“I believe in him a lot as a player, and I’m sure he’ll do a very good job,” says Michael Cheika about new Wallaby prop Taniela Tupou. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA

CAPE TOWN – The Wallaby scrum has sometimes been labelled a ‘soft touch’ in some quarters over the years, but that is set to change against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Coach Michael Cheika has handed a first start to giant tighthead prop Taniela Tupou – nicknamed the ‘Tongan Thor’ – to take on the Bok scrum at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (5pm kickoff).

Tupou is just 22, but weighs in at a hefty 135kg. He is relatively short for a modern-day prop at 1.75m, but has tremendous power in the scrums and agility around the field for such a big man.

In fact, Tupou – who has six Test caps – won a few penalties against the Bok loosehead he will oppose on Saturday, Tendai Mtawarira, in the Wallabies’ 23-18 victory in Brisbane a few weeks ago.

Born in Tonga, Tupou attended school in Auckland, New Zealand, and moved to Brisbane after school to qualify for Australia via residency.

“He can build the concentration from the very start and make sure he nails it all and obviously he’s got a lot of talent and only got six caps now,” Cheika told the Wallabies website rugby.com.au on Thursday.

“I thought it might be a good opportunity for him in what will be a pretty difficult atmosphere I imagine, and (with) a good front row opposite for him to show what he’s got.

“I believe in him a lot as a player, and I’m sure he’ll do a very good job.”

Cheika had further reason to feel positive on Thursday despite the 23-19 defeat to Argentina in their last match, as he was able to include captain Michael Hooper – who missed that Gold Coast game – at openside flank, with David Pocock going back to No 8.

Ned Hanigan comes in at blindside, with Lukhan Tui unavailable and Pete Samu injured.

Adam Coleman also gets a start, taking over from Rory Arnold at lock.

Among the backs, Cheika has retained Kurtley Beale at flyhalf, with Bernard Foley on the bench.

Wallaby Team

15 Dane Haylett-Petty 14 Israel Folau 13 Reece Hodge 12 Matt Toomua 11 Marika Koroibete 10 Kurtley Beale 9 Will Genia 8 David Pocock 7 Michael Hooper (captain) 6 Ned Hanigan 5 Izack Rodda 4 Adam Coleman 3 Taniela Tupou 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau 1 Scott Sio.

Bench: 16 Folau Faingaa 17 Sekope Kepu 18 Allan Alaalatoa 19 Rory Arnold 20 Rob Simmons 21 Nick Phipps 22 Bernard Foley 23 Jack Maddocks.



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