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Fitz at the Cup: Take a bow Taniela Tupou, the Wallabies’ refrigerator on roller skates

“Are you going to write about this?” a bloke in the stands at Stade de France asked me nearing the end of the Wallabies vs Georgia Test on this hot Saturday night, for our blokes’ first hit out of the Rugby World Cup.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Then give us three positives, and then some constructive criticism,” he said. “Remember, three positives.”

Yes, boss.

No.1: We WON! Yup, after nine months of fallow or failing, the Wallabies have a “W” next to their name, and it was in the most important match of the year so far.

No.2: Ben Donaldson at full-back was superb – two tries and 25 points speaks for itself – but was still not man of the match for mine. Step forward, Wallaby prop, Taniela Tupou. Like a refrigerator on roller-skates, he was all over the ground, all the time, anchoring the scrum, cleaning up the line-outs, taking the ball up, doing crunching tackles in defence, side-stepping wingers, and ... and we still haven’t got to the best bit.

With ten minutes to go in the first half, and half-back Tate McDermott buried at the bottom of a ruck, Tupou not only acted as dummy-half, but unleashed a superbly weighted pass to fly-half Carter Gordon on the fly.

When the play broke down on the far wing, and McDermott still catching up from the mass of Georgian bodies that had buried him, who do you think was Tanny on the spot, at dummy-half, to unleash Gordon once more? That would be Taniela Tupou! Is there another prop in the world with such polyvalent skills, that motors like he does?

And we still haven’t got to the best bit, I said!

Half-way through the second half when the valiant Georgians were staging something of a resurgence, threatening the Wallaby line and looking to score a try that would have closed the score to 21-15, it was Tupou again who took the intercept, and instantly blasted downfield as the 75,000 strong crowd came to its feet.

Taniela Tupou makes a break for it during the match in France.

Taniela Tupou makes a break for it during the match in France.Credit: Getty

“The crowd just love to see a fat bloke run!” Greg Martin commented two decades ago when Waratahs prop Matt Dunning made a similar break at the SFS.

The same dynamic applied here, even if “robust” would be a much better word than fat. Because Tupou is a genuine athlete and once he was away, he quickly skirted the first of the Georgian defence, and was in the open air as the stadium roared in acclaim. What is going to happen now?

The Georgian defence closes. Tupou can sense Ben Donaldson looming on his left.

I am telling you Tim Horan could not have passed it better, for at the exact moment he is about to be engulfed, Tupou floated a pearler and the ball lobbed into Donaldson’s hands with the softness of your mother’s cheek. Try! Try! TRY. Try for your life, I’ll tell a man it is!

Instead of facing 21-15 and Georgia rampaging, it was 28-8 and the victory was secured.

Tuppu pops a pass to Ben Donaldson to set up the try

Tuppu pops a pass to Ben Donaldson to set up the tryCredit: AP

No.3: The match itself was another early sign of how wonderful this World Cup can be. The stadium wasn’t as bursting at the seams as on Friday night when there were 80,000 for France vs All Blacks, but of the 75,000 who showed up, I suspect at least 60,000 were French people come to watch a great World Cup match, even though they didn’t have a dog in the fight.

Constructive criticism of the Wallabies?

I am sure Eddie will be hanging on my every word . . .

Taniela Tupou walks with a corner flag after the win.

Taniela Tupou walks with a corner flag after the win.Credit: AP

I have only the obvious: after the Wallabies broke twenty points clear it looked like they took the foot off the accelerator. A couple of our line-outs went astray at crucial times, just like they did against France.

Our blokes played very well, against a seriously energetic and hard-rising side – the arrival of the Georgians is great for world rugby – but still lack the ruthlessness you always see in World Cup winning teams.


But, as Eddie Jones said at a reception at the Australian Embassy on Wednesday evening, for a long tournament like this you don’t want to be in top gear at the first stretch. You want to move through the gears as you go along, and with that, I’ll ask the Beach Boys to take us out:

First gear, it’s all right
Second gear, I’ll lean right

Third gear, hang on tight
Faster, it’s all right.

We are getting there.

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