Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou has revealed how he nearly walked away from the game during his extensive rehab process.
Tupou is in line to complete his return from an Achilles injury during Saturday’s first Bledisloe Test against the All Blacks at the MCG.
However, the road to return for the damaging prop has been far from easy, opening up on it in an open and wide-ranging chat with reporters.
Tupou ruptured his Achilles during November’s 13-10 defeat to Ireland in an innocuous incident, carrying the ball and collapsing in a heap.
It came just six months after a long-term calf injury disrupted his 2022 campaign.
The 27-year-old was left in a state of uncertainty.
He was out of contract, dealing with his dream of a second World Cup potentially over, and a near year-long recovery timeline.
With Achilles injuries, much is made about the physical return to injury. Players go through milestones such as the return to walking and running and then they start getting into the game-specific drills such as scrummaging.
For Tupou, it was the mental side of his process that weighed heavily.
“It has been tough the last eight to nine months to do all the rehab alone. Looking back on it, it wasn’t easy. There was a time when I really thought about my future in footy,” Tupou revealed.
“It was just mentally hard. I was asking for help and I was speaking to a few people, I needed that. But I’m we’re here now and I couldn’t be any happier, just be around people again and the boys and now it’s fine.”
Tupou can do it all on the field; a generational athlete that defies physics with his pace and ball skills for a 135kg prop.
However, the mental anvil burdening the jovial front-rower forced him to learn a new skill: speaking up.
It led to Tupou reaching out to the Wallabies psychologists and before he knew it, there was an army of players, coaches and experts reaching out to make sure he was ok every step of the journey.
“Before I was one of those guys where speaking up was not an option,” he explained
“So to find out you are not weak for speaking up, I had to learn the new skill of speaking up when I needed to.
“…I didn’t know who to talk to but we’re lucky enough to have the psychologists for the Wallabies so I reach out to him and he makes everything easy for me and I’m very comfortable talking to him.
“I ended up talking to a few other people comfortably enough to speak to the boys. Before I knew not there were a lot of the boys speaking up on me because we have a lot of people here that care about me and that’s why I’m so grateful now.
“When I did my Achilles last year, I thought the worst. Also the last year of my contract, I thought I was going to miss World Cup. I was in a very dark place but hey we’re here now.”
It transformed Tupou’s perception of his recovery and he could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What he probably didn’t envision was a detour to his country of birth following the confirmation of an Australia A tour of Tonga.
The game coincided with the 50th anniversary of Tonga beating Australia at Ballymore and presented a ‘full-circle’ moment for ‘The Tongan Thor’, badgering coach Eddie Jones to play.
Tupou’s voice almost quivers when speaking about what it meant to play in his country of birth. It’s tough to tell how much of it that is still remnants of the flu he picked up over there but what is clear is what the opportunity meant to him.
“These games never happen in Tonga. You see these games happen in Fiji or Samoa but you’ve never heard of a game in Tonga,” Tupou said.
“For someone like myself growing up in Tonga and playing in that stadium when I was at school, to have that opportunity to perform and play in front of my family in that stadium, it’s a full circle to where everything started for me.
“It was by far the highlight of my career.
“I get a bit emotional talking about it because it means so much to me.”
After all the support he received during his process, Tupou is itching to repay it on the field.
He has spoken in the past about feeling like he has not lived up to his Wallabies potential but Tupou has a new-found motivation after the journey he has been through.
“I’m known for being very loud and trying to be the funny joker in the team but no one sees you when you go through the dark moment,” Tupou added.
“If I ever get the chance to play again, I want to put a performance together that those guys are proud of and I’m proud of.
“I didn’t just get here on my own, there’s a lot of people that got me here so I want to thank them for getting me here with a performance they’d be proud of.”
Ben Mowen and John Ulugia join Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies coaching staff
The Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies are excited to announce Brumby #142 Ben Mowen and Brumby #96 John Ulugia will join the club’s Super Rugby Pacific staff.
Mowen, the Brumbies most-capped captain, took his first steps into coaching after his retirement in 2020 with Easts Rugby Club in Brisbane, the former Wallaby captain having also held roles with the Australian U20s and Japan’s Women’s side during the 2021 Rugby World Cup.
Mowen joins as an assistant coach until the end of 2025 with a focus on defence, breakdown, and lineout.
Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies assistant coach, Ben Mowen said: “I am very excited to be joining the Brumbies as part of the coaching staff. I feel very indebted to the Brumbies culture for what it gave to me as a footballer, and I hope to deliver that same support and development to this next generation.”
“I have loved being a part of the launch of our semi-professional era at Easts. We have created a lot of momentum and I believe this group has a window of opportunity in the coming seasons with great players and staff to capitalize on that.”
“To link back up with Steve, a bloke I loved being coached by and to return to the great community of Canberra is an exciting opportunity for my family. We have so many great friends in Canberra and some unfinished business from over a decade ago. Knowing what coming up just short in a Super Rugby final feels like, I know I have a unique perspective on what championship minutes feel like and what loops we must close at training to achieve our goal. The responsibility of that is not lost on me.”
Ulugia’s Brumbies career spanned from 2006 to earlier this year where the experienced hooker came out of retirement for round one of Super Rugby.
A veteran of over 200 first-class professional games in Super Rugby and the French Top-14, Ulugia will bring valuable experience and knowledge Scrum coach role for the next two seasons, having already began his coaching journey with the Brumbies academy and the Tuggeranong Vikings.
Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies scrum coach, John Ulugia said: “I’m grateful to the Brumbies for welcoming me back to the club over the last year or so and I’m excited to continue my development as a coach over the next two years.”
Mowen and Ulugia’s appointment will add to the Brumbies continuity with both having spent time within the Brumbies environment this season, shadowing and working closely with assistant coach Rod Seib and head coach Stephen Larkham.
Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies head coach, Stephen Larkham said: “We’re really pleased to be able to bring in two young and exciting coaches, and two people who know the club and what is expected as a Brumby.”
“Ben’s knowledge of the game and ability to transfer that knowledge as a player was elite, and his transition into coaching post-playing career has been really impressive so we feel he is someone who will only grow in this environment.
“John’s experience as a player speaks for itself. He knows our system, has great respect within our group and has already demonstrated his ability to coach within our academy program, and with our senior group last season.”
Queensland Rugby announce 2024 Reds coaching staff
Queensland Reds head coach Les Kiss has confirmed his coaching staff ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Kiss will work alongside former London Irish colleagues Brad Davis and Jonathan Fisher, Tonga assistant coach Zane Hilton and Reds Academy head coach Dale Roberson at Ballymore.
Overall it’s an experienced and cohesive coaching team at the Reds with all four aligned to Kiss having signed through 2026.
“We’re pleased to welcome Brad, Zane and Jonathan to the club,” said Kiss.
“It’s an integrated coaching group. All four bring great experience in their roles and while each has a technical lead, they will also work across different disciplines which will accelerate the process.
“Brad is a coach I’ve had the pleasure working alongside at London Irish. He delivered great results for our team and I’m sure he’ll do the same at Ballymore.
“With his coaching experience, Zane has great knowledge of all levels of the game in Queensland including both club and Super Rugby. It’s great to see him return to his home state armed with the lessons he’s learnt over the years.
“Jonathan is one of the best coaching talents in English Rugby and I’ve enjoyed working alongside him over the last four years. It’s exciting to have him on board at the Reds.
“I’m also looking forward to working closely with our Reds Academy head coach Dale Roberson. We’ve increased his scope and working alongside Paul Carozza, Dale’s expertise in the Academy will drive the connection and align the principles of the ‘Reds Way’ between the Academy and our senior Reds program.
“I’d like to acknowledge Jim McKay, Phil Blake, Mick Heenan and Kane Hames for their service to Queensland Rugby. All have left the Reds in a better place and will leave a lasting impact on our squad into the future.”
Like Kiss, Davis also played top-level rugby league, his playing career spanning more than 14-years and 200 games at several clubs in the United Kingdom.
Davis took to coaching in retirement, starting out at Bath Rugby in 2006. He remained at Bath for a decade, serving a number of roles including defence coach, specialist skills coach and as head of kicking strategy and attack.
Stints with Wasps and Ospreys in assistant coach roles followed, before Davis linked with Kiss at London Irish in 2019. Kiss and Davis led the club to fifth place in their most recent season, the Exiles’ highest finish since 2008.
Hilton will bring coaching experience and success at grassroots, Super Rugby and International level to the Reds in 2024.
Hilton began his coaching career as a Queensland Rugby Union Development Officer, before serving as Regional College Manager for the QRU where he identified and developed the next generation of Queensland Rugby talent.
The Brisbane product then coached Brothers to a Hospital Cup title in his first year in charge in 2009, Hilton coming to Crosby Park after stints as a skills coach with Italian side Benneton and as an assistant coach with the University of Queensland.
Hilton took his talents to Japan for four years after finishing with Brothers in 2011, serving as head coach of Kyuden Voltex Rugby and Canon Eagles Rugby.
Hilton returned to Australia in 2014 to take up a role as forward coach at the Melbourne Rebels, with a similar role with the Samoan national side following in 2017.
The next year saw him take the role of General Manager of High Performance at Samoan Rugby Union, before returning to Kyuden Voltex as head coach in 2019. He led the side to promotion to Division 2 of Japanese Rugby this season.
The 42-year-old is currently working alongside Queensland great Toutai Kefu as an assistant coach with Tonga at the Rugby World Cup.
Another former London Irish employee, Fisher joins the Reds staff after an accomplished playing career in the English Premiership.
After representing the England U20s team, the backrower played more than 100 games at London Irish, Bedford, Northampton and Bristol between 2007 and 2017, before transitioning into the coaching world.
Fisher took on a role with the renowned London Irish Academy working with the forwards, before moving to the Premiership side to serve as an assistant alongside Kiss.
Roberson’s current role as Reds Academy head coach has been enhanced under the new title of Reds Development coach.
Already boasting a strong resume with an emphasis on pathway development having coached Churchie’s 1st XV, Queensland Reds U18s and assistant coach for Brothers Premier Grade side, Roberson will work closely with Kiss to drive closer connection with the Reds Academy and foster Queensland’s best developing talent.
The Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) would like to thank assistant coaches Jim McKay, Phil Blake, Mick Heenan and Kane Hames for their contribution to the Reds during their time at Ballymore.
Queensland Rugby recognises each of their dedication to the club with Jim serving nine loyal years and 144 matches across two separate stints with Queensland, plus Phil, Mick and Kane for their service during the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
The QRU wishes all four the very best for their future endeavours
Queensland Reds sign All Blacks duo
The Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) is proud to announce former All Blacks Alex Hodgman and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen have signed with the Queensland Reds through 2025.
The pair bring more than 250 games of experience across Super Rugby, Premiership Rugby and the United Rugby Championship to the Reds squad, while both have represented New Zealand at Test level.
Hodgman, 30, and Toomaga-Allen, 32, have both signed two-year deals and will join newly appointed head coach Les Kiss at Ballymore for the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Hodgman is also eligible to represent the Wallabies post Rugby World Cup through World Rugby’s Regulation 8 eligibility law.
Hodgman said: “I’m looking forward to moving over to Australia with my family and starting new with the Reds.
“Change is good but also comes with its challenges and that excites me.
“A new facility, new coach and a playing group that has been together for a while allows me to bring my experience and just be me.
“I’m blessed to be here and can’t wait to get started.”
Toomaga-Allen said: “I can’t wait to join the club.
“I’m excited to be coming back to Super Rugby after being away for a few years and getting to know everyone at the Reds.
“I’m feeling really blessed to be able to be closer to family which is a big part of why I joined the organisation.
“When speaking to Les and Sam, we talked about the importance of family and how we as a team can keep growing as a unit on-and-off the field which was a big drawcard for me.
“I’m keen to get amongst the community in Queensland and looking forward to connecting with all the supporters around the state.”
Kiss said: “We’re pleased to welcome two props of the calibre of Alex and Jeffery to our squad.
“Both bring experience at the highest level and will strengthen our tight five on-and-off the field.
“There’s been a strong culture of care and connection built at Ballymore over the past few years. After talking to both Alex and Jeff, they both have a team-first mentality and will only bolster these values over the next two seasons.
“In addition, having a player of Alex’s ability qualifying for Wallaby selection in 2024 is great for Australian Rugby.”
Loosehead prop Hodgman attended Auckland’s Mount Albert Grammar School and was part of the Blues U18s program before representing Fiji at the U20s World Cup in 2012.
He switched allegiances to represent New Zealand in the same tournament the following year, before making the move to Canterbury.
After impressing in the National Provincial Championship (NPC), Hodgman debuted for the Crusaders in 2015 and went on to earn nine caps for the club.
He returned to Auckland in 2017 to take up a contract with the Blues and has since played 56 Super Rugby games for the franchise.
After an impressive Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign in 2020, Hodgman was named to make his All Blacks debut against Australia at Eden Park and featured off the bench in a 27-7 win over the Wallabies.
He went on to play a further three Tests over the next two seasons, while World Rugby’s eligibility laws will see him available for the Wallabies this November.
Joining him in the Queensland frontrow will be Toomaga-Allen, who brings over a decade of experience both in Super Rugby and abroad.
Born in Wellington, the 192cm-tall tighthead debuted for the Hurricanes in 2012 after impressing at U20s level for New Zealand and in the NPC for his home city.
He made his All Blacks debut the following season, featuring in his sole Test against Japan in 2013.
Cemented in the Hurricanes lineup, Toomaga-Allen came off the bench in his side’s losing 2015 Super Rugby Grand Final, before injury ruled him out of their title win against the Lions the next year.
Toomaga-Allen returned to the All Blacks squad in 2017, featuring against the Barbarians on the Spring Tour, and was again selected in the national squad once again the following season.
He notched his 100th Super Rugby cap for the Hurricanes in 2018, becoming just the 15th player to do so for the Wellington-based club.
2019 saw Toomaga-Allen take his talents to the Northern Hemisphere where he played 61 matches for Wasps in the English Premiership.
A move to Ulster followed in 2022, while the prop also made his debut for Samoa, playing three matches on their end of year tour.
Toomaga-Allen will play his Queensland club Rugby for Norths, while Hodgman has committed his services to Sunnybank.
The pair will join recently re-signed Fijian international Peni Ravai and new recruit Massimo De Lutiis alongside World Cup-bound Wallabies Matt Faessler and Zane Nonggorr in the Reds frontrow.
- Position: Prop
- Height: 190cm
- Weight: 122kg
- Born: 16/07/1993
- Place of birth: Auckland, New Zealand
- School: Mount Albert Grammar School
- Super Rugby debut: 28/02/2015 v Chiefs, Waikato Stadium (Crusaders)
- Super Rugby caps: 65
- All Blacks debut: 18/10/2020 v Australia, Eden Park, Auckland
- All Blacks caps: 4
- Position: Prop
- Height: 192cm
- Weight: 125kg
- Born: 19/11/1990
- Place of birth: Wellington, New Zealand
- School: Wellington College
- Super Rugby debut: 25/02/2012 v Stormers, Cape Town (Hurricanes)
- Super Rugby caps: 117
- All Blacks debut: 02/11/2013 v Japan, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo
- All Blacks caps: 1
- Samoa debut: 05/11/2023 v Italy, Stadio Plebiscito, Padua
- Samoa caps: 3