TOUTAI Kefu says Lopeti Timani is the most fear-inducing Wallaby big man since Wycliff Palu and hopes, based on his early form for Australia, the big No.8 has drawn the curtain on the Hooper-Pocock backrow combination.
Timani’s vast potential appeared to been realised in the last few months after the 120kg Melbourne forward was promoted into the Wallabies side, due to injuries to Pocock and Sean McMahon.
The 26-year-old’s performances in three Tests — two starting — exceeded most people’s expectations, with Timani casting off a rocks-or-diamonds reputation and turning in consistently good efforts.
In his two starts, Timani made 20 tackles against Argentina in London and he carried strongly up the middle against the All Blacks in Auckland. Crucially — in forecasted areas of concern for Timani — he made no handling mistakes and his tackle effectiveness was high.
“The way that they played the other night (against New Zealand), they tried to go through him and that suits him. That’s his identity,” Kefu said.
“I think he is the best since Cliffy, and they’re both very a similar profile. Run hard, get over the advantage line. Also in defence he stings a bit too.
“When the All Blacks look at our pack, Cliffy is probably the last person to put a little bit of fear into them. I definitely think this bloke will do the same thing.”
Kefu, who is now Tonga’s Test coach, tried to recruit Timani to play for his team prior to his Wallabies call-up after several years of toil in Super Rugby.
Timani debuted for NSW back in 2012 and though a natural powerhouse, many coaches focused on the flaws in his game instead of the potential.
Tony McGahan began the job at the Rebels and Cheika has this year also decided to try and polish the rough diamond.
Australia has had a rich tradition of Tongan hitmen at No.8, with Willie Ofahengaue, Kefu and Palu setting a physical platform for the Wallabies’ attacking game.
As described by Kefu, Timani fits the same profile and though the other starting No.8s this season have different strengths — McMahon’s workrate and Pocock’s on-ball presence — he has the sheer bulk to bend the line like England’s Billy Vunipola.
That, in turn, gives the go-forward required for Bernard Foley to play at the line.
Cheika played Pocock off the bench in Auckland in his first game back from injury, and Kefu thinks the two openside flanker combination should be benched permanently.
“I hope he sticks with Lopeti, and persists with him,” Kefu said.
“I would like to see him put Pocock back to No.7, and I think Hooper is the perfect impact player. He can play with the ball and run, and all over the field.”
Kefu says he has no qualms having missed out on Timani for Tonga, but hopes he is not cast aside after a few Tests; which would make him ineligible for the Pacific Island nation in the future.
“He has a far brighter future with the Wallabies than he does with the Tongan national team,” Kefu says.
“We would have loved to have him and would have captured him sometime next year. But I said to him when we first met earlier this year, look, we will back you whatever you want to do.
“We are very happy with how he has gone, and just hope that he doesn’t become someone like a Cooper Vuna (two Tests) or even his brother (Sitaleki Timani, 18 Tests), and hopefully he has a long career.”
Originally published as Wallaby giant to instil fear in rivals