The Chiefs could do with Quinn Tupaea to give some cutting edge to their spluttering midfield.
Instead the Waikato man will be strutting his stuff for the New Zealand Under 20s as they pursue a fourth consecutive Oceania championship over the next 12 days and then, in June, a seventh Junior World Championship crown.
Tupaea, who turns 20 next month, was the form centre of the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup, starting in the No 13 jersey in 10 of his 12 games, crossing for seven tries and cracking the respected Rugby Almanack’s Mitre 10 Cup Form XV. He was most unlucky to miss out on a full Super Rugby contract, especially given the departure of Charlie Ngatai from the Chiefs. He and Anton Lienert-Brown could, in time, have made a fluent combination, but instead the Chiefs opted for the physical Aucklander Tumua Manu.
Whilst disappointed, Tupaea was still ensconced in the Chiefs training environment on an ITC (interim training contract), but his 2019 match-play has been limited to one outing for his Hamilton Old Boys club, and a handful for the Chiefs Under 20s and Development teams.
“There was some stuff going on behind the scenes. I couldn’t get a dispensation for a contract because of my age, but we came to a deal with the Chiefs and I had an ITC,” says Tupaea, the 2017 NZ Schools captain, whose First XV rugby was for Hamilton BHS.
Now Tupaea is one of no less than seven in this squad for Oceania who can suit up in the midfield, a situation which will surely give coaches Craig Philpott and David Hill some headaches.
“This was really the team I wanted to make this season and was striving for,” says Tupaea. He was whistled up late as injury cover at last year’s World Rugby Under 20 Championship in France, but never took the field.
“There’s some good backs in there. We’re stacked in the midfield department and with a couple of the Super Rugby boys to come back,” says Tupaea.
How’s this for the New Zealand Under 20s midfield options: Tupaea, former All Blacks Sevens rep Scott Gregory, just back from injury, 2018 NZ Schools skipper Isaiah Punivai, vice-captain Dallas McLeod, Chay Fihaki, Lalomilo Lalomilo and Danny Toala, the latter whom has already sat on the Hurricanes bench. Not all will feature in the Nos 12 or 13 jerseys in the Oceania tournament.
Then, to possibly return are four Super Rugby men in Caleb Clarke, Billy Proctor, Etene Nanai-Seturo and Leicester Faingaanuku. The latter hurt his ankle recently and so is rehabbing with the Crusaders, but Nanai-Seturo and Proctor are strong chances to join the squad before they head to Argentina in a few weeks.
Philpott is open-minded about which jersey Tupaea might fill in Australia for the Oceania event.
‘He’s probably been a 12 through school and then played 13 for Waikato in Mitre 10 Cup and was very impressive. He’ll get game time in both positions in Australia. Proctor and Gregory give us good depth in the midfield, while Dallas McLeod is our vice-captain. There’s some interesting competition there,” says Philpott.
Nanai-Seturo scored four tries in his first four starts for the Chiefs, but we are yet to see the best of him at that level, as the Chiefs were 0-4 and far from clinical early in their season. He was on the wing and that is likely where the New Zealand Under 20s will use him, when, and if, he returns to the fold. Gregory can do a job at wing and fullback. Punivai will play on the wing in Australia. Fihaki, a 2018 NZ Schools rep, is a goalkicking No 12 but Philpott indicated he could be used on the wing. With no Faingaanuku at this stage, there is no specialist wing in the squad.
Tupaea will seek to press his case, make the plane to Argentina and then launch into what he hopes will be another fruitful Mitre 10 Cup campaign with the Mooloos.
Do all that, and surely this time his reward will be a full Super Rugby contract.
2019 Rugby World Cup stadium guide – Fukuoka Stadium:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now