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FEATURE Mosese Tuipulotu: 'I'm not just Sione's little brother - I'll prove I can play'

Mosese Tuipulotu: 'I'm not just Sione's little brother - I'll prove I can play'
1 month ago

Carting around one of world rugby’s pre-eminent surnames has its challenges. Wherever you go, the achievements of your illustrious predecessor tend to follow. Comparisons are easy; carving out your own identity at the start of a career far less so.

Mosese Tuipulotu has felt that pressure. He felt it as an aspiring teenager watching big brother Sione, four years older and tipped for the top, light up the Melbourne youth rugby scene, win a scholarship, a professional contract, age-grade caps and Super Rugby minutes while Mosese was climbing the ladder behind him. He feels it now as he prepares to tread the path bushwacked by his sibling, from Australia to Scotland, and a shot at the national team Sione has enriched massively since moving north in 2021.

The boys went to the same school, play the same position and share a lust for bludgeoning carries and shrewd playmaking vision. They are extremely close. Mosese has signed for Edinburgh rather than joining his brother at Glasgow Warriors and Sione recently described him as the most competitive man he knows, teeing up some potentially exhilarating derby action next year. That fire was lit long ago, by Mosese’s burning urge to earn recognition for his own considerable talent.

Mosese Tuipulotu made his Super Rugby debut against Ardie Savea’s Hurricanes last year (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

“Sione was going well with his career, he was playing Australia Under-20s, he’d signed and debuted pretty young for the Rebels,” the 23-year-old says. “It came from me trying not to be named just as Sione’s little brother. I tried to make a name for myself.

“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder trying to prove I’m my own man. That’s where it started, my belief in myself and trying to prove people wrong.

“It’s a big reason for me to get over to Scotland – to prove to the people I’m not just his little brother, I can play myself. I’m happy for Sione and what he’s doing, but a big goal of mine is to start proving to people that I can play.”

Implicit in Tuipulotu’s answer is the wave of ire which buffets many overseas recruits in these parts. Ironically, Sione’s roaring success has probably softened the criticism. Scottish Rugby is routinely pilloried for signing oven-ready talent from abroad rather than improving its own maligned domestic pathway and there’s a gnawing suggestion that, had those from south of Hadrian’s Wall or south of the Equator been selected for their own Test squads, they wouldn’t bother coming to Scotland at all.

It was a bit too early for me because I hadn’t experienced Super Rugby at the time. I grew up watching that competition and always wanted to play it.

Indeed, Scottish Rugby put a hefty contract offer before Tuipulotu a year ago and dangled the carrot of playing for his brother’s Warriors. Tuipulotu turned it down. He spoke about his love for the Waratahs franchise and his dream of becoming a Wallaby. What has changed in the twelve months since? And why, at a tantalising time for the Australian game, with Joe Schmidt’s new broom sweeping away the wreckage left by Eddie Jones, a British and Irish Lions tour next year and a home World Cup in 2027, would a promising player choose to leave home?

“I understand where people are coming from,” Tuipulotu says. “I was pretty close last year to coming over, I wanted to be closer to my brother and we always had that dream of playing together.

“It was a bit too early for me because I hadn’t experienced Super Rugby at the time. I grew up watching that competition and always wanted to play it. Now I’ve ticked that off, I’m content I played at that level, it’s a good time now to experience something different and I decided to pull triggers on Edinburgh.

“It’s a new environment and new style in the northern hemisphere and I feel it will be great for my development especially with the longer seasons and potential to play a lot more footy.”

These have been infuriating times. Tuipulotu has been in the Waratahs setup since the age of 19 but never earned the consistent game time his potential may merit. He ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in 2022 and was out for a year. The torturous road back to fitness entailed numerous setbacks and niggling issues with his quadriceps and hamstring. He has since been wedged behind seasoned Wallabies Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese and played just a dozen minutes of Super Rugby this year. Sione has been a valuable sounding board during the darkness.

“He was at the Rebels from a pretty young age and I was at the Tahs from a young age. He didn’t get the love he felt he deserved at the Rebels and I have the same feeling here now. He has been through the same thing. Through the past 12-24 months I’ve kept him close in making my decision. I’ve seen him go to Japan and Scotland and do really well. He told me sometimes a new environment and new experiences can be the best thing for your career and I’m hoping that pays out.

Sione Tuipulotu has won 25 caps and become a mainstay of the Scotland midfield since moving to Glasgow three years ago (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“He was always very keen for me to get up there with him but he left it up to me and where my heart stood. He never pushed me to move. It was all based on my decision. But he was definitely a contributing factor.”

The Tuipulotu clan’s eclectic makeup is well documented, as diverse a tapestry as any on the rugby circuit. There are five siblings – three boys and two girls – and the youngest, Ottavio (Tavi), has recently been tearing up trees for the Australia U20s team. Seeing a third Tuipulotu flit to Scotland would be no shock.

Their dad, Fohe, is a big-hearted Tongan who has spoken with deep magnanimity about the impact of his children’s sporting on his approach to fatherhood. Indomitable grandmother Jaqueline Anne Thomson is from Greenock, near Glasgow, and has never lost her sharp Clydeside rasp. She is the family’s proud link to Scotland. Her husband is Italian and her daughter, Fohe’s wife Angelina, was born and raised in Australia. The family live in Frankston, an hour southeast of the Melbourne CBD, where Mosese whiled away many a childhood hour in his grandmother’s house.

“Growing up in Australia we always thought we were going to play for the Wallabies but we knew we had our grandma and we did think it was a possibility to pull on the Scottish jersey and represent her. We love her dearly and we knew she would be very proud.

“Out of all of us, I spent the most time with my grandma. I would always want to go over to hers and see what she was up to. She loved going down to the library and picking up a few books and that was usually our afternoon – she would get us a cup of tea and a few scotch fingers and we’d read books. She’s really happy for me to experience the place she grew up.

“Hopefully in the coming years we can get her over there as well. She’s got a new mobility scooter so she’s riding around in that, she’s pretty happy. I’m planning on getting back to Melbourne after Super Rugby and just seeing her for the last few weeks before I go.”

Sometimes we’d put on the boxing gloves if things got a bit intense. Mum didn’t like that but we went at it anyway.

Edinburgh folk should be excited about Tuipulotu’s skillset. Sean Everitt has been vocal about the need for spark and dynamism in his midfield as his attack sputters and bonus-point opportunities are squandered. Tuipulotu can rattle cages on the gainline but Edinburgh’s glittering back-three rapiers will benefit from his slick distribution too.

“Me and Sione play similar styles,” he says. “I like to carry hard, I love the ball in hand, but I am known for my passing. I used to be a scrum-half and I get a kick out of seeing my teammates come off the back of my passing. I love the physical side of the game but love getting them involved.

“I would probably prefer to play with my brother but I’m actually pretty keen to play against him, it’ll be a replay of the back yard. He was a lot more mature than me physically when we were kids but I used to go hard at him. Sometimes we’d put on the boxing gloves if things got a bit intense. Mum didn’t like that but we went at it anyway.

“It would be pretty cool to look across the field and see Sione. I’ll be backing myself but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I’m a bit taller than him – I’ve just got him for height – but he’s a bit thicker than me. He’s a little nugget.”

There’s a chance Tuipulotu could play Test rugby before running out for his new club. Gregor Townsend will take a heavily rotated squad on a four-match tour of the Americas in July, featuring internationals against Canada, USA, Chile and Uruguay.

“It’s definitely something I want to be a part of and I’m pushing for, but I’m trying not to look that far,” Tuipulotu says. “I haven’t chatted with Gregor recently. The last time was last year when we were going through the negotiations with Glasgow. I’m just trying to have a really good pre-season and get off to a good start.”

Clearly, wearing the thistle is the ultimate goal. And this is no ordinary family. How sweet, and how crazy, it would be if three tyros from the other side of the world with Australian, Tongan, Italian and Scottish blood coursing through their veins, made it happen together.

Tuipulotu has been frustrated by his lack of Super Rugby game time this year (Photo by SANKA VIDANAGAMA/AFP via Getty Images)

“It would be a dream. We always used to say we wanted to pull on the same jersey. It would be emotional not only for us but for our grandma, seeing her three boys she took care of all playing together for her country.

“Tavi is doing his own thing in Australia as of now and we’re all really proud of him, especially with the adversity he has had to face. He’s running his own race and whatever he does, I’ll be supportive of that. If down the track we get the opportunity to all play together, I’m sure the whole family would be stoked.”

Same surname, same body shape, similar route to Scotland. But Mosese Tuipulotu will write his own story.

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