Force call on giant centre
By Jon Geddes Force call on giant centre - Rugby - Fox Sports
May 09, 2008

TWELVE months ago Josh Tatupu was dodging stray fists and boots while playing rugby league for the Pia Donkeys in south-west France.

This evening the 21-year-old will make his Super 14 starting debut for the Western Force in their do-or-die clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington.

And what a baptism of fire it will be for Tatupu, who finds himself opposed to New Zealand centres Conrad Smith and the electrifying Ma'a Nonu.

There is a lot riding on this game, not only for the Force - who must win to keep their faint finals hopes alive - but also for the Waratahs.

The Hurricanes are just one point behind NSW on the ladder and a loss for them would be a big boost to the Waratahs' chances of hosting a semi-final.

But a year ago Tatupu would never have imagined he would have ended up in his current situation, going into the spotlight replacing the injured Ryan Cross.

"It's worked out pretty well for me," he admitted.

Tatupu's selection is another step forward in what has already been an amazing footballing journey. He moved over from New Zealand when he was 16 to join the Melbourne Storm, spending four years in their program and playing with their feeder club Brisbane Norths.

Last year he headed over to play with Pia, a town of 5210 situated near the Pyrenees, where the footy is often wild and woolly.

"There is a lot of fights and scrappy stuff in the game - there are few sly kicks sometimes," Tatupu said. Despite those dangers on the field, the time in France was an experience he really enjoyed. "It was really good learning the culture and the language," he said.

After joining the Force this season he sat on the bench six times, having just one run on the wing against the Lions back on February 29.

In between time he has been playing for Kalamunda in the backblocks of the local Perth competition. But none of that has dampened Tatupu's enthusiasm.

"I didn't think I would get to play one game and now I'm starting against the Hurricanes," he said.

The clash is also a great opportunity for Tatupu to secure his future because he is not under contract next year.

"It's really good for me, especially being up against two All Blacks, and I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

Assistant Force coach John Mulvihill is confident Tatupu is up to the challenge in what he admits will be a huge test.

"He is 100kg, he has really good footwork and is looking to doing a bit of damage in midfield this week," Mulvihill said.

"He's a solid boy so he will keep coming back, that's for sure. We have a pretty simple game plan and he is someone who will definitely stick to it."

The injury-ravaged Force have also called up 18-year-old local Dane Haylett-Petty on the wing for what will also be his starting debut.

This week he was named in the Australian under-20 squad for the upcoming Junior World Championships in Wales.