Ulster running out of time after Nakarawa deal falls through

Province pull out of deal for 33-year-old; Irish squad named for Under-20 Six Nations

The timing of Ulster's decision to call off their proposed signing of Leone Nakarawa is likely to make it difficult for the province to find a replacement, with most contractual negotiations having been completed for the 2021-22 season.

The news that Ulster will not, after all, be signing the Fijian forward 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.

The 33-year-old has not been able to re-scale the heights of his first three year spell at Scotstoun nor his three seasons with Racing 92, during which his outrageous offloading skills earned him the nickname Mr Octopussy.

Named European Player of the Year at the end of his second season with the Parisian club, Nakarawa scored 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 England 2015. 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 before agreeing to extend his stay at the club in the summer of that year.

After flying to Fiji when lockdown arrived. He was late returning when rugby resumed and his knee problems have restricted him to just three starts in eight appearances totalling 311 minutes for the Warriors this season.

A brief Ulster statement confirmed 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.”

By contrast, Connacht were able to announce the signing of the versatile and Irish-qualified 20-year-old South African back Shayne Bolton, hailing the player as "one of the brightest young prospects in South African rugby".

Bolton can play in the centre or back three, and has most recently impressed in the Varsity Cup with the University of Free State [UFS]Shimlas. He has also caught the eye in the Under-21 SA Championship, and been part of the Cheetahs’ recent training squad. Described as a powerful and skilful ball carrier, Bolton’s grandmother is from Dublin.

"He has been turning heads in South Africa with his recent performances and, while he's still only 20-years of age, he has all the attributes to become a top class professional player," said Andy Friend.

With Denis Buckley's long-term knee injury sidelining him well into next year, Connacht are also trying to sign the loosehead James Cronin, whom Munster decided to release at the end of the season. But, on foot of this development, Munster are now apparently trying to find the money to match Connacht's offer.

Ulster could also be interested in a short-term deal given Jack McGrath is not expected to return from his hip operation until November but France, where at least two clubs are coveting the 30-year-old prop, could also end up as his next port of call.

The Munster academy backrower Alex Kendellen has been named captain of the 34-man Ireland Under-20 squad for the upcoming 2021 Six Nations in Cardiff by the newly installed head coach Richie Murphy.

The 20-year-old from Cork, a product of PBC and UCC, has represented Ireland at schools and 7s, and made his Munster debut as a first-half replacement in their 28-10 win over the Scarlets last March.

Leinster's Jamie Osborne, Alex Soroka, and Tim Corkery, as well as Ulster's Nathan Doak, have also already debuted for their province and are in the squad

In what must have been an especially difficult selection process given the lack of underage and club rugby over the last 15 months with only a handful of provincial A games for evidence, the squad features a dozen players from Leinster, 10 from Ulster, six from Connacht and four from Munster as well as the Nottingham-based prop Liam Bishop and the Bristol back three player Chay Mullins.

Ireland are on a sequence of eight wins in this competition, having been denied consecutive titles and a shot at back-to-back Grand Slams when their concluding games at home to Italy and away to France were cancelled last March.

However this is very much a new page given Soroka is the only starter from the barnstorming 39-21 win over England at Franklin's Gardens last February, when Ben Murphy and Corkery were the back-up halfbacks.

The tournament is being held in its entirety at Cardiff Arms Park and after their opener against Scotland on Saturday June 19th (Kick-off 2pm), Ireland face Wales on Friday, June 25th (Kick-off 8pm), England on Thursday, July 1st (Kick-off 8pm), Italy on Wednesday, July 7th (Kick-off 2pm) and finally France on Thursday, July 13th (Kick-off 4.45pm).

All of Ireland's games will be broadcast on RTÉ.

Ireland Squad for 2021 Under-20 Six Nations:

Forwards: George Saunderson (Sullivan Upper School/Queen's University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Jack Boyle (St Michael's College/UCD RFC/Leinster), Temi Asewunmi Lasisi (CBS Enniscorthy/Lansdowne FC/Leinster), Mark Donnelly (CBC Cork/Garryowen RFC/Munster), Eoin de Buitléar (Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiáran/An Ghaeltacht/Corinthians RFC/Connacht), Lee Barron (St Michael's College/Dublin University FC/Leinster), Ronan Loughnane (Cistercian College Roscrea/UCD RFC/Leinster), Sam Illo (Wesley College/Old Wesley RFC/Leinster), Darragh Murray (Colaiste Chiaran/Buccaneers RFC/Connacht), Harry Sheridan (Sullivan Upper School/Dublin University FC/Ulster), Mark Morrisey (Blackrock College/UCD RFC/Leinster), Alex Soroka (Belvedere College/Clontarf RFC/Leinster), Oisin McCormack (Garbally College/Buccaneers RFC/Connacht), Alex Kendellen (PBC Cork/UCC RFC/Munster)(Captain), Reuben Crothers (Wallace High School/Ballynahinch RFC/Ulster), Donnacha Byrne (Summerhill College/Sligo RFC/Connacht), Jack Kelleher (PBC Cork/UCC RFC/Munster), Daniel Okeke (Ard Scoil Ris/Shannon RFC/Munster), Liam Bishop (Trent College/Nottingham University/IQ Rugby).

Backs: Conor McKee (Sullivan Upper School/Queen's University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Nathan Doak (Wallace High School/Banbridge RFC/Ulster), Ben Murphy (Presentation College Bray/Old Wesley RFC/Leinster), Tim Corkery (Kilkenny College/UCD RFC/Leinster), James Humphreys (Dean Close School/Queen's University Belfast RFC/Ulster), Cathal Forde (Colaiste Iognaid/Corinthians RFC/Connacht), Ben Carson (Wallace High School/Banbridge RFC/Ulster), Shane Jennings (Garbally College/Buccaneers RFC/Connacht), Ben Moxham (Larne High School/Ballymena RFC/Ulster)

Conor Rankin (Campbell College Belfast/Ballynahinch RFC/Ulster), Chay Mullins (SGC Filton/Bristol Bears/IQ Rugby), Josh O’Connor (St Peter’s College/UCD RFC/Leinster), Jamie Osborne (Naas CBS/Naas RFC/Leinster), Chris Cosgrave (St Michael’s College/UCD RFC/Leinster), Jude Postlethwaite (RBAI/Banbridge RFC/Ulster).

Ireland U20 Six Nations Fixtures 2021:

(All games at Cardiff Arms Park)

* Scotland v Ireland, Saturday June 19th, 2pm

* Wales v Ireland, Friday June 25th, 8pm

* Ireland v England, Thursday July 1st, 8pm

* Italy v Ireland, Wednesday July 7th, 2pm

* Ireland v France, Tuesday July 13, 4.45pm.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times