Wallabies to unleash ‘Tongan Thor’ on South Africa
Australia will unleash powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou on South Africa from the start on Saturday, hoping the “Tongan Thor” can provide the heroics Michael Cheika needs to restore confidence in his coaching.
The 22-year-old Tupou, born in Tonga and schooled in New Zealand, will make his first start for Australia, after six explosive appearances off the bench, in the Rugby Championship game in Port Elizabeth.
Strong in the scrum and rampaging in the loose, the front rower has the potential to neutralize the Springboks’ forward might.
It’s still a trial by fire for the 135-kilogram (297-pound) Tupou, with the Springboks emboldened by a shock 36-34 win in New Zealand in the last round. Australia hasn’t won in South Africa since 2010.
“This is a test match so you make those decisions to put him in there for that with the full belief he will be more than capable to take his opponent on and win,” Cheika said.
Tupou has been a sensation since school and effectively turned down a chance to play for the All Blacks — that’s how highly rated he is — to represent Australia.
“I don’t think we need to go up there and try and put him under a heap of expectation,” Cheika said. “He will bring the emotion and the aggression, as he always does when he comes into the game.”
Tupou’s direct opponent will be Tendai Mtawarira, who has played 105 tests. He arguably got the better of ‘The Beast’ when Australia beat South Africa in Brisbane earlier this month.
Since then, the teams have gone in opposite directions.
Cheika was under pressure before the win over the Springboks brought temporary relief. He’s under it again now after the Wallabies then lost to Argentina at home for the first time in 35 years, and the first time in the professional age.
South Africa traveled to New Zealand off back-to-back losses — and coach Rassie Erasmus raised the possibility he could be fired six months into the job if results continued to slip — before the Springboks stunned rugby to beat the world champion at home.
Erasmus, on an unusually long six-year contract, has consistently said he’s looking long term, a mantra he repeated in the buildup to the Port Elizabeth test.
“We are trying to build experience in the squad we can take to the Rugby World Cup,” he explained.
While South Africa is in a period of rebuilding, fans still demand wins from the team, especially at home. The upset of the All Blacks in Wellington only raised expectations.
Erasmus wasn’t able to keep his winning combination together, however, after injuries to No. 8 Warren Whiteley and centers Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
That’s opened the way for first starts for Sikhumbuzo Notshe at the back of the scrum and Cheslin Kolbe — a tryscorer off the bench against the All Blacks — on the right wing.
Jesse Kriel switches from right wing to center, where he is part of a changed combination alongside Andre Esterhuizen. Mtawarira is rotated back into the starting lineup in place of Steven Kitshoff.
Tupou’s selection captured all the attention for the Wallabies despite the return of captain Michael Hooper, who missed the loss to Argentina with injury.
Australia made four changes to its starting lineup, all in the forward pack. The others were Adam Coleman coming in at lock and Ned Hanigan replacing Lukhan Tui at blindside flanker.
Tui has taken the rest of the season off after he was involved in a scuffle with a Wallabies fan in the stands after the loss to Argentina, a low moment in a difficult season for Cheika and his team.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.
Australia: Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua, Marika Koroibete, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper (captain), Ned Hanigan, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Taniela Tupou, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio.
Replacements: Folau Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Jack Maddocks.