SCOTLAND’s 10-12 axis has been a key component in the team’s positive start to this year’s Six Nations campaign, but it wasn’t an immediate match made in heaven according to Sione Tuipulotu. According to the Australian-born inside-centre, his relationship with stand-off Finn Russell developed over time through a communal vision of how the game should be played, and also through some shared interests off the park … including a love of fashion.
“He [Russell] is a player you do need to learn how to play with, for me anyway,” explained Tuipulotu, who has been Scotland’s breakthrough star of this season. “When I play at Glasgow there is a bit more of an even share of creativity – from the 10 to the 12 to the 13 to the full-back – whereas at Scotland we’ve got this guy who is a bit of a magician and we’ve got to learn how to play with him and play to his strengths.
“I think it took me five or six games to get used to Finn but, to be honest, I think where we made the biggest strides was in our relationship off the field, and we started to trust each other through our many experiences, as you guys [in the press] probably know!” he added, alluding to the infamous ‘Edinburgh Six’ episode when they were both among a group of players who apparently broke team protocols by visiting an Edinburgh bar after the team’s win over Italy.
“I don’t know if we bonded on the naughty step, it was more just after games you have beers together and you spend a bit of time off the field. You gain each other’s trust and you just become more comfortable with each other.
“I just became more comfortable talking to him and sharing my opinions on the game. I think we’re now in a place where we know where we want each other to be, and I suppose that’s what you want for your 10 and 12.
“I’m quite into my fashion – I like shoes and clothes – and Finn, weirdly enough, is really into that type of stuff,” Tuipulotu added. “The type of stuff he wears is pretty out there!
“I don’t know if he always dressed like that or maybe since he’s moved to Paris he’s become quite edgy. He wants to express his style like that, and I enjoy it, so we often send each other stuff on Instagram.
“I suppose it is just something pretty chill, away from the game, we’ve bonded over.”
Tuipulotu was also keen to stress that their relationship is not all haute couture. “He’s also a bit of a ‘code head’,” insisted the 26-year-old. “He portrays that he doesn’t think about rugby away from the game but, no, he’s always ‘in the books’ as we call it. He puts a lot of time into studying the game, so we bond over that kind of stuff as well.”
Turning his attention from his inside-man to his partner-in-crime in the centre, Tuipulotu acknowledged another kindred spirit in Huw Jones – who is enjoying a terrific career renaissance after a tough couple of years when he fell off the radar for both club and country.
‘Although I would never tell him this, I’ve been a fan of Huw’s for a long time now,” he revealed. “Before I came to Scotland, Shuggy [Jones] had this patch where every time I was on social media and Scotland were playing, it was: ‘Huw Jones scores a try from 60-metres!’
“Then, when I came over here, Huw wasn’t involved as much, but when he came back to Glasgow [at the start of this season] I could see he was still a really good player, so it was kind of confusing as to why he wasn’t playing for Scotland.
“Rugby can be a rollercoaster ride where you go in and out of the team at times due to form and maybe people stop believing in you, but Shug’s never stopped being a good player. We’ve got players around him now who really help him use his strengths.
“That’s why I enjoy working with him so much. I feel like I get the best out of him and he gets the best out of me as well. We go hand-in-hand in terms of that chemistry. Part of the reason why we go together so well is that we see the game in similar ways.”
Tuipulotu qualifies to play for Scotland through his maternal grandmother from Greenock and the emotion is palpable when he talks about the importance of this connection.
“My grandmother has been just stoked, to be honest,” he replies, when asked if she has enjoyed his recent performances. “She’s just over the moon with how Scotland are doing and how the country is getting behind us. I really wish she could get over for a game soon, but it gives me a lot of pride playing for Scotland and knowing that she’s watching at home.
“We’re playing for everyone in the country and everyone around the world who supports Scotland, but, for me personally, every time I play for Scotland it is for my little Grandma back home, and that’s all the motivation I’ll ever need. I’m really, really proud to represent her.
“She has been a little bit unwell recently,” he explains, when asked if a visit to Scotland to watch him play might be on the cards. “My grandmother on the Tongan side passed away just two months ago so it is really important to me personally that she is able to come over here, but it’s more important that she looks after her health back in Australia. So, that’s the main thing for me – that she stays home and gets as healthy as possible.”
Another family member who may, or may not, be joining him in Scotland at some point in the future is his 22-year-old brother, Mosese, who is currently making waves for the Waratahs back in New South Wales, and has reportedly committed his future to the Wallabies – although Sione isn’t convinced that it is a done-deal.
“I’m not sure if’s that true, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t know if they [the press] mixed up a couple of quotes or whatever.
“I speak to my brother quite often and his motivation is that he’s still got six months left with the Waratahs and he wants to play as much Super Rugby this year as he possibly can. He’s started well in pre-season but at the end of the day he’s got two Wallaby centres ahead of him in Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese.
“My brother dances to the beat of his own drum and he wants to do his thing, so that might be staying in Australia or might be coming over here. He holds his cards close to his chest.
“He’s a centre too so maybe Gregor is talking to him on the sly! I always say that if he was to come over then send him to Edinburgh because I don’t want him to steal my position at Glasgow!”