Leinster sign Crusaders tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa
29-year-old Samoan frontrow is a three-time Super Rugby champion
Michael Alaalatoa of the Crusaders on the charge during the round four Super Rugby Aotearoa match against the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park in Auckland on March 21st. Photograph: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
Leinster have significantly bolstered their frontrow options by signing the 29-year-old Samoan World Cup tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa from the all-conquering Crusaders.
Alaalatoa has been a three-time Super Rugby champion with the Canterbury-based franchise, appearing off the bench in all three finals from 2017 to 2019. Since the departure of two-time World Cup-winner Owen Franks to Northampton, Alaalatoa has established himself as the Crusaders first-choice tighthead in the last two seasons, as they won the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa last year and lead the standings again this season.
Speaking to leinsterrugby.ie, Alaalatoa said: “It is a huge honour to be given the opportunity to join Leinster Rugby.
“They have enjoyed a lot of success for a long time and have produced a lot of Irish internationals which speaks highly of their rugby programme and team culture.
“It is something that I am really excited about being a part of and I am looking forward to starting a new adventure in Dublin with my family.”
Discussing his signing, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said: “We are very excited by Michael’s arrival in the coming months. He is a player with top quality Super Rugby and international experience and he is hungry for further success and to play a part in building on the work that is already underway here.
“We have a group of younger props who will only benefit from his experience and we believe the wider group will also learn a lot from Michael and his rugby knowledge from playing with the Crusaders in particular.
“We look forward to welcoming him and his family to the club later this summer.”
The signing of such a well-regarded tighthead is a further indication that Michael Bent is in his last campaign with Leinster and that Andrew Porter is being moved back to loosehead, where he played all his formative rugby until switching to tighthead just under four years ago.
In any event, with three or four props on duty with Ireland, Alaalatoa will provide valuable cover, all the more so considering Bent has played 155 matches for Leinster over the last nine seasons.
Alaalatoa, whose father Vili packed down at tighthead for Samoa in the 1991 World Cup, was born and reared in Sydney where he shone at rugby in school and club level, breaking into the Waratahs squad for two seasons before moving to New Zealand and signing with Manawatu.
His performances in the 2015 ITM Cup earned him a one-year contract with the Crusaders, where he has gone on to play over 70 matches in the ensuing six seasons.
Alaalatoa was a member of the Samoan under-20 side that competed in the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship and made his debut for Samoa in a warm-up match against Australia before being called into the squad for the 2019 World Cup.
He started all four of Samoa’s pool matches, culminating in that 47-5 defeat by Ireland in Fukuoka. He plays the guitar and has a degree in English.
Ironically, Alaalatoa’s understudy has been the Irish-born, former Blackrock College player Oliver Jager, who was given his first start in the Crusaders’ 30-27 win after extra time away to the Hurricanes on Saturday.