Fiji’s 20-stone winger Nadolo will test inexperienced Irish backline
Hulking back will be sticking to his tried and tested method: running straight into contact
Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo in action for Montpellier against Leinster. “Over the years I just worked on my power. I’ve finally discovered I’m a big boy.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
When the big wheel turns, it is hard to stop. Nemani Nadolo is the paddleboat steamer in Montpellier. He is boyish and open, a cartoon-sized winger, who could kindly scoop up a playpen of toddlers in the buckets of his hands.
But when Nadolo’s big wheels turn on the pitch, when his mass hits a critical speed and the opposition festoon him with flying bodies, he keeps grinding forward.
Nadolo is the 6ft 5in instantly recognisable Fijian left wing. Probably less gas than Jonah Lomu, his frame and hulking 20 stone are impressive enough to have come from the pages of a Marvel comic. But Lomu is the player with whom he is constantly compared.
“Yeah, I guess it’s the fear of a big winger,” he says. “You are always going to be compared to the big fella rest his soul. If I just keep worrying about being Nemani Nadolo and just being me I think everything will be fine.”
Nadolo played against the winning Leinster team in the first round of this season’s European Champions Cup and scored two tries. Irish right wing Darren Sweetnam will have watched Montpellier. He will know Nadolo’s running and offloading strength just as Nadolo does. There is not one rugby player who doesn’t.
‘Not the lightest’
But his kind of might doesn’t come around too often and while an inexperienced backline like Ireland know to go low in the tackle or stop the possession at source, Fiji will work to put the ball in his hands.
“I’m not the lightest of wingers,” he says. “Over the years I just worked on my power. I’ve finally discovered I’m a big boy. I’m never going to beat guys for pace.
“My way through is power so I’ve worked on that, just getting confidence and running over...into contact. You know it doesn’t change this week.”
There is an irony in Nadolo’s selection with Sweetnam starting his first Test match on the right. The Fijian was introduced to Gaelic Games by former hurler and Irish scrumhalf Tomas O’Leary and from that came a lasting interest. Nadolo followed the championship from France and is aware Sweetnam was a former Cork hurler.
“Tomas exposed me to a few of your sports over here, hurling and GAA,” he says. “I fell in love with it and I followed it up until Dublin won. Third year in a row for them good luck. Happy days.”
It will be his first time playing against Ireland as it will be for most if not all of the team. The last meeting was eight years ago in 2009 at the RDS, where Johnny Sexton made his Irish debut with five conversions and two penalties.
The opportunity to play this time was, says Nadolo, always on his to-do list. He is hopeful too of breaking Fiji’s string of defeats in 1995, 2002 and 2009.
“Just under four weeks ago I was here playing against Leinster for my club Montpellier. Wasn’t the best result,” he says.
“Just saw the [Irish] team and a few of the Leinster boys are in there. They bring a lot of pace, a lot of energy, a lot of physicality, especially the speed. I was just telling the boys this week to expect a ferocious level of attack.
“I’m really pumped. That result against Italy [last week] wasn’t the result we wanted. I was disappointed I missed out on selection. But to get the opportunity to play against the Irish is always something I’ve wanted. It’s something on my bucket list and I get the chance this weekend.”
We are all waiting. The wheel is beginning to turn.