Tuipulotu herself is a devout Christian and her faith remains an incredibly cherished part of her rugby journey. “Every little win that I get – whether I’m on the bench, or even if it’s just being called up to the wider squad, or getting a contract – my thanks and praise go back to the Lord for giving me the opportunity and blessing me with the talent I have,” says Tuipulotu, who will have the chance to test herself against England’s Poppy Cleall in the second row.
Yet teen sensation Tuipulotu is hardly fazed by those in front of her. She is relishing the opportunities that have fallen her way in her relatively short rugby career, even if it means having to occasionally pinch herself. “I’m thankful that I get to play with this team,” she says, “but I ask myself all the time, is this actually happening?”
Why Wales’ surprise resurgence is good news for England
When England faced a fired-up Wales side at Kingsholm on Saturday, it could offer a glimpse into the future of the Women’s Six Nations.
After two opening victories against Ireland and Scotland, this new-look Wales side – boosted by a handful of professional contracts – look a seriously improved outfit. While it is unlikely that they will put a stop to the Red Roses’ formidable 20-game unbeaten streak, they should put areas of England’s game under stress.
Telegraph Sport explores why this resurgent Wales outfit could provide the sort of competition the Red Roses crave as they continue their march towards the World Cup.
Weighty Welsh pack will test England
England will be extremely conscious of Wales’ threat at the set-piece, especially their attacking lineout, which has been one of their super strengths so far in the championship. Yet it is the scrum where a beefed-up Welsh pack could inflict the most damage with its combined player weight of 741 kilograms – 51.6kg heavier than England’s set of forwards.
That imbalance was enough to warrant Poppy Cleall’s move from No 8 to lock to add more ballast behind the front row. At 96kg, Cleall is England’s heaviest forward – but still way off her opposite number, Sisilia Tuipulotu. “I think they’ve respected us with the squad they’ve put out. They’ve gone strong this weekend, which is a credit to our squad and our performances,” said Siwan Lillicrap, the Wales captain, who has been reshuffled to flanker for the occasion.
England’s scrum, which dominated world champions New Zealand last autumn, has looked faultless of late, but head coach Simon Middleton believes there is still room for improvement. “We’ve had very good scrums in the past – we had a great scrum under [former forwards coach] Matt Ferguson,” he said. “But we have a world-class line-out and probably the scrum was more of a platform. We want both to be world class.”
England finally have professional opposition (sort of)
Nine of Wales’ starting XV on Saturday have been professional since the start of the year, with a further three on the bench. All are now based four days a week at Wales’ National Center of Excellence at the Vale Resort, where Wayne Pivac’s men train. Gone are the days of meal prepping and juggling a full-time job before training – players are given breakfast and lunch along with all the ingredients needed for a high-performance environment, from regular analysis sessions to a state-of-the-art gym . That level of investment from the Wales Rugby Union won’t be enough to trample over England – the real measure of their progress will be the scoreline.
“For the girls who are full-time, they’re a little bit fresher going into this tournament,” said Natasha Hunt, England’s scrum-half. “That was kind of the main difference that we found, even though that probably didn’t come into fruition for probably over a year, but they just have that belief around them at the minute.”