Tug-of-war for Tongan Thor heats up as wealthy French club compete with Leinster

Jared Wright
Wallabies player Fraser McReight and Taniela Tupou during the Rugby World Cup match between Australia and Georgia.

Wallabies player Fraser McReight and Taniela Tupou during the Rugby World Cup match between Australia and Georgia.

Leinster face stiff competition for tighthead prop Taniela Tupou’s signature, with the Wallaby star attracting interest from Top 14 clubs.

The Irish province are in the market for a world-class number three as Michael Ala’alatoa will join French outfit Clermont at the end of the season.

Tupou attracts interest in Ireland and France

Reports from Australia suggest that Leinster have offered a staggering AUS $950,000 (about €570,000) contract to Tupou, who could be left without a club due to the Melbourne Rebels’ financial troubles. However, they face a formidable challenger in Montpellier, a wealthy Top 14 club.

While Tupou is currently contracted to the Rebels until 2025, the club’s financial instability has cast a shadow of doubt over his future.

The prop, affectionately known as the ‘Tongan Thor’, is understood to be one of the highest-paid Wallaby players, and while Rugby Australia would understandably want to keep him based locally, they may struggle to retain his services.

Especially with French publication Midi Olympique stating that wealthy Top 14 club Montpellier have entered the race for his signature and will compete with Leinster.

The 2021/22 Top 14 champions have endured a slump this season and currently sit in the relegation zone and could drop to the PROD2.

URC Team of the Week: ‘Simply outstanding’ Springbok shines as young stars take their chance

However, they have recruited the services of former French Rugby president Bernard Laporte to help turn things around at the club.

With the deep pockets of Mohed Altrad and a squad overhaul planned for the end of the current season, Montpellier could make Tupou an attractive offer.

Montpellier have reportedly secured the services of Billy Vunipola for next season, and Laporte, along with head coach Patrice Collazo – who replaced Richard Cockerill mid-season – is looking to strengthen their forward pack.

According to several reports, the club have also signed disgraced Les Bleus prop Mohamed Haouas ahead of the new season – who will return for a second stint at the side.

Hurricanes full-back Josh Moorby is also on the club’s radar, according to Midi Olympique.

Jack Willis doubts he will ‘ever be fully at peace’ with England ineligibility

Blow for Leinster and Australia

If Tupou were to opt for a move to France instead of Ireland, it would be another blow to Leinster’s recruitment plans as it was reported that the side were looking to sign Ulster’s Tom O’Toole, who recently extended his contract in Belfast.

As for Australia, Tupou’s move north could prove troublesome for the Wallabies as new boss Joe Schmidt was unable to clarify his stance on overseas-based players.

“It’s a difficult one to answer at the moment,” he explained.

“What I would say is that players who are playing in Australia will be a priority for us.

“If that is supplemented by a few players playing overseas, then that may well be the case.”

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific Team of the Week: All Blacks star in ‘blockbuster’ display as talented Fijian produces the ‘performance of the round’