Sione Tuipulotu emerging as Scotland's go-to man in midfield as cast around him evolves

In the ever-changing Scotland midfield Sione Tuipulotu is the closest there has been to a constant over the course of the Autumn Nations Series.

Sione Tuipulotu (centre) impressed against New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Sione Tuipulotu (centre) impressed against New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

He started at 12 in the losses to Australia and New Zealand and replaced Chris Harris for the final part of the win over Fiji, and there is a sense the muscular Glasgow Warriors centre is establishing himself as a first-choice pick for Gregor Townsend. While the Scotland coach has long championed Cameron Redpath’s more subtle skills at inside centre it was notable that the Bath player was released back to his club last week. Redpath had made his long-awaited return to Test rugby after serious neck injuries against Fiji but it was Tuipulotu who got the gig against the All Blacks.

Although he plays the majority of his club rugby at outside centre, Tuipulotu has been deployed more as a 12 by Scotland, with five of his six starts coming at inside centre.

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“It’s a funny one as I play most of my footy at Glasgow at 13 so it’s a little bit different playing 12, especially at Test level,” he said. “But I’m getting more used to it in every game I play and it’s something I want to keep building on. Ultimately I want to be as flexible as I can between the two positions even when I go back to Glasgow. I enjoy them both and just want to add my point of difference.”

Sione Tuipulotu enjoyed playing between Finn Russell and Chris Harris. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

Scotland have picked a different stand-off for each autumn Test so far; Blair Kinghorn against Australia, Adam Hastings versus Fiji and Finn Russell in Sunday’s agonising loss to New Zealand. In addition, Mark Bennett was at outside centre in the opener before Chris Harris took over for the last two. Tuipulotu said it has taken a bit of getting used to.

“I’d be lying to you if I said that it’s exactly the same,” he said. “Every player is different. I’m sure when I’m not in the team and it’s another 12 it will be different for the 13 and the 10. But it’s something you have to adapt to in Test rugby. At the weekend Finn came in and Charris was back in the mix, two pretty experienced guys. You won’t hear any complaining from me about playing outside Finn Russell and inside Chris Harris.”

The combination worked well against the All Blacks, particularly in the first half as the Scotland midfield provided ammunition for their back three to cause the visitors all sorts of problems. Tuipulotu is too modest to say if it was his best performance in a Scotland jersey but the Aussie-born centre with the granny from Greenock found himself immersed in the occasion.

“I’m not sure if it was my best game or not,” he said. “I just know I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like that. I’ve obviously played at Murrayfield before but there was a different buzz in the air when I hopped off the bus that day. It was a little bit nosier and after the haka I could feel it was bigger than any other game I’ve been involved in.

“That was amazing to be a part of. They’re the big team in the world that everyone wants to play. I am grateful I got that opportunity. But we were in that game to win and I’m just disappointed we didn’t finish them off.”



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