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The Roar


'If I was on steroids for 10 years, I wouldn't look like him': The Wallabies props who can turn RWC on head

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SAINT ETIENNE – Angus Bell wasn’t surprised the Wallabies’ scrum held firm against France last week in Paris. In fact, he knew they would measure up well. Better than well.

“There’s no one in the world like Taniela, so it’s not expected but you know that ‘Nella’ is going to have that impact on the game when he’s fit, healthy and fresh,” Bell told reporters at their training venue at Stade Roger Baudras.

If there’s one person in the world who knows what Tupou is capable of, it is Bell.

Having first packed down against him in 2020, before squaring up alongside him later that year, the Wallabies’ front-row duo spent more time together than they would have liked earlier this year.

After Tupou ruptured his Achilles against Ireland last November, Bell joined him by the end of February after suffering a third foot injury in 12 months.

There, the Wallabies’ two-most important players for this World Cup campaign, slogged it out on the daily grind, building their way back from the ground up.

(L-R) Angus Bell and Taniela Tupou have both made stunning recoveries from injury to be fit for the World Cup. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Bell, who had a bone in his foot removed to try and prevent the injury from reoccurring, admitted he feared he wouldn’t return in time to push for World Cup selection.


“Yeah, definitely. Because I did it three times, I thought the World Cup was touch and go, or not going to be a thing that I could say that I went to,” he said.

“I took it day to day, so over that 12-month time that I only played two or three games, I said to myself ‘I’ll just try to get better every day, enjoy the process of doing it with Nella and then whatever happens, happens.’

“I’m just glad I’m here and to be given the opportunity to get better and play games for Australia.”

While Bell has been the Wallabies’ most eye-catching forward to date this year, making a strong cameo off the bench on return against Argentina before consecutive damaging performances against the All Blacks, Tupou’s return hasn’t quite come with the same fanfare.

Angus Bell at Saint-Galmier on August 30, 2023 in Saint-Etienne. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

After coming on early in Melbourne for the injured Allan Alaalatoa, a rib injury early in the second half meant he missed the return Bledisloe fixture in Dunedin.

It meant his first start of the year came against Les Bleus in Paris.


Even at the Stade de France, Tupou’s game was far from perfect. He scrummed France off the park and forced a huge cleanout early in the second half, but his discipline was poor in general play.

But Bell knows the best is yet to come for his front-row partner.


“He’s 140 kilos, he squats 300 kilos and he moves almost at nine meters a second. He’s a beast,” Bell said.

“If I was on steroids for 10 years, I wouldn’t even look like him. He’s just an anomaly. He’s a freak. He’s something you can’t create. That’s what Nella is, and we’re just lucky to have him in our team and he’s not playing for Tonga.

“We knew deep down that Nella would continue to get better and obviously he showed against probably one of the best scrums in the world what he can do.”

The duo offers the Wallabies a real point of difference.


World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer used to say to win the Webb Ellis Cup you need five world XV players.

Both Bell and Tupou could emerge as world class talents.

For Bell it seems a matter of when, not if.

Tupou has all the tools at his disposal but the tight-head prop’s mindset and drive appear to have slowed his progress to transition from a 30-minute finisher to the game’s best prop from the outset.

Bell, however, is adamant his teammate is in the right mindset physically and mentally heading into the crucial tournament.

“Nella’s been pretty good, he gets up every morning and does a watt bike. He’s quite driven,” Bell said.

“He’s been going really well, as you can see from the weekend his ability at the set-piece in the scrum is world class.


“I guess our journey together was quite cool and we both progressed together, but now he’s been so committed and wants to add value to the team.”

Taniela Tupou is hoping to make a statement at this month’s World Cup. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Wallabies forwards coach Neal Hatley agreed.

“I think the biggest expectations are from him,” he said.

“He sort of glanced at the bench on about 50 minutes [against France] and then everyone put their head down. He’s gone really well for a guy who hasn’t played for a long time.

“For him to play against one of the biggest packs in European rugby and go 65-68 minutes deep, winning scrum penalties, carrying the ball, defending well, was a huge statement of intent from him of where he is.

“He’s really knuckled down. He’s probably the lightest he’s been, so he’s really applying himself. We hope that he delivers to what his potential is because if he does that, we’re going to have a hell of a prop that’s going to be hard to stop.”


As for Bell, Hatley said his great shift has been his work rate off the ball.

“I think everybody who’s watched Belly knows he can carry the ball. For me, it’s the other bits that I’ve found really exciting about what he’s doing,” Hatley said.

“So his defence, I thought it’s the best he’s defended against France. He put his head in the spokes a few times.

“He made the most carries in our forward pack (14), but he was good defensively, much better in the in the mauls and the drives.

“His scrum. I thought he scrummed exceptionally well against Uini Atonio, who’s a big man, that French scrum is a good Scrum. We won penalties on their and our ball. So really pleased with what he did from a set-piece point of view.

“For me, the most pleasing aspect is his work off the ball.”


For the Wallabies to go deep at the World Cup over the next months, both men are essential. The loss of one let alone both would be terminal to their hopes.

Both players are crucial for their World Cup opener against Georgia in Paris on September 9.

While the Wallabies are strong favourites despite their 0-5 start to 2023, the Eastern European side have made strong strides in recent years.

Forwards coach Neal Hatley is bullish about the Wallabies’ World Cup hopes. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Hatley knows it too, having seen his English pack get beaten up at opposed training sessions in consecutive years ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

“They’re a better side than what a lot of people give them credit for,” Hatley said. “They beat Wales in Cardiff, beat Italy last year, so two of the Six Nations sides.

“They’re definitely growing their game, always very strong set-piece, big wrestling forwards, but they’ve added some kick counter and they’re playing a lot better of unstructured play. So, they’re obviously evolving their game but they’ve still got a very, very strong set-piece focus. It’ll be a good set-piece battle.”


Meanwhile, props James Slipper and Pone Fa’amausili both trained separately on Saturday as they recover from minor injuries.

Hatley said Slipper was being managed carefully and would likely return to running next week.

“He hasn’t done as much on feet,” Hatley said.

“But we’re hoping on Monday he’ll be available to train with everybody.

“There’s eight, nine weeks to go here and we need to be, not cautious, but aware of the situation that he’s in as a veteran player and make sure that we give him the very best opportunity to have a huge impact on the squad.”