RWC23: career setbacks helped forge Scotland’s centres of excellence

Huwipulotu partnership will be key in World Cup opener on Sunday

Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones could yet extend their Huwipulotu partnership beyond the summer Image: © Craig Watson -
Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones could yet extend their Huwipulotu partnership beyond the summer Image: © Craig Watson -

COMPLEMENTARY skillsets and a shared philosophy of how the game should be played make Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones natural midfield bedfellows, but it also helps that their career trajectories have followed similar paths.

Their partnership  – which has seen the pair re-christened ‘Huwipulotu’ by fans – has become a key component of the national team’s attack play since they first linked up in the dark blue jersey in a famous away win over England at the start of the 2023 Six Nations.

The Scotland team to face South Africa in Sunday evening’s World Cup opener will be announced at lunchtime tomorrow [Friday]. It would be a major shock if this dynamic duo are not the starting centres.

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After bursting onto the international scene with 10 tries in his first 14 caps between June 2016 and February 2018, a dip in confidence and form playing under a club coach who did not really rate him (Dave Rennie at Glasgow), exacerbated by some bad luck with injury, led to Jones missing out on the 2019 World Cup before leaving Glasgow Warriors in the summer of 2021 in search of the change of scene that his faltering career desperately needed.

A season at Harlequins allowed him to recalibrate before returning north last summer, and although he missed the first half of the 2022-23 campaign through injury, his subsequent form playing alongside Tuipulotu at both club and international level since the turn of the year has been the best of his career.

Meanwhile, Tuipulotu was a child star back in his native Australia, playing for the national schoolboys side, the Wallabies Under-20s team for three years between 2015 and 2017, and becoming the first homegrown player to turn out for the Melbourne Rebels Super Series side aged 19 in March 2016. However, his progress stalled over the next three years when he managed just 10 more appearances for the franchise and he ended up joining Japanese outfit Yamaha Jubilo in 2019 in an attempt to rekindle his playing career.

He qualifies to play for Scotland through his maternal grandmother from Greenock, and hasn’t looked back since moving to the northern hemisphere.

“I came over for the [2021] summer tour, but then it was cancelled because of Covid so I went back to Glasgow and it was their ‘Mad Monday’ [end of season celebratory] week,” Tuipulotu recalls. “That’s where I met Huw and started to get to know him – I was like, this guy’s alright!”

“He ducked off to Harlequins after that but we had a couple of good nights on the beers before he left. It was a really good way to get settled in at Glasgow, thankfully there was no trouble that weekend, so I started off with a clean sheet!

“One of the biggest things I thought about when I first came over was why Huw wasn’t playing for Scotland,” he continued. “I didn’t know the dynamic of the team, but I knew how talented he was. Someone doesn’t just wake up one day and they’re a bad player.

“That comes back to the rugby journey of everyone. You can lose confidence, come in and out of form ,and people stop believing in you. But I’m a firm believer that you don’t just wake up and lose everything you’ve worked for your whole life

“He’s worked really hard to get back where he is and I respect him massively for it. It’s a motivation for us, because our rugby journey has come full circle. We’ve been at the top, been young stars, then gone back to the bottom, felt it, and managed to come back.

“I don’t really want to go back to the bottom – it’s kind of fun up here playing in these big games.”

Jones is equally effusive about the on and off field relationship, although stresses that they don’t spend every woken hour together.

“We’re not joined at the hip!” he smiled. “Thankfully we’ve got our own rooms here as well. But we get on, so we do hang out outside rugby as well.

“The reason we do our extras together is because a lot of the time we are next to each other on the field, so to get those little plays that we do working well in different situations, that’s quite important.

‘I love playing with Sione. He’s a great guy to have around, he brings loads of energy. I think we view the game the same way. With how we want to play, and our attributes, we bounce off each other well. We’ve got a good connection on and off the field, which is great for us and good for the team.”


Scotland assistant coach Pete Horne – who has a fair bit of first-hand knowledge about playing centre for Scotland having filled that role during  35 of his 45 caps he gathered between 2013 and 2019 – says there isn’t a secret formula which underpins Tuipulotu and Jones’ on-field chemistry, reasoning that their bond is a product of hard-work and making sure they do the simple things well.

“They are always doing their extras together, which is really cool,” he explained, “They’re a joy. They can do absolutely everything. And there is so much hard work they have put into that away from your regular training drills.

“They do so much work on basic little things, that if kids came to training and asked what these guys were doing to create that magic, they’d be shocked at what they work on – but they’ve just honed all the little details and they read each other’s body language so well.

“Sione is one of the most talented players I’ve ever worked with. He’s so big and powerful with such a good ball-carrying game – he can hit really hard – but then he’s got great touch. He’s got such a good ability to find a great pass, to get the ball in and out of his hands. And he also makes everyone around him better with the way he communicates, and I think that really helps Finn [Russell] as well.

“Then Shuggy [Jones] has just got more x-factor than anyone I’ve ever played with. He can turn a game with his running lines which are just absolutely brilliant. He’s got this ability where he looks absolutely cooked, he gets up from a ruck and looks punch drunk, then he’ll just suddenly get the ball and be able to go at 100 miles per hour.

“So, he’s a really special athlete and the two of them complement each other really well, with Sione’s playmaking ability bringing Shuggy into the game.

“I think that little bit of adversity always helps anyone,” he added. “It makes you think about how much you really want it, you have to fight that little bit harder for it, and you probably don’t take anything for granted ever again.

“Shuggy, at the start of his career, probably thought: ‘I’m going to get 100 caps here’. I think everyone did with the way he was playing, scoring tries for fun – he looked untouchable. Then that little bump in the road, all of sudden you do have to work a little bit harder, and that’s why I am so proud of him. To come back from a couple of bad injuries as well and to find his form again is really impressive.”

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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.

1 Comment

  1. A partnership scotland can be proud of, and im going to sat it now – lions 25 centres at this stage..

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