In the depths of despair, Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou seriously considered giving up rugby, fearing that his chance at the upcoming World Cup had been shattered by a severe injury.
Last November, while playing against Ireland, he ruptured his Achilles, casting doubt on his future in the sport. However, despite the setback, Tupou is now ready to make his comeback to the Test arena.
He is set to feature in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash against New Zealand in Melbourne. Wallabies coach Eddie Jones had high praise for him, even suggesting that the ‘Tongan Thor’ had the potential to become the world’s best tight-head prop.
Despite such accolades, Tupou revealed the emotional turmoil he endured during his recovery, admitting that he found himself in a “very dark place” as he desperately raced against time to be fit for the upcoming World Cup in France, scheduled for early September.
The 27-year-old from Tonga said: “When I did my achilles last year I thought the worst. I was in my last year of my contract, I thought I was going to miss World Cup, just everything you know – I was in a very dark place.
“The last eight to nine months has been tough, to do all the rehab…there was a time where I really thought about my future in footy. It was just mentally hard.”
Tupou emphasised how important it’s been for him to speak up when he needed help, and how important it is to be listened to.
“Before, I was one of those guys where speaking up was not an option. But you find out you’re not weak in speaking up, so I had to learn the new skill of talking or speaking up when I needed to.
“I find it really helpful, just knowing that someone knows what you’re going through. Every now and then they come and check on you and it feels good.
“I’m here now and I couldn’t be any happier – I’m just grateful I’m here in this position and I’m grateful I’m back in the team.”
Having been born in Tonga and eventually moving to Australia, Tupou made his international debut for the Wallabies in 2017. He made his intentions clear that the Australia A match against Tonga in Nuku’alofa earlier this month was his opportunity for a return to top level rugby.
Tupou talked about the emotional experience of playing in the land he was born in, against the country of his parents:
“I asked Eddie if I could play Australia A as these games never happen in Tonga.
“For someone like myself, who grew up in Tonga and played in that stadium when I was in school, to have the opportunity to go back and perform in front of my family, it just felt a full circle for me.
“It was by far the highlight of my career, I get a bit emotional talking about it because it means so much to me.”
He played half the game to build some match fitness ready for the first game of the Bledisloe Cup. Tupou will take to the field to collect his 48th test cap if selected to face the All Blacks, an occasion that will truly mark the great player’s return to top level rugby.
“If I get a chance to play I’m going to put in a performance that those guys are proud of, that I’m proud of, as I didn’t get here on my own. There’s a lot of people that got me here so I want to put in a performance they’re proud of as a way of me thanking them” he added.