The jury is out on whether Taniela Tupou really is the most penalised player in Super Rugby this season, but one thing is for sure: the powerful Queensland prop is the undisputed No. 1 target for opposing teams.
An unstoppable force in the set pieces, ‘Tongan Thor’s’ mastery of the dark arts of scrummaging has been singled out by his rivals all season long so it’s no surprise the Melbourne Rebels have got him in their sights ahead of Saturday’s qualifying final.
“Everyone knows that Taniela Tupou is the most penalised guy in 2020 in Super Rugby so we want to paint pictures that help the refs make the right decisions in those areas,” Rebels coach Dave Wessels said.
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“Taniela is a very, very good player and when he does things legally and right, we’re happy to have a fair contest with them and that’s all that we’re asking for.
“But we’ve got to play our part in that, there’s a responsibility on us to paint positive pictures and make those decisions and not 50-50 calls for the ref.”
Statistically, Tupou is one of the most penalised players in Super Rugby AU, but not the chief transgressor. According to the Fox Sports Lab, that dubious honour belongs to Brumbies frontrower Scott Sio, but the Reds tighthead is the one player every opposition wants the whistleblowers to come down on.
“He can also be very dominant so the thing is you’ve got to paint the right picture so that if he is doing something that’s not legal, then the referee’s able to interpret it,” Wessels said.
“And that’s our responsibility, not the ref’s responsibility.”
With a spot in the grand final against the Brumbies at stake, both the Reds and the Rebels have been ramping up the mind games all week, with Wessels even questioning Queensland’s self-acclaimed passion.
“I’ve never lived in Queensland but what I do know is that we’ve had a lot of success against Queensland over the last three years,” he said.
“It’s a team that we like playing but as I’ve said before, they’ve got momentum, they’re playing very well so we have to respect that.”
The two sides drew with each other in Sydney in July but the Reds held the Rebels tryless when they last met, in Brisbane in August, so will start as strong favourites this weekend.
Wessels said the odds have been so stacked against his side from the outset after they were forced to leave Victoria that their disadvantages could end up working in their favour.
“When you’re the Melbourne Rebels, you‘re always the underdog, that’s the whole way we exist,” Wessels said.
“That’s probably the thing I love most about the club, you have to scrap and fight for everything and that’s what makes it so more rewarding when you have a little success.
“We’ve got a group of people who have elected in a lot of ways to take the path the less travelled, that’s just the decision they’ve made and how they’ve wanted to play their rugby so everything that’s happened so far suits us down to the bone.
“We said right at the start of this comp when we had to get out of Melbourne in 24 hours and get ourselves to Canberra and try and sort out a training field and a hotel and all sorts of stuff that the team that’s going to win this competition is the team that handles the curveballs the best and stays connected the best.
“There’s still a lot of rugby to be played here, there’s still 160 minutes of rugby to be played and there’s still some twists and turns that are going to happen along the way so it’s the team that handles those things the best that’s going to win it.”
6-Liam Wright (captain)
Replacements: 16-Alex Mafi, 17-JP Smith, 18-Jack Straker, 19-Tuaina Taii Tualima, 20-Angus Scott-Young, 21-Moses Sorovi, 22-Bryce Hegarty, 23-Hunter Paisami
15-Dane Haylett-Petty (captain)
Replacements: 16-Efitusi Ma‘afu, 17-Cabous Eloff, 18-Matt Gibbon, 19-Michael Stolberg, 20-Rob Leota, 21-Theo Strang, 22-Andrew Deegan, 23-Campbell Magnay