Tupou, Rebels challenged to defy turmoil and flourish

Murray Wenzel |

Wallaby Taniela Tupou has been urged to stand and be counted for Australia and the troubled Rebels.
Wallaby Taniela Tupou has been urged to stand and be counted for Australia and the troubled Rebels.

Taniela Tupou has been challenged to defy the “daunting” uncertainty surrounding his new Melbourne home and prove he’s one of the world’s best props.

The cash-strapped Rebels’ chief executive Baden Stephenson was among 10 staff cut by administrators on Thursday, with Rugby Australia (RA) re-contracting coach Kevin Foote and the high-performance staff on four-month deals.

RA chief executive Phil Waugh has confirmed the Rebels’ presence in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific season that begins next week, and says discussions are already under way over long-term “strategic vision”.

Tupou missed the entire 2023 season with injury, returning for the World Cup only to injure his hamstring.

He had been convinced to remain in Australian rugby, lured to the Rebels on a two-year deal after the Tonga-born star had burst onto the scene with the Queensland Reds in 2015.

Tupou remains a key driver of the Wallabies’ fortunes on the field, as well as being one of the code’s most marketable figures.

His Wallabies and former Reds teammate Fraser McReight said it would be a tricky task for Tupou and the Rebels to flourish amid all the uncertainty surrounding the club.

“I’m sure it’d be quite difficult, quite daunting, but we’re taught as professional rugby players to wipe (out) the noise and focus on your job, and elite teams do that very well,” McReight said.

“He hasn’t played much footy recently, I’m just excited for him to get back on the field and do what he does best.”

Wallaby and Rebel Josh Kemeny will leave for England at the end of the season but Waugh has no fears Tupou will follow him overseas.

“It’s tough in Melbourne at the moment,” Waugh said.

“Keeping our best talent on shore is really important to us and that’s why we invested in Taniela’s future.”

Australia, knocked out in the pool stage for the first time ever at last year’s World Cup, will begin Test life under new coach Joe Schmidt in July, when they host Wales and Georgia.

Former Test flanker Waugh expects Tupou to rise above the Rebels’ plight and help move the needle for the struggling Wallabies.

“There’s a responsibility on our players to perform at that impactful level,” he said.

“When the Wallabies have been a successful team it’s been with five or six world-class players in the 15.

“This year I’m excited for Super Rugby to get those players to stand up, put their hand up and be those world-class players in their position that we probably haven’t had for the last few years.”