By Thomas Larroquette
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The career ofAlex Tulou crossed France from East to West. Through Bourgoin, Montpellier, Castres, Lyons and Daxthe former third center line at 50 tries in Top 14 surrendered to Rugby News like never before. Arrived in a funny way in Bourgoin, impressed by Joshua Tuisova and left from Montpellier after a bad relationship with Jack White (ex-Springbok coach), the native of American Samoa opens the memory box. It’s worth the detour.
News: Alex, your career in New Zealand is totally atypical and you were not destined to be a rugby player…
Alex Tulou: In effect. I joined the police at 18. I didn’t want to be a rugby player, I wanted to be a profiler. While I was in police academy, I was drafted by the Province of Hurricanes, the Wellington Lions. This is where I started high level rugby. I looked at psychology and criminology. Yet it was my dream to be a profiler. But I finally chose the career of rugby player. I spent two years in Wellington and then moved to Taranaki. I played for the New Zealand team at 7, I was under contract with the NZRU, the federation in order to be selected with the All Blacks. I then made a financial decision. I come from a middle class family so that’s why I decided to come to France.
Before arriving in Bourgoin, you were contacted by other French clubs. Is that right?
TO : Yes. At first, it was Montauban. I signed there in 2009, and when I got there they went downhill. I watched the last match in the Top 14 between Montauban and Bayonne (22-8 victory). Thanks to this match, Montauban should stay in the Top 14. We were happy. The next day, the club announced that it was going down to Federal 1 because it no longer had the financial means. I looked for another club after that. I spent a week with Section Paloise, in Pro D2, and then with Brive where I took all the tests. But in the end, they asked me if I could play center to replace Riki Flutey. So I said no, I was a little offended (laughs). It was not my post.
How did you arrive in Bourgoin?
TO : A friend of mine called me right after the Brive episode. He was playing in Bourgoin. His name is Tone Kopelaini (hooker). He played in Wellington with me. He said to me: “Yeah, come to my club, it’s good, we enjoy ourselves, it’s a great club, we have fun”. Except that I didn’t take into account the time he called me. I didn’t realize that he called me at 11:30 p.m. in the evening and that he was drunk… When I went there, I didn’t see him right away, but I made the decision to play in Bourgoin and therefore to stay in the Top 14. So I signed and when I saw him, he said to me: “Oh damn sorry, in fact we lose all the matches and I think we are going to go down… I was drunk when I told you that” (Laughs). But, too late, I had signed. Despite everything, I saw that it was a great club with many very good players, passed by the France team. I had a good time there for four months.
You didn’t finish the season with Bourgoin in 2011 because you signed with Montpellier, a club where you ended up staying for five years…
TO : After a Bourgoin-Montpellier match when I was playing with the CSBJ, Fabien Galthié (then coach of the MHR) came to see me and said: “you are coming with me to Montpellier!”. This is where I made my decision. Two days later, I was in Montpellier, it was fast. I stayed there for five years. I had signed three more years, but it was complicated with Jake White. When he arrived, I had to leave. I did not leave on my own. I was very well and I spent incredible moments.
Your relationship with Montpellier therefore ended badly. That’s when Castres comes to pick you up.
TO : Christophe Urios, Frédéric Charrier and Joe El Abd, who just managed to take the dreams of Castres, came to pick me up in Montpellier. We thought and they wanted me to come. I signed there for five years and we were champions in 2018. There too, I was supposed to stay a little longer, but I decided to leave because I had complications.
In Lyon, I apologized to the players. I was not in depression but I had a mental block…
Tell us about your visit to Lyon.
TO : I went to Lyon where Pierre Mignoni called me. I played there for a year. Except that I started to lose my flame a little… Mentally, I was not very well, I didn’t really want to leave Castres at the base. When I was at Lyon, I didn’t really get back to my best level, because it wasn’t in my head. I apologized to the players because I wanted to do more and I could have. Sometimes, even at this level, we go through a bad period. I am not looking for excuses, but I was not at the level in Lyon. I’ve been disappointed. This club everything to succeed, but psychologically I was not there. I was not in depression, but I really had a mental block. I left the club and went to Dax, in National, to pass my coaching diploma and to be a player-coach for the first season.
Have you ever been impressed by a particular player?
TO : I have never seen a player like Josua Tuisova. I played with and against him. He and I had a “gentleman agreement” (kind of moral contract between men). That is to say, when you play against good friends, you don’t go 100%. It’s often like that among Islanders. It is our culture. He impressed me so much… He’s a beast, a force of nature. There are a lot of guys who have this profile in the islands, but someone like him, I’ve never seen that. It’s concrete! You should know that he is a guy who does not speak, who is very discreet. When he talks to you, he loves you. We talked a lot at the end.
At practices with the Hurricanes, I was smashing the next guy but I was taking it slow with Victor Vito. One day, the coach called us into his office!
In your entire career, what has been your best moment?
TO : I think it was when I scored three tries against Jake White’s Montpellier in 2015 with Castres. Why ? Because with my wife, we hoped for a long time to have a child but we couldn’t. We changed doctors several times and then we found a good gynecologist in Montpellier who followed us and helped us. The day of the match, in the morning, I was at a meeting of the bank, and he called me: “It’s good we did it! “. I say to myself but what is he talking about? And he told me that my wife, Kyla, was pregnant. There, I didn’t even come back to the meeting (Laughs). I took the car and went home. I called my wife, we were very moved. Then, in the afternoon, I came back with the group. We were supposed to play in the evening at 9 p.m. I had a lot of emotion and that motivated me even more.
do you mention the funniest anecdote of your career?
TO : The anecdote when I arrive in Bourgoin was not bad! (Laughs). There is another. With Victor Vito, we are very good friends. At the Hurricanes, we played together, but in training we didn’t get into it too much… And that, the coach at the time Jamie Joseph had noticed! He had seen that I was smashing the guy next door, but when Victor was in front, I was doing it slowly and vice versa. After a workout, the coach called us into his office and said, “Do you take me for a fool? You smash others, but when it’s between yourselves, you suffer or pretend. Stop doing that, you’re not friends on the pitch!” So we avoided each other, when he went one way, I went the other (Laughs). With Ma’a Nonu the same, he put his finger in my nose, and I pulled his dreadlocks! We often did little stupid things…
How would you describe your relationship with France?
TO : France has become my home. When I’m in New Zealand, I say I’m going home. And when I say that, I’m talking about France, not the other way around! Here, we really are at home. I grew up here. I arrived at 22 and now I’m 35… Finally, I have two chances of feeling world champion: both if New Zealand wins or if it’s the French team ! (Laughs)
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