Glasgow Warriors new boy Sione Tuipulotu keen to make the most of his Scottish heritage

Centre qualifies to wear the thistle through his grandmother from Greenock

Sione Tuipulotu in action for Glasgow Warriors versus Newcastle Falcons last Friday night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Sione Tuipulotu in action for Glasgow Warriors versus Newcastle Falcons last Friday night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SIONE TUIPULOTU’s decision to throw his lot in with Scotland – the country of his maternal grandmother’s birth – rather than stick it out in Japan, or return to play in his native Australia, nearly paid an immediate dividend when he was named in interim head coach Mike Blair’s national training squad soon after his arrival in the country this summer, with the prospect of a first cap against either Romania or Georgia a very real possibility.

A Covid outbreak in the group put paid to that, but the 24-year-old says he took a lot from the experience, and it has whetted his appetite for more involvement in the Scotland set-up going forward, although he knows that selection for the upcoming Autumn Tests is far from a foregone conclusion and will come down to his form for Glasgow Warriors during the first few months of the coming season.

“To be honest, I was a bit of a mute,” smiles Tuipulotu – whose name comes from his Tongan father – when asked for his reflections on his Scotland call-up. “I was just walking around trying to absorb as much as I could. I didn’t know anyone, so I spent most of my time with Cole Forbes because of his Kiwi connection.


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“I got to know a lot of the boys eventually but was definitely nervous going in there for the first time. Going into an international environment when you don’t know anyone is pretty scary!

“But I loved being part of the whole set-up. Everything is run so professionally there. The days are organised for you to get everything out of training, and although it didn’t go to plan with a lot of isolation and stuff like that, meeting some of those boys before I came to Glasgow was a big thing for me. Even though we didn’t get to play any games, I was just grateful to build some relationships.”

Tuipulotu has taken a fairly roundabout route to reach this point. Having burst onto the Super Rugby scene for his local franchise, Melbourne Rebels, as a 19-year-old, and having also featured in the Australia Under-20s side over three seasons – scoring two tries against a Scotland team containing some of his new team-mates including Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings and Ally Miller during the 2016 Junior World Championship – he looked very much like a Wallaby-in-waiting during his late-teens and early-twenties.

However, his career did not quite kick-on as forecast, and he ended up switching to Japan to get things back on track, joining Yamaha Jubilo in 2018, initially on a short-term deal which ended up being extended to two seasons.

“I was lucky enough to get signed [by the Rebels] out of school and was playing straight away and everything was working out quite well for me, but then there was some restructuring around the Super Rugby Australia teams where the [Western] Force got cut and a lot of their players and their coach Dave Wessels moved over to Melbourne,” he recalls.

“In the first year Dave was there, I didn’t play as regularly as I would have liked, and I think that got to me a bit because my rugby career had moved so fast up until that point. I suppose I just got to a bit of a roadblock with the new coach and that is when I made my decision to move to Japan.

“I was really grateful to go over there and make a good living for my family and also play a fun style of rugby. I started to love the game again. I think in that period when I was at the Rebels and not playing regularly, I lost my love for the game a bit, and then when I went to Japan I re-found it completely. I don’t think I would be over here if I hadn’t gone to Japan.”

 

Having got his game back on track, Tuipulotu soon found himself at another cross-roads.

“I went home when my first full season in Japan got called because of Covid and my manager said that the Scottish Rugby Union had been in contact and asked about the possibility of continuing my rugby over here,” he explains.

“I spoke with Gregor Townsend over Facetime and with Danny Wilson as well and they basically gave me the rundown about how it would be a good move for me, so I went into my last season in Japan kind of weighing up the decision: whether to stay in Japan, go back to Australia or come over to Scotland, and I’m really glad I made the decision to come over to Scotland.”

“I suppose if you’re young in Japan you’ve really got two options,” he adds. “If you want to stay there it’s to play for Japan – you go for your passport. A lot of players have gone down that route and done really well.

“I was thinking about doing that but I thought it would mean a lot more to me to play for a country I had heritage with. That’s basically what led to my decision to come over here. I really wanted to play Test footie, or try to play Test footie, for a country where I have heritage.

“I’m really close with my Grandma and she has a thick Scottish accent so I always knew I was Scottish. Since I’ve been over here, I’ve reached out to my family and I’ve gone to see my cousins. I went over on the first or second week of my holiday and my cousin was doing a house renovation, so I was the demolition-man and knocked down a few walls, which was fun.

“Since then, I’ve gone to dinner with some of my other cousins. My cousin Lesley was at the game at the weekend. She came to watch me for the first time so that was really special.”

While catching up with the relatives is nice, it is rugby that has brought him here, and now he is just looking forward to getting as much game time under his belt as possible – with setting out his stall at club level the priority.

“I’m not particularly looking to the Autumn Tests,” he insists. “I really want to build momentum and have the best season that I can for Glasgow. If I do that and I’m playing my best rugby, then I think I can be good enough [for Test rugby].”


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About David Barnes 3911 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

14 Comments

  1. people are proud of what they achieve, wherever they achieve it. You sound like another who lives in the past. If most Scots spouted stuff like this, I’m not sure many would be proud to be Scottish or proud to play for Scotland

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  2. The other point to make is that kids in Scotland have the pathway to the pro ranks and national side closed at the age of fifteen if they aren’t already in the development programme….but you can access a pathway if you’re from any county other than Scotland at any age so long as you find a Scottish granny or move here for a few years. It’s a crazy unsustainable model which for thirty years has yielded nothing but failure whilst Irish n Welsh rely heavily on domestic development and have grand slams, 6n titles, Pro 12/14 titles and European titles in the bank. It also results in greater player numbers and vastly bigger crowds at club and youth level (go on YouTube and look at the crowds for any Leinster schools cup game compared to super 6)

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    • yes, absolutely never ever been a player capped because of a Welsh, Irish or English granny. Not anyone capped because of an Aussie or NZ grannie, or indeed because their parents moved on an Aussie or NZ scholarship. And so on. Ad nauseam

      You don’t like the qualification rules? Then try and get them changed. Meantime don’t be as stupid as some who suggest Scotland should restrict itself in a way no-one else does.

      And don’t look for too much support from any Tier 1 union.

      Oh, and yes, we can look to expand pathways in Scotland as well. It ain’t an either or situation. And in other unions the pathways are pretty similar to ours, with the same constraints and biases always needing to be addressed, real ones and perceived one

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    • It’s not as bad as any time a player signs for a certain football club, the player always says it was a lifetime ambition to play for them even though the player comes from some far flung corner of the world!

      Good luck to the lad though, hope he has the skills and attributes to be a success

    • I’ve never met a Polynesian guy who isn’t highly aware and proud of his family and ancestry. Think the above comment can be filed under “wouldn’t say that to his face”

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      • My point is that people should be proud to play for their country and not proud to play for someone else’s country. If he genuinely regards himself as Scottish and has always wanted to play for Scotland then good luck to him but I very much doubt it.

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      • “Someone else’s country”. I wasn’t aware you owned Scotland, James.

        People with dual heritage and a recent personal or family history of migration often have a complex, multiple sense of belonging. As Scots, many of us have either experienced that ourselves or seen it in our extended family, but if you’ve not then please take my word for it that it is the case.

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      • Very silly David. Of course I don’t own Scotland and have never claimed to. I thought you were better than that.

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      • Fair enough that first bit was provocative, but my point is that none of us has an exclusive claim over Scotland or Scottishness. As a nation we’ve got a fairly itinerant history and a large diaspora (just as the Pacific Island nations do). There’s no reason someone shouldn’t feel a sense of belonging to Scotland, Tonga and Aus.

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      • I take your point David but I wonder how many of these folks sense of belonging increased once they discovered they weren’t good enough to play for the country they were born in or grew up in and how many will loose that sense of belonging and return home once their Scotland career is over? The vast majority I would suspect.

        I simply believe playing for your country should be a long-held ambition and should really mean something when achieved and feel nowadays it’s more a case of ticking a played international rugby box.

        Other opinions are of course equally valid!

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