The Directing of Justin Tipuric
We will trace the course of the Ospreys, Wales and the Lions, from a small village at the top of the rugby world.
The Directing of Justin Tipuric
“Every Sunday morning he would ask me if he could play No 10 and every week I would refuse,” says Chris Penhale of his days as a coach of 13-year-old Justin Tipuric at Trebanos RFC. “One week when a few players didn’t show up we started him at ten and he did a decent job – he would do a better job now!”
It’s a recurring theme with Tipuric, how his skills wouldn’t be shifted down the back, but it was his pace of work up front that helped Wales win their last Six Nations title – he was the top tackle by winning the 2021 Championship, too, with 86.
His modesty and humility are other common points when speaking to those who have been on his journey, as is his love for Trebanos. The blue scrum cap is worn in their honor as he has long coached different teams at the club, with President Penhale saying: “He knows where his roots are and likes to give something back. He hasn’t changed at all.
Rugby world tells others about Tipuric’s road to the top of the game, which will see him embark on a third British and Irish Lions tour this summer.
The Directing of Justin Tipuric
Justin Jones was Tipuric’s first rugby coach at Trebanos RFC in the 1990s
“I first met Justin when he was just eight years old. I had played for Trebanos and was about to start a junior section there. I was taking my two sons to the park and they said I should do an up-and-under for Justin. I threw the ball in the air and this eight year old got on roller skates to catch it with both hands. I made a few and he grabbed each of them.
“His dad, Andy, was the first team captain when I was playing. He had bet with Justin that he would never make the (honors) table as a Trebanos captain like him; it was quite clever – he went all the way but was not captain of Trebanos!
“I remember my boys would be in their Swansea kit, but Justin was always watching Super Rugby, so he had one of those kits, like the Hurricanes. His favorite player was Richard Hill – a calm guy who continued his work.
“One thing that stays in my mind is that every time I spoke, he always looked at me straight, listening, while the other 20 eight-year-olds climbed trees!” The other thing that stands out is that he was very skilled and had a natural tackle technique; he always found it very easy to approach.
“I remember we played Bonymaen U11 and they had this ‘Big Jamie’ guy, who was 5’10 ” at 11 years old. No one could attack him, he was doing work all over the world, but Justin never missed him, he always put his ankles through.
“He could kick, pass and tackle, and he’s ridiculously strong like his dad. We played him in the back row and at ten and twelve because he’s so, so skillful. If you put it in the last row it would stand at ten and if you put it at ten it would go into rucks!
“I trained him all the way into the U15s, when he was in the back row, but then we started losing numbers and had to fold. We sent players to other clubs but he liked Trebanos so much that he didn’t want to play for another club. He gave up rugby for a year and played football; people say he could have succeeded as a goalkeeper. He then came back to 16-17 when we had a youth team.
“I’ve come full circle now and started training again with my youngest and Justin does three or four sessions a year for me. He is still doing skills and has helped me a lot with coaching. It takes time for the village and the club.
Dan Cluroe taught and coached Tipuric at Swansea College
“He was very calm and shy when he came to see us, but he was also quite mature in a way and he had jokes that some of the other 16 year olds didn’t have. He came to life on the rugby pitch and had some of the biggest hands I have ever seen!
“He did a BTEC Level Three Sport and he should really be pushed to answer questions or say something in class. He didn’t like any attention but he would never do his homework.
“At the time, we didn’t have a separate rugby course, but we almost ran an academy structure. He walked into a strong and established squad – Leigh Halfpenny was there – and had to make his way from the second team, although it was very clear that he was a first team player after a few games. .
“His skills were just another level. He played in the center several times for us as well as for the back. He had a brilliant rugby brain and read the game very well – few boys can transfer back row to center at 16-17.
“He was very skillful but there is one blooper that I remember from a tournament we played at the University of Warwick. Against Colston, Tips took one of the worst kicks I’ve ever seen, straight into the throat of their full-back, who scored a try.
“He started training with the Ospreys in that first year and established himself in his second year. They tried to pump him up but it didn’t suit his game, he’s very athletic. Then he played seven and they stripped him right away, so he was back at the machine you see now.
When Tipuric made his Ospreys debut in 2009, Sean Holley was the head coach.
“Justin had played at the academy and was really impressive. We always did due diligence so me and the coaches knew the academy players and we spent time watching the Welsh Premiership where we were raising boys – we sent Justin to Aberavon – and Wales U18 and U20.
“I remember (the director) Andrew Hore didn’t care much about his appearance. He was never unfit – he has a brilliant engine – but he didn’t look like a professional rugby player. Andrew said if Justin ever played for the Ospreys first team he would eat raw eggs, so after we picked him I brought eggs to the next management meeting. He ate them to be fair!
“From Justin’s first game, we could see his impact; he was very efficient. He was also very calm and unpretentious. In those early days we made him captain for matches when the internationals were away to take him out of his shell and develop him as a leader.
“Marty Holah and Filo Tiatia have done a lot to help develop Justin, doing post-practice extras and going through games. Filo and Marty would always be the first to get out and the last to get in, and Justin got it. The first port of call with New Zealanders is always the catch and pass. They also looked at the jackal when it first rose to prominence; Marty was brilliant at it – to grappling, to reading the hit, to nuances.
“We used to train the seven with the full backs if they weren’t needed for some lineout work and if we were going for a six-two split off the bench we knew Justin could cover the full backs. . I have always proposed a contingency to know if we had a yellow or a red card; if we lost a back and needed someone in defensive or offensive situations, like out of scrum, we would put Justin in the back and play with seven forwards; then we had a good five before.
“He always produces great, high-impact moments – on offense and defense. Then there’s his leadership now, his set piece, he can kick the ball … He’s one of the best players I’ve ever worked with.
Dan Lydiate has played both with and against Tipuric over the past decade
“I first remember Justin from World Cup training camp in Wales in 2011. He was always killing fitness, he was fitter than anyone. I remember thinking: “Jesus, he has a hell of a motor”. He’s just a naturally fit guy; when he runs it seems effortless as the rest of us, the attackers, hang around.
“I have a history of playing against him. As we were setting up a scrum, we were chatting, “Alright”, “Alright Lyds, how are you?” Then the next minute, he comes flying to the side of the scrum and lifts me over. I was packing! It is the ultimate competitor.
“He’s one of those boring guys that’s good at everything. He’s technically gifted – he was a goalie as a kid, so his hand-eye coordination is good and he’s one of the best passer on the team. People don’t recognize him how good he is in the contact zone. He doesn’t look like a huge guy, but that’s how strong he is and the job he does. Especially in recent years with Wales, it’s an invisible job.
“He is at ease in wide canals and his decision-making skills are excellent; it will fix the player and give someone else space to go around. He has a good kicking game and as a striker he is the best jumper I know. I would probably go so far as to say he’s the best player I’ve ever played with.
“He’s a really tough guy and he’s a good leader too, especially over the last two years at the Ospreys and he’s been fortunate enough to be Wales captain on occasion. He’s a pretty calming influence and he obviously knows his rugby.
“He has 80 caps and has been on two Lions tours, but he’s so humble. He’s happy to go about his business, letting his performance on the pitch speak for him. He’s a big family man, a really private guy – he doesn’t have social media – but he’ll always be there for you. I can’t speak loud enough about the guy.
This article originally appeared in the April 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.