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FEATURE Quinn Tupaea: 'I can see the light at the end of the tunnel'

Quinn Tupaea: 'I can see the light at the end of the tunnel'
1 year ago

Eight and a half months on from a gruesome knee injury in a dramatic Bledisloe Cup match, Quinn Tupaea is back running straight into a crowded All Blacks midfield picture. The 24-year-old’s official rehab concluded on Friday, with four weeks of full training required before he can return to the field.

“I’ve been back running for a couple of months now,” said Tupaea after taking part in Chiefs training this week.

“My last meeting with the surgeon is on Friday, then that’ll kickstart my journey back into playing again. It’s pretty exciting.”

Tupaea’s knee was blown apart by Wallabies lock Darcy Swain in the All Blacks’ 39-37 win over the Wallabies in Melbourne last year. Swain was handed a six-week ban for the incident but controversially only missed three Tests after Rugby Australia named him in the Australia A squad for a tour of Japan. Tupaea has previously gone on record to say he was “still pretty angry about it” and that it’s been “tough to let go”.

It also didn’t help that the incident itself, where Swain launched himself in the side of a ruck and landed on Tupaea’s exposed leg, was almost immediately overshadowed by the dramatic ending to the match itself. Headlines focusing on the injury were hurriedly rewritten to reflect the decision by referee Mathieu Raynal to award an ultimately game-winning free kick to the All Blacks, after he deemed the Wallabies to be wasting time.

Quinn Tupaea following the ‘Darcy Swain incident’. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

While that one moment played a pivotal role in the careers of both coaches, it made Tupaea’s situation only slightly more bearable. He’d been carted from the field an hour earlier and was about to enter a long, challenging period.

“Early on it played on my mind a lot. I don’t know, the way it happened makes it tough to let go. It’s been a tough time so far but I try not to think about it now. I want to focus on getting back, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m definitely in a more positive headspace now.”

The shock of not even being able to move around was something that took a long time for him to get used to.

“I’d never really had big injuries. Only ever a couple of weeks, so it’s been pretty tough. Physically yes, but especially mentally. I wouldn’t want to go through this again.”

The addition of mental skills staff in a professional rugby environment is something that Tupaea now knows the full benefit of.

However, Tupaea credits the empathy of his teammates and staff at the Chiefs for getting him back on track upstairs.

“We have a crew of injured guys here at the Chiefs, and a good medical staff that helped me get through the physical side. It’s been a lot of hard work, especially at the start when I was having to teach myself how to bike again, then run again, learning all that and dealing with the pain of my knee.

“I did a lot with the mental skills guys here, and having my close family and friends around has also been key. Being involved with the Chiefs, coming to all the trainings and meetings has been mentally refreshing. It’s important to be part of that, instead of just doing my rehab and going home to be left alone with my thoughts. It’s been great to be around, having a laugh with the boys, having coffee and playing cards and all that carry on.”

The addition of mental skills staff in a professional rugby environment is something that Tupaea now knows the full benefit of.

“You don’t really understand how important they really are until you’re in that situation. All those feelings and thoughts – it’s good to have someone to chat to about it and having guys who have been through it like Josh Lord or Gideon Wrampling. Damian McKenzie’s done his ACL as well, so it’s been good to bounce thoughts and feelings off them.

Damian McKenzie missed the 2019 Rugby World Cup after rupturing his ACL during that year’s Super Rugby season. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

“You can’t tackle that time by yourself. It takes a lot of people to get you through this.”

Assuming all goes well, the former New Zealand Secondary Schools captain should make his comeback in the early round of the Bunnings NPC for Waikato. By then, however, the Test season will be underway, and all eyes will be on the seemingly never-ending puzzle that is the All Blacks midfield. Right now that includes the likes of Jordie Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Jack Goodhue, Rieko Ioane, Leicester Fainga’anuku and even veteran Bryce Heem.

However, Tupaea is grateful to have been given clarity from the All Blacks coaching staff.

“I had a good sit down with Fozzie (All Blacks coach Ian Foster) a couple of weeks ago and nailed out my plan. It’s going to be touch and go, not having played any Super Rugby, but it was good to hear from him. It’s great that injured All Blacks aren’t just kicked to the side, we’re kept in the loop … playing good rugby for my NPC team will be key. Anything can happen, so I’m keeping my hopes alive.

“It does help mentally a lot, that you’re not just forgotten about.”

We always wanted it to be like this, but we didn’t actually think it would be at the start of the season.

Tupaea on the Chiefs’ current season

Tupaea certainly hasn’t been forgotten about at the Chiefs either, but his absence has led to a couple of success stories for the franchise. As well as Lienert-Brown’s return from a long-term injury of his own, the outstanding form of Rameka Poihipi, the very promising Daniel Rona and the highly dependable Alex Nankivell have meant that there hasn’t been pressure on Tupaea to rush his rehab.

He credits coach Clayton McMillan with creating an atmosphere within the Chiefs that has made for such a successful season. They ended the Super Rugby Pacific regular season in first place and will play the Brumbies in a semi-final this Saturday night in Hamilton.

“He’s a real firm coach. He takes no bullshit. At the same time, off the field, he’s a good laugh. He has a lot of respect for us and that’s also given back from the players. They (the coaching staff) have done a really good job with the culture of the team, so it’s awesome to have him staying around for the next few years – and the majority of our squad will be too. It’s exciting times for the Chiefs.”

Clayton McMillan
Clayton McMillan has helped build the Chiefs into a formidable outfit. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Tupaea admits the Chiefs’ dominance this season has taken more than a few of the team by surprise.

“We always wanted it to be like this, but we didn’t actually think it would be at the start of the season. There’s been a great vibe around the camp and the city has really got behind the team. We’re looking forward to having the Brumbies here this weekend.”

That Super Rugby Pacific semifinal will be an intriguing watch, with the Australians coming off a thrilling and slightly controversial win over the Hurricanes last weekend. It’s likely FMG Stadium Waikato will be full once again, with Tupaea in the crowd and itching to get back out there.

When he finally does, it will be the culmination of all those long months of working not only on his injury, but mental resilience as well.

“A bit of everything has kept me going,” he said.


Elvys 373 days ago

Keep up the rehab and best of luck you stay injured free 👍

Jen 374 days ago

Really looking forward to seeing this guy playing again. Still think Swain is a filthy muppet. Eight months is such a long time to be out, especially when you’d hopefully be building towards RWC.

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