'It's been a dream': Quinn Tupaea's rapid rise to the All Blacks
That’s no mean feat, especially when you consider few – himself included – would have expected him to make Ian Foster’s squad ahead of the July test series against Tonga and Fiji.
By that stage, Tupaea had just finished his sophomore Super Rugby season with the Chiefs in a campaign where he had impressed with his eye-catching attacking qualities.
Those attributes made him a schoolboy sensation at Hamilton Boys’ High School, where many began to earmark him as a future superstar in his final year at the established rugby nursery in 2017.
The year after that, he made his provincial debut for Waikato and quickly affirmed himself as a key member for the Mooloos, to the point where he was a headline omission from the Chiefs squad for the 2019 Super Rugby campaign.
That call-up to the Hamilton-based franchise came a year later following a season with the New Zealand U20 side, and his development at that level progressed steadily into this year as the Chiefs reached the Super Rugby Aotearoa final.
In the lead-up to that landmark fixture, Tupaea had starred in a handful of game, most notably against the Blues in Hamilton, where his offloading prowess and tackle-busting ability powered his side to an upset win over the highly-fancied Aucklanders.
Another standout showing came against the lowly Melbourne Rebels during Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, but, even then, it seemed Tupaea was an outside chance at international selection.
Rieko Ioane was beginning to flourish on a consistent basis in his transition from the wing to the midfield, Anton Lienert-Brown remained the most experienced midfielder in New Zealand and David Havili was enjoying career-best form with the Crusaders.
Braydon Ennor’s return from injury also looked to have sewed up Foster’s midfield options, but an ACL rupture to veteran centre Jack Goodhue paved the way for Tupaea to break into Foster’s ranks.
The 22-year-old’s shock at his test call-up was clear to see when a video circulated of him listening to his name being read aloud while in the Maori All Blacks camp ahead of their matches against Manu Samoa in June.
Tupaea’s response was indicative of what could perhaps be viewed as an inevitable All Blacks selection that was fast-tracked as a result of Foster’s thin midfield options, which were cut even shorter when Ennor was ruled out for five weeks with appendicitis.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 6, 2021
That led to Tupaea’s test debut against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium, a match of which the All Blacks won 102-0 as the youngster acquitted himself well from the No 12 jersey in a midfield partnership with Ioane.
Since then, Tupaea has gone from strength-to-strength in his five appearances as an All Black, and he is now seriously being considered as a starting option for his side’s season-ending tests against Ireland and France over the coming fortnight.
His simplistic yet effective playing style of running hard and straight, accompanied by a tidy array of distribution skills, were painfully absent when the All Blacks struggled to cope with the line speed they faced against the Springboks during the Rugby Championship.
Havili was the preferred second-five option in both of those tests in Townsville and on the Gold Coast, and for all the form he showed in the early part of the test campaign, he doesn’t offer the same skill set Tupaea does, which the All Blacks desperately needed against the world champions.
That was clear to see again in Cardiff last weekend when the All Blacks, in spite of their hefty 54-16 win, struggled to punch their way through the tight backline channels without a physical ball-carrier, like Tupaea, in the No 12 jersey.
If he can showcase his strengths against Italy at Stadio Olimpico in Rome this weekend, a test of which he has been named to start alongside Ennor in the midfield, then Foster will find himself under pressure to pick Tupaea in Dublin and Paris.
All of this, keep in mind, comes just a matter of months after Tupaea was deemed to be a rank outsider to even make the All Blacks in the first place, something of which wasn’t lost upon him while speaking to media earlier this week.
“It’s been a crazy few months really,” Tupaea told reporters from Rome on Friday [NZT] of his induction into the All Blacks squad in July.
“Was pretty surprised to be named in the initial squad, but I’ve felt like over my time here over the last few months, I’ve earned my keep and I feel like I’m growing in this environment. Just loving it.”
His time in the All Blacks environment hasn’t come without the nerves and jitters expected of any test newbie, as Tupaea outlined when speaking of his induction into Foster’s squad in July.
If the All Blacks can muster up four tries against Italy on the weekend, they’ll set a new tier-one record for the season – despite still having two matches left to play. #AllBlacks #ITAvNZL https://t.co/xMZs8lGNja
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 6, 2021
“Yeah definitely feel a lot more comfortable compared to my first few weeks in the team,” he said.
“I wasn’t as confident back then and I was a bit nervous being in the environment. Now I’ve got about five games under my belt and been in the team for a couple of months.
“It’s definitely eased my nerves, even at trainings and games. Feeling a lot more confident, feel like I fit in the team well.”
Easing into his newfound role as an All Black has been aided by the support of his positional competitors, including Havili, as he and his teammates challenge one another to better themselves on a weekly basis.
“There’s competition for every spot in the All Blacks, even on the bench,” Tupaea said.
“Funny enough, in this environment, everyone helps each other, so me and Davey help each other every week, Ardie and Hoskins would help each other every week. That’s just how it is, we help each other get better in a position.
“This week, I just see it as a great opportunity to put on the black jersey. It’s always been a dream of mine to play for the All Blacks so anytime you get the chance to put on the All Blacks jersey, it’s a special occasion.
“Definitely be looking to put my best foot forward this weekend and showcase my skills.”
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