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'The hardest he's ever worked': Taniela Tupou eyes rampaging return vs Springboks

By AAP
Taniela Tupou. (Photo by Jason O'Brien / www.photosport.nz)

In a mighty boost to Australia’s Rugby World Cup hopes, Taniela Tupou is on target for a return in the Wallabies’ first Test of the year in South Africa.

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Scrum coach Neal Hatley says Tupou is tracking nicely for a comeback in the Rugby Championship opener in Pretoria on July 8, a clash that also kicks off Eddie Jones’ second coming as Wallabies coach.

Tupou hasn’t played since fearing his World Cup dream was over after rupturing an Achilles tendon against Ireland during last year’s spring tour of Europe.

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But the Wallabies’ most destructive front-rower has been training the house down in his 11-month race against the clock.

“People who have known him said this is the hardest he’s ever worked, so they couldn’t be more pleased with him at the moment,” Hatley said.

“Probably the most pleasing thing for me is he’s a bloke coming to grab us. His his weight’s dropped, he’s into the head of S and C (strength and conditioning). He’s into me every day saying ‘a little bit more, please’.

“His application, his attitude has been outstanding. Taniela needs to keep pushing to get to where we need him to get to, but he’s right on track.”

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While confident Australia have the depth to cope without Tupou in France, Hatley rightfully knows ‘Tongan Thor’ can offer the Wallabies an extra dimension.

“On his day, he’s as good as anybody in the world. Not just carrying the ball but actually what he does at set piece. He’s a mountain of a man,” said the South African-born scrum guru hand-picked by Jones to join Australia’s coaching staff this year.

“He can make a big difference. He’s a big man. He’s explosive. Those are the ones that can cause you problems.”

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A comeback against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld would be the ultimate acid test for Tupou and his recovering Achilles.

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“That’s what we’re talking to him about,” Hatley said.

“So we’ll see. Every day is just an opportunity for him to get closer and closer.”

In another boost, Hatley revealed fellow tighthead Allan Alaalatoa is also closer to returning from a calf injury than initially thought.

“Taniela’s got work to do, but I think we’re in a good position with the other blokes,” he said.

“Al’s, if the Brumbies had made (Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific) final, I’m pretty sure I would have been involved. So he’s, he’s an unbelievably diligent person.

“He’s, he’s been working his backside off, so we get the videos of him. He’s been scrummaging, he’s been running accelerating, decelerating.

“I’ve coached probably a lot more against someone like ‘A’, and I think he is outstanding on his day.

“He’s, you know, he’s up there to be one of the best tightheads in the world.”

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