'Absolutely owning Rieko tonight': Highly-touted Chiefs' midfielder has breakthrough performance against the Blues
A local product of Hamilton Boys High, Tupaea’s Mitre 10 Cup form at outside centre warranted Super Rugby attention but to Chiefs’ fans dismay, the youngster was left out of their Super Rugby team squad for 2019.
A year earlier the Hamilton Boys student had represented New Zealand schools as a 12 but had found his feet as a 13 at the provincial level with Waikato. Instead of playing Super Rugby in 2019, Tupaea graduated to the New Zealand under-20 team where he was a first choice 13 in a luckless campaign at the under-20 World Championships.
With the Chiefs’ midfield already hosting All Black Anton Lienert-Brown, Tupaea’s introduction to Super Rugby in a disrupted season in 2020 was again at 13 with Brown occupying the second five eighth role.
In 2021, the two players have swapped roles and it seems to be paying dividends as Tupaea’s latest performance against the Blues an indication of potential that he possesses that had Chiefs’ fans so excited for back in 2018.
The direct nature of Tupaea’s confrontational running caused problems for the Blues all night, where he made three line breaks and beat eight defenders. One fan wrote he was ‘absolutely owning Rieko’, the Blues’ own star centre.
RugbyPass writer Nick Turnbull rated Tupaea an 8/10 for his performance, calling him ‘the best Chief on the park’.
“He was devastating in attack tonight causing the Blues midfields headaches they’ll be feeling for a while yet,” he wrote
“His defence was also telling as the Blues didn’t get as much punch through the midfield as they may have been hoping for because of this man. Best Chief on the park.”
The young midfielder finished with 13/14 tackles in a rounded performance that gave his side impact in both in defence and attack.
However, the Chiefs often failed to reap the reward of the lead-up work created by Tupaea’s line breaks, blowing multiple chances to finish in the first half as the Blues were able to preserve a slim lead.
Although the Chiefs were equally resistant at the other end, foiling many Blues efforts with last-ditch turnovers inside their own 22. A magnificent cover tackle by Damian McKenzie prevented a would-be try from Mark Telea in the corner.
It was McKenzie who came up with the match-winner for the Chiefs, breaking the Blues’ hearts when he dived over after spinning out of the tackle of three Blues defenders in the 79th minute.
It would be the last play of the game as McKenzie’s conversion was able to wind down the rest of the clock to seal the Chiefs second win in as many matches after going winless throughout the entire Super Rugby Aotearoa season last year and the first two rounds of 2021.
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