Rugby Championship

From heart-attack risk to All Blacks strongman

2018-06-09 15:17
Karl Tu'inukuafe (Getty)

Auckland - After transforming himself from an unhealthy, heart-attack risk to a front-row hero, Karl Tu'inukuafe capped his sensational rise with a powerhouse All Blacks debut against France on Saturday.

The French scrum shot backwards when Karl Tu'inukuafe came on five minutes into the second half and packed down against Rabah Slimani, winning a penalty that changed the shape of the game.

The three points put the All Blacks level at 11-11 and launched an unanswered 44-point scoring spree as they raced to a 52-11 victory.

"He made a pretty big statement first up and there's no better way to get the respect of your team-mates and the opposition," said coach Steve Hansen after the eight-tries-to-one rout.

"He proved he's of All Blacks standard and worthy of the jersey."

Four years ago, when a 170kg nightclub bouncer, Tu'inukuafe was warned by his doctor to lose weight and change his diet or face a heart attack.

He returned to rugby and shed more than 30kg, but still wasn't on the All Blacks radar until a succession of injuries to loosehead props cleared his way to the top.

The Chiefs introduced him to Super Rugby just three months ago after scouring the country looking for a fill-in prop. Injuries in the All Blacks ranks then thrust Tu'inufuake into the Test limelight.

All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock said Tu'inukuafe's immediate impact when he came on as a replacement served as a green light for the team to shift up several gears.

"When Karl came on we got that penalty from that scrum and we took the shot and all of a sudden the score was level and it felt like the boys knew that was the time to really go for it," he said.

"That was the time we really looked at each other and we knew that was the time to dig deep and go."

Hansen, however, cautioned that Tu'inukuafe still had a lot to learn.

"He's just starting and we've got to make sure we don't blow him up or push him too fast, too early," the coach said, while likening the 25-year-old to the late Keith Murdoch, reputedly one of the strongest ever props.

"I never met Keith Murdoch but he's got a moustache like him and he scrums like him and he's pretty big around the chest."

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