Sione Tuipulotu to honour his Tongan heritage while focusing fully on a Scotland win
It’s a game Gregor Townsend’s side must win if they are to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals after they lost their opener to South Africa a fortnight ago. Scotland’s attack was effectively smothered by the Springboks and Tuipulotu admitted he and stand-off Finn Russell had spent time since poring over what went wrong in Marseille. The hope is that the Scots’ creative players will have more scope to influence in the game in Nice as both sides chase their first win of the tournament.
Tuipulotu will win his 21st Scotland cap on Sunday but he could have been lining up for Tonga, his father Fohe’s homeland. “I actually spent the first four years of my life in Tonga,” said Tuipulotu, who qualifies for Scotland through his maternal grandmother from Greenock and could also have represented Australia. “After I was born in Melbourne, mum and dad moved back to Tonga for four years then back to Australia when I was four. We went on holiday to Tonga every two years after that.”
The centre said that it was while he was playing club rugby in Japan prior to joining Glasgow Warriors that he gave serious consideration to playing for Tonga, egged on by his cousin and Yamaha Júbilo team-mate Viliami Tahituʻa.
“When I got to Japan, it was something that I thought about. I played with my cousin there, 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.”
Fekitoa, a centre, and Piutau, the full-back, are two of four former All Blacks in the Tonga starting XV to face Scotland, the others being scrum-half Augustine Pulu and No 8 Vaea Fifita. Like Scotland’s Jack Dempsey, who previously represented Australia, they took advantage of the change to World Rugby’s eligibility laws in 2021 which allows players to switch allegiance to a country with which they had links through their heritage. Tuipulotu believes it has been a good thing for rugby in general and for Tonga in particular, even if it does make Scotland’s job harder this weekend.
“To see all the players who have previously represented Tier 1 nations like New Zealand and Australia go back and play for Polynesian countries is so special,” he said. “And I think it’s awesome what it’s doing for the game. We saw Fiji beat Australia the other day, which I guess a couple of years ago we thought might never be possible at a World Cup. But it is happening now and we have to be really wary of these Polynesian teams.”
Tuipulotu acknowledged Sunday’s match would have added poignancy given his background. “No matter how much you try not to think about it, it’s always kind of there in the back of your mind,” he said. “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 I’m fully focused on doing my best to get a win for Scotland, and get our World Cup back on the road.”
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