While he may not be a household name yet, Patrick Tuipulotu is without doubt a name worth remembering.
With a less than traditional rugby backstory, it’s a fair point to wonder if Tuipulotu would have ever made it onto the rugby field if it wasn’t for some high achieving friends.
“I played a bit of sport at primary school but mostly just giving things a go.
“At that time all my mates were playing at Ponies and their team was unbeaten so I decided I wanted to play,” said Tuipulotu.
Rugby took a bit of a hiatus after the Under 12 glory at Ponsonby, Tuipulotu using his height and natural ability instead on a basketball court.
He mentions a brief and less than enjoyable stint playing Under-14s, “I was so useless, it was embarrassing.”
As a fifth former at St Peter’s it was suggested to Tuipulotu that he trial for the 1st XV, a trial he said was not memorable.
“I got smashed. And I only ended up playing a few minutes for the 1st XV that season. I was there to win line out ball really, that’s all I did.”
But those ‘few minutes’ piqued Tuipulotu’s interest in the game and saw him start to take it quite seriously.
And it was a quick rise for the rookie, in Year 13 he was selected in the Blues Under 18s and New Zealand Schools team.
“I was sort of the third string lock for Blues 18s but the coach (Richie Harris) told me I had the skill and work ethic to really make it and I was sort of shocked at that.”
From there, there were three goals that Tuipulotu remembers writing in his school diary.
New Zealand Schools. New Zealand Under 20s. All Blacks.
“It’s funny looking back, those were the three rep teams I wanted to make and now I have achieved two. There’s just one more to go.”
Several of Tuipulotu’s friends from New Zealand Schools were elevated to ITM Cup in their first season from school, an honour that he only just missed.
“I got a taste of it because I played a bit in pre season and then I was just at home. It was a pretty stink feeling but I knew I just had to keep going.”
It all changed in 2013 however, Tuipulotu had signed a contract with the Blues before going to France with the New Zealand Under 20s and then going on to star for the Auckland ITM Cup team.
“It was pretty funny, I didn’t think I’d get signed for the Blues but after a Development game there was a bit of interest; two line breaks in one game and I reckon it all came from that.”
Tuipulotu was surprised to be named on the bench for the Blues’ first outing last weekend.
“I guess when Culum got injured I realised there was a chance I would get some game time but I didn’t expect it in the first game.”
“I was pretty emotional when I got called up to go on the field – I could only think of my nana – I think she scored that try,” said Tuipulotu.
That’s right, a try on debut and a call up to the starting XV for his second cap.
“I’ll have to play well – especially against some of the best locks in the world. I’m pretty nervous at the moment, but I have to concentrate on what I have to do and I’ll get there.”
As for his third goal, the pinnacle of New Zealand rugby, Tuipulotu is buoyed by the recent success of fellow St Peters Old Boy Francis Saili.
“Seeing guys like Francis, and even Steven and Charles, they are only a year or two older than me so anything can happen.”