Karl Tu’inukuafe completes remarkable journey from 27-stone nightclub bouncer to All Blacks prop (and second-heaviest New Zealand player ever) as he is named in team to face England at Twickenham
- New Zealand have announced their team to play England on Saturday
- Included in the team is former nightclub bouncer Karl Tu’inukuafe
- Tu’inukuafe was working as a bouncer until recently and tipped scales at 27st
- He began a remarkable turnaround in 2015, playing for North Harbour
- 2018 has been his breakthrough year, winning 10 All Blacks caps so far
Moustachioed man mountain prop Karl Tu’inukuafe has gone from 27-stone nightclub bouncer to Test tyro.
The All Blacks prop will start against England this Saturday at Twickenham – taking the next step up the ladder in his remarkably atypical career.
Big Karl only made his Super Rugby debut this year, but will win his 11th cap and make his fifth start this weekend.
Karl Tu’inukuafe, a former nightclub bouncer, has been picked for the All Black to face England
The All Black captioned this recent Instagram post: ‘I like Cake. Pies are nice too, like Pecan and Pumpkin but not Apple, but I’ll eat it if that’s all there is. #grateful’
The 25-year-old (left) prepares to serve dinner to young players in Wellington, New Zealand
He could have been keeping drunken revellers watching the game back home in the wee hours out of trouble instead, though, as he used to work on security for a nightclub which was part of Auckland Live – the entertainment complex.
‘It’s mostly a desk job but I get on the doors at night sometimes,’ he said earlier this year.
Tu’inukuafe spent time in the wilderness as his weight ballooned after leaving Jonah Lomu’s old school in 2010, the prestigious Wesley College in Auckland.
Working as security guard until 2015 when he signed for Auckland’s North Harbour club, his weight hit 27st before he embarked on a remarkable 6st weight-loss on his short journey to international rugby.
Now ‘only’ 21st 3lb, he is the second-heaviest player to represent New Zealand, only behind Toulouse’s Neemia Tialate who tipped the scales at 21st 6lb during his 43-cap career.
‘To get some extra money in for working at the clubs.’
Now one of the biggest props in the world at 21st 3lbs, the 25-year-old has been nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year.
He’s a slimmed down version of his former self too, after losing six stone when doctors told him to change his habits for the good of his health.
‘I was complaining about pain in my legs and stuff and he was explaining that all my bad health decisions with eating was leading to a heart attack or whatever,’ Tu’inukuafe added in June. ‘When he told me to lose weight, the easiest way was to play rugby with my brothers and family.
‘I’d rather do it with them on the field, than lose it by myself, so it made it easier.’
The huge loosehead, left, celebrates with team-mates after New Zealand beat France in June
The man mountain prop (left), who was told to lose weight to save his life at 27 stone, will line up at Twickenham – his 11th cap for the All Blacks after a remarkable rise
BIG KARL’S STATS
2015 – present: North Harbour – 23 games, 0 points
2015-16: Narbonne – 17, 5
2018: Chiefs – 16, 5
2019: Blues – 0, 0
2018 – present: All Blacks – 10, 0
The loosehead only came in as an injury replacement for the Super Rugby team the Chiefs this year – but now is an All Black and has secured a contract with the Blues next season. He actually went to the same school as substitute Nepo Laulala – Auckland’s Wesley College.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said the coaches spotted him playing for provincial side North Harbour last year.
‘We heard that there was this big, strong prop playing for Harbour and when I went into a few Chiefs trainings preseason I watched him run around and (Chiefs coach) Colin Cooper told me about him,’ Foster said this week.
‘But he was going through a fitness stage of his training at that particular part of the season so we didn’t get to see a lot of him on the park.’
Tu’inukuafe remains partial to some sweet treats despite being ordered to slim down by docs
He showed his fun side this week during a visit to Harry Potter World with fellow All Blacks
Tu’inukuafe, right, shared this picture of Auckland’s Wesley College front row from 2010 with fellow All Black Nepo Laulala, left, who is on the bench for Saturday’s England game
New Zealand team to play England
Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, T.J. Perenara, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty.
‘We just kept an eye on him and have been delighted with his progress.
‘He’s still learning and when you really study his game, there’s still a lot more growth in him – he’s clearly scrummaging pretty good but that’s only one part of a prop’s game.
‘I have to admit, he’s a bit of a gold nugget – I don’t think we’ve got heaps of them back home but I’m pleased we’ve got him.’
Ahead of his first cap in June, Tu’inukuafe reflected on his family’s journey to New Zealand from Tonga.
Tu’inukuafe was born in the country but his parents and grandparents hail from the tiny Pacific island and he said New Zealand had given them a chance at a better life.
He said: ‘It’s a huge privilege and honour and I would like to do that for what they did for my family.’
Tu’inukuafe has even modelled for Johnny Bigg, a plus-sized menswear company — after he became the second-heaviest ever All Black after Neemia Tialata.
Now he will look to lock up the English scrum with England’s tight-head Kyle Sinckler in his sights.
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