Ulster’s Leone Nakarawa move falls through over medical report

33-year-old has struggled for form and fitness after returning to Glasgow in 2020

Leone Nakarawa’s switch to Ulster has fallen through. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

Leone Nakarawa’s switch to Ulster has fallen through. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

 

The news that Ulster will not, after all, be signing the Fijian forward Leone Nakarawa does not come as a huge surprise. There had been much excitement when Ulster first announced that the extravagantly gifted 33-year-old had been signed as a replacement for the departing totem Marcell Coetzee last January, but sadly Nakarawa’s game time and form have dipped considerably since rejoining Glasgow in January 2020.

Nakarawa’s proposed move fell through over a medical report, with a brief Ulster statement saying: “We can today confirm that, on receipt of a detailed medical report following an examination by the club at the weekend, Leone Nakarawa will no longer be joining Ulster Rugby for next season.

“This outcome is disappointing for both the player and Ulster Rugby, however, we will continue to build strongly with our preparations for next season. We wish Leone the very best for the future.”

During his first three0year spell with Glasgow, Nakarawa played 69 times for the Warriors, creating two tries and claiming the man-of-the-match award in the 31-13 victory over Munster in the 2015 Guinness Pro12 final in Belfast.

Equally comfortable in the secondrow and backrow, the Fijian joined Racing 92 at the end of the 2015-16 season and during his three campaigns in Paris his outrageous offloading skills earned him the nickname Mr Octopussy.

He was named European Player of the Year at the end of his second season with the Parisian club, scoring 23 tries in 86 games over his time in France.

Nakarawa has also played for Fiji at three Rugby World Cups, and was named in the official Team of the Tournament at the end of the 2015 tournament. He was also part of the Fiji squad that claimed Rugby 7s gold at Rio 2016, earning what was Fiji’s first-ever Olympic medal.

Having returned to Scotstoun in January last year, Nakarawa marked his first appearance back in a Glasgow jersey with a try in the Champions Cup victory away to Sale Sharks before agreeing to extend his stay at the club in the summer of that year.

Nakarawa played three times before flying to Fiji when lockdown arrived. He was late returning when rugby resumed and was then ruled out with a knee injury and didn’t play again in 2020.

In total, Nakaraw has played just 11 games for the Warriors, including six starts, and this season has managed just 311 minutes for the Scottish region.

After being replaced at half-time in Glasgow’s 40-21 defeat by Leinster at the RDS in late February, their head coach Danny Wilson admitted: “He’s got a lot of work to do, if I’m being brutally honest.”

Nakarawa started just one game subsequently.

It remains to be seen whether or not Ulster will now look to make an alternative signing, although Coetzee’s departure and Nakarawa’s non-arrival have been eased by the form of Nick Timoney this season, which has seen him establish himself as their first-choice number ‘8’ with a string of dynamic performances.

They also have Jordi Murphy, Greg Jones, Sean Reidy, Marcus Rea, Matty Rea and emerging talents like David McCann and Ireland Under-20s’ Reuben Crothers in their ranks.

Nor are they short of options in the secondrow, with captain Iain Henderson, player of the season Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, David O’Connor and the hugely promising Cormac Izuchukwu.

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