RWC23: Scotland v Tonga: ‘I want to show my respect for Tonga by playing hard against them’ – Sione Tuipulotu

Strong links with his father's homeland will provide centre with extra motivation in crucial World Cup Pool B clash

Tonga's loss was Scotland's gain when Sione Tuipulotu picked his international team. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Tonga's loss was Scotland's gain when Sione Tuipulotu picked his international team. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SOMEWHERE, in a parallel universe, Sione Tuipulotu will be wearing the distinctive red of Tonga against the dark blue of Scotland in this weekend’s crucial World Cup Pool B match in Nice. 

That’s the country his father, Tuhefohe, hails from and where he spent most of the first four years of his life, and he admits that he did put some serious consideration into swinging that way before eventually throwing his lot in with Scotland – where his maternal grandmother Jacqueline Anne Thomson was born – when he signed for Glasgow Warriors back in the summer of 2021.

The Australian-born 26-year-old admits that it is a rather odd feeling preparing to play for one of those nations against the other, but the notion that there might be some sort of split loyalties is soon dismissed when it is suggested that his brother, Ottavio, may choose to go the other way.

“My littlest brother is 19. I could end up playing him the next time we play Tonga. If I do, I’ll kick his head in,” he quipped. “I think he will have the Scotland jersey on this weekend, but he might just wait until the game is finished to see the result first!


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“I’m not sure where he will end up. If it was up to me, all my brothers would come play with me in Scotland,” added the Tuiuplotu, who is the middle child of five, with two older sisters (Kiesse and Keanna) and two younger brothers.

Tuipulotu’s middle brother, Mosese, was linked with a move to Glasgow Warriors earlier this year before eventually agreeing a contract extension with the Melbourne Rebels and pledging his allegiance to Australia, while Ottavio is also in the Rebels set-up and currently on the comeback trail from an ACL injury.

“After I was born in Melbourne, mum and dad moved back to Tonga for four years then back to Australia when I was four,” Tuipulotu explains, when asked just how close his personal link is with the Polynesian archipelago. “We went on holiday to Tonga every two years after that.”

“Did the thought of playing for Tonga cross my mind? Definitely. When I got to Japan [to play for Yamaha Jubilo in 2019] it was something that I thought about. I played with my cousin there, Viliami Tahitu’a, who was a Tongan international, and he was going to ask me to pledge my allegiances to Tonga.

“I just wasn’t sure at that point but it’s so good to see some of those big players like Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau going back to play for Tonga. It gives so much hope to the country back home. I want to do my part in that on Sunday, by playing hard against them for Scotland and showing my passion for Tonga that way.

“I’m sure they will be trying to take my head off in the same regard, which is part of the game. It’s something you’ve got to love – I’m looking forward to competing against them.

“Playing against your father’s country is a tricky one,” he did concede. “No matter how much you try not to think about it, it’s always kind of there in the back of your mind. But I’m fully focused on getting the victory for Scotland tomorrow. I’m sure it’ll be emotional during the anthems and stuff. Of course, I’ve got a lot of love for Tonga, and that side of my heritage. But tomorrow I’m fully focused on doing my best to get a win for Scotland, to get our World Cup back on the road.”

Tonga lost 59-16 to Ireland in their World Cup opener, but they made life hard for the world’s top ranked team in the first half before running out of steam. Given that they sat out the opening weekend of matches meaning they hadn’t played for a month, they are expected to be a more cohesive and battle-hardened unit this week, with head coach Toutai Kefu having picked the same starting XV, whilst adding the power and experience of former Wallaby second-row Adam Coleman to the bench.

With their players scattered across the globe, it is always a challenge for Tier Two nations to hit the ground running at the start of tournaments anyway, but they now have a big game under their belt and another week in camp together, so Scotland will be aware that this weekend’s assignment is fraught with danger.

“It’s massive [to have that time together],” agreed Tuipulotu. “For those Polynesian countries, it gives so much hope to the islands back home. We saw Fiji last week and what it did for their people. It gives them hope, uplifts them and gives them something to be happy about.”

While Tuhefohe is back in Melbourne keeping an eye on Ottavio, his mother, Angelina arrived in France just before the South Africa match, and was able to provide some light-relief as well as a morale-boost in the aftermath of that 18-3 defeat.

“It was actually quite good because my mum doesn’t know anything about rugby, so she thought we all played really well,” he smiled. “I kind of knew we didn’t but when I saw her after the game and she said: ‘Oh, you guys all played so well’, so it was refreshing and picked me up for that 20-minutes. But then I was back to ground zero when we got on the bus.

“It was nice to see my mum after that. That’s the best things about mums, they pick you up when you are feeling down.

“My Dad will wake up and watch the Tonga match, so I’ll wait for his message after the game,” he added. “I know he’s got both jerseys in the house … I’ll have to ask my little brother which one he’s got on. I’m sure he’ll be going for us.”

 

Since the turn of the year, Tuipulotu’s midfield partnership with Huw Jones – earning them a shared nickname of ‘Huwipulotu’ – has been a key feature of Scotland’s vaunted attack, but that combination has been broken up this weekend with Chris Harris getting his chance in the No 13 jersey.

Tuipulotu is quick to dismiss any notion that breaking up his pairing with Jones could impair Scotland’s back play.

“In the early days when I was getting my first couple of caps for Scotland I was playing under his wing, and I’ve learned a lot from Chris both sides of the ball, but particularly defensively,” he said.

“I was a bit of a rogue defender back then and he’s always put his arm around me and helped me, and tomorrow I feel very comfortable with him alongside me. We’re going to out there and have a great performance together.

“The people I’ve been around on this journey, people like Chris Harris and Sam Johnson back at Glasgow, who have walked the path before me, have helped me iron out those parts of my game.

“I’d like to think I’ve worked hard to fit into the mould of being a good Scotland player.”


RWC23: Scotland v Tonga: straight talking Chris Harris has some steam to blow off

About David Barnes 3800 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.

13 Comments

  1. Have watched 20mins of Tonga game.Do we have any game plan at all or are we just going to throw the ball about and hope for the best. We are playing right into Tongas hands.

  2. Meanwhile, over at the BBC, Tom English continues apace his efforts to transform the BBC Scottish Rugby site to the BBC Irish Rugby site….Someone, preferably the Scottish national team, shut that man’s crowing up.

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  3. iirc head to head is superior to points difference. We can qualify long as Ireland doesn’t get 2 losing bonus points that would leave them a point ahead in the table (presuminhg we start the game with 10 points on the table)

      • If two teams have an equal number of points in the table, whoever wins the game between them would be placed above them.

        You can see it in pool C. Australia and Fiji are tied on table points with AUS having a superior points difference, but Fiji are above them since they won their head to head.

  4. Och hell to it and all these various possibilities and knowing how poor the way the organisers put the pools together making the experience just taste… on the other hand let’s just get out there be ourselves work hard to our potential and put all these teams to the sword…. the beauty of it is that it’s in our hands, we’ve been here many times before here’s an opportunity for our boys to show they have learnt, built in character and ready to take things to a new level…

  5. Unfortunately South Africa’s losing BP against Ireland has put us out already – unless we manage a winning bonus point against Tonga, Romania and now Ireland. Watching our Celtic brothers tonight would suggest this is the longest of long shots. So sadly, after playing one (bad) game we are down and out. Really poor organisation and sequencing of games just adds to my bitter frustration.

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    • Do we not need to claim bp wins v Tonga and Romania and then beat Ireland and deny them any sort of bp? Still a long shot, but, not impossible

      • Assuming we get BP wins against Tonga and Romania and no shock results, wouldn’t just beating Ireland and depriving them of a losing BP leave us tied with them on points – 14 – and then 2nd spot in the group decided on points difference which I suspect Ireland would win (albeit without using a crystal ball)? I can’t see anything getting us through to 1/4s other than a BP win against Ireland with them getting nothing, which ironically could then see us top the group if our points difference is good enough. Highly unlikely and need to first concentrate vs Tonga, but just, only just possible. Happy to be corrected if I’m wrong Re permutations on group match results

      • Assuming we get BP wins against Tonga and Romania and no shock results, wouldn’t just beating Ireland and depriving them of a losing BP leave us tied with them on points – 14 – and then 2nd spot in the group decided on points difference which I suspect Ireland would win (albeit without using a crystal ball)? I can’t see anything getting us through to 1/4s other than a BP win against Ireland with them getting nothing, which ironically could then see us top the group if our points difference is good enough. Highly unlikely and need to first concentrate vs Tonga, but just, only just possible. Happy to be corrected if I’m wrong Re permutations on group match results

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