms, there is plenty that can still go wrong for the man they call the ‘Tongan Thor’.
“It’s a bit hard because I’m not running at the moment and trying to keep that weight off,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been really good but I’m trying.”
Since March, Tupou has been joined daily by front-row partner Angus Bell after the Test front-rower had surgery to remove a bone from his foot to prevent any further issues with his toe.
It has led to the front-rowers spending the week training one another to help their recoveries.
“Doing it by yourself it’s pretty hard. But at the moment Angus Bell is obviously coming back from a toe injury and they [Rugby Australia] put us together,” Tupou said.
“We train together. He comes to Brisbane for three days and then I come to join him.
“Just knowing there’s someone there with you helps a lot.”
Bell added: “Most of my 20 tests I’ve played with Nella off the bench and I’ve started with Nella as well against England. It’s definitely a thing, with props, if I push harder it helps him, if he does the same it helps me. We’ve spoken about if we come back for one game what we’re going to do and hopefully what we can bring.”
Tupou said Jones had encouraged him to purely focus on his injury rehabilitation.
It’s understood the Wallabies coach wants Tupou to forget about hitting rucks and work on explosiveness in the carry and at the set-piece.
Tupou can become the most damaging prop in the world but as yet has very rarely dominated Tests for the Wallabies, particularly as a starter, like he has for the Reds in Super Rugby.
He admitted as much when asked if had he delivered on his potential.
“No,” he said after a long pause. “I don’t think so and that’s something I’m working really hard on.
“Sitting back this time and looking back at what I’ve done in the jersey, I don’t think I’ve done enough and hopefully when I’m back, and if I’m back in the team, I get to the level I think I can get to.”
Tupou said he was excited for next year’s “new start” at the Rebels, where he hoped the new environment would help him take his game to a new level.
“I spoke to different people and I asked for their thoughts and they recommended a change of environment would help as a player,” Tupou told The Roar.
“It was so hard to leave the Reds, a club that has done so much for me. I’ve appreciated everything they’ve done for me, but I’m looking forward to being a Rebel next year.”