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'We've got to be careful': Former All Black's warning for Quinn Tupaea

By Tom Vinicombe
Quinn Tupaea. (Photo by Jeremy Ward/Photosport)

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All Blacks midfielder Quinn Tupaea was a shock selection on the left wing for the Chiefs in last Friday’s victory over the Waratahs. With so many injured outside backs in the squad, however, it was a case of ‘needs must’ according to the head coach.

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“He’s a midfielder; he’s an All Blacks 12,” Clayton McMillan said after the match. “So we want to get him back in there, we just didn’t have the cattle this week.

“We’ve got four, five of our outside backs either invalided or just couldn’t make the trip. We’ll just check out the bodies tonight and tomorrow and we’ll see where we land. We’ve only got a squad of 27 here so it doesn’t leave us much breathing space.”

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Outside backs Shaun Stevenson, Emoni Narawa, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Kaleb Trask and Josh Ioane were all on the injury list heading into the game. While Alex Nankivell had featured on both wings earlier in the season, McMillan opted to use Nankivell at outside centre with Rameka Poihipi given the No 12 jersey for the match, forcing Tupaea onto the left wing.

With Poihipi and Tupaea both specialist second five-eighths, shifting Tupaea to the wing likely generated the least disruption for the side and meant only one player had to feature out of position.

Out of position or not, however, Tupaea had a storming match in the No 11 jersey, racking up two tries and 94 metres with the ball in hand. Come the end of the game, Tupaea was named player of the match.

Despite his impressive performance on the left wing, however, former All Black James Parsons has quelled any suggestions that the 22-year-old should be looking to clock up minutes in that role in order to increase his value to national selectors.

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While the All Blacks selected a number of squad members last year who were capable of playing in more than one position, that rarely eventuated, with players instead generally spending the entirety of the campaign specialising in one role. In fact, Luke Jacobson, Ardie Savea, Rieko Ioane and Damian McKenzie were the only players to feature across multiple positions (excluding locks, flankers and wingers who were used in both jerseys within their positions).

“I think we’ve got to be careful,” Parsons said on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “We’ve seen it over the last sort of end-of-year tour. [The All Blacks selected] specialist guys [to] focus on that one position.

“They have the ability [to cover multiple positions] – like we’ve seen with Nankivell and now Quinn Tupaea – but I think he just needs to knuckle down early in his international career, just focus on that 12, potentially 13 role, do that really well.”

“Look, if there’s a drastic number of injuries and he has to slip in there then yes, but I don’t think it’ll be coming into the selectors’ minds to put him on the wing. As we’ve seen, it’s pretty hard to pick the squad based on the back three at the moment so I don’t know if he’s quite made the grade for that combo just yet.”

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Tupaea is still only in his third season with the Chiefs (somewhat ironically, he was named as an outside back in 2020 despite not playing any matches on the wing) and despite taking the step up to test rugby last season, he very much remains a work in development.

Over on the Chiefs’ other wing on Friday night, Jonah Lowe was also in scintillating form, touching down for four tries. Parsons’ co-panellist on the show, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall, said that while that kind of impact is always going to attract some attention from the national selectors, Lowe will need to string together some consistent performances before he can upset the apple cart.

“There’s just so much competition in the winger ranks at the moment,” he said. “Jonah Lowe’s been in and around that New Zealand Maori environment as well. He’s played well there and he’s played for Hawke’s Bay in their resurgence, being able to win championships and win games in that competition. But I think it’s just being able to play more consistently and being able to get more games under his belt.

“You look at the likes of Leicester Fainga’anuku … This is is his second year where he’s been playing those kinds of performances like [Lowe] has had in the weekend. But he’s still young. I can imagine there’s still things that he wants to work on in his game but any time you can score four tries, it gets the selectors looking.”

“I think Jonah has actually been playing really well in terms of attack and D,” added Parsons, “but I suppose the one area we know [you are tested] at international level would be that aerial game and being able to win those aerial battles, whether it be from a contestable from the opposition or you chasing a contestable. If we can see more of that in his game then I think he will become a real option.”

Lowe, despite being arguably the Chiefs’ top winger over the past two seasons, has struggled with injuries, limiting him to eight appearances in 2021 and just five to date this season. While he’ll likely be retained on the wing in the Chiefs’ upcoming match with the Reds, Tupaea will likely find himself back in the midfield unless the team’s other outside backs remain crook.

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