Is Warriors second-row Brian Alainu’uese about to join Toulon?

Stuart Hogg's early return from South Africa is for precautionary scans

Brian Alainu'uese
Brian Alainu'uese [the oldest looking 24-year-old on the planet] is in Toulon at the moment discussing a possible move to the French giants ***Image: Fotosport/David Gibson***

IF the Glasgow Warriors management team were hoping that their fortnight in South Africa to play Toyota Cheetahs last Saturday, followed by the Southern Kings this coming Saturday, would put some distance between the squad and the trials and tribulations of the modern professional game, then they have been left disappointed.

One key player in Zander Fagerson has picked up an ankle injury which is set to side-line him for ‘months rather than weeks’.

Another in Stuart Hogg has failed to recover from an injury sustained before the squad left Scotland and has now returned home for exploratory scans to ascertain the seriousness of the situation.

And it has now emerged that a third leading light in Brian Alainu’uese, who didn’t make the trip due to a long-standing injury issue which has limited him to just two starts and four bench appearances since signing a two-year contract with the club in April 2017, is in Toulon discussing a potential switch to the French giants.

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Toulon’s outspoken owner Mourad Boudjellal announced after last weekend’s 37-10 defeat to Stage Francais that he was going to recruit as many as five players to reinvigorate his flagging team, and Alainu’uese appears to be his first target. It has been reportred that the 24-year-old will be tested during this week and the technical staff will then make the decision on whether or not to offer a contract.

Warriors assistant coach Kenny Murray was keen to play down the story during yesterday’s conference call from Cape Town.

“He is not on trial [at Toulon]. He is injured at the moment and has not played for a while. He is out of contract next season but as far as we are concerned, at the moment, he is in contract with the club this season,” said Murray.

“He will be looking at different options but he is certainly not able to run about or play on trial. We are still in discussion with him. We cannot comment further.

“He’s having a discussion [in Toulon] – having a chat – but that is the extent of it. There was no training or anything like that involved in it.”

Warriors fans will be hoping that the prospect of playing for Scotland will be a factor in any decision Alainu’uese makes. The New Zealand-born second-row, who represented Samoa at Under-20 level, will qualify to wear the thistle through residency if he sticks around until next October.

Any move before his contract runs out in the summer would inevitably require some sort of transfer fee to be paid by the French side, but Boudjellal and Toulon have deep pockets which they will happily dip into if they decide that they have found the right man to toughen up the engine-room of their scrum.

“The main priority at the moment is to get him back on the pitch,” said Murray, clearly keen to draw a line under the speculation. “He’s been out for a lengthy period of time which is obviously difficult for us with Tim Swinson and Kiran McDonald also injured – that has put us under a fair amount of pressure – but he’s started training. We are not able to give an exact date of when we think he will be back playing, but we hope it will be weeks rather than months.”

The club’s current second-row options consist of Scotland star Jonny Gray, 21-year-old rising star Scott Cummings, USA internationalist Greg Peterson, flanker-cum-lock Rob Harley and Andrew Davidson, who is on loan from Newcastle Falcons (and played for Ayr on Saturday having not travelled to South Africa with the squad).

Hogg’s return home

Meanwhile, Murray suggested that Hogg’s early return to Scotland with an ankle problem is primarily a precautionary measure at this stage.

“He got that injury really early on in the Munster game and we thought that in just a week or so he would be able to recover from it, but it is still giving him a few problems. It is better he goes back and gets it scanned,” explained the coach.

“He will get a scan today and we will get the results pretty soon and [find out] if anything else is needed or if there is any treatment required.”

Murray insisted that there was no regrets about Hogg playing on during the Munster game despite picking up the injury inside the first ten minutes.

“At the end of the day, it was an innocuous thing,” he said. “It was maybe a bit sore early on but we got medical treatment at the time. As far as we were concerned, it was good to continue and play. It was one of those ones that was fine during the game but after it he felt a bit pain.

“It might be nothing wrong, but, for us and Scotland, we want it scanned quickly.”

Fagerson faces months out

There is no such rush for Fagerson to return to Scotland, having received all the treatment he needs in the aftermath of fracturing his ankle during Saturday evening’s victory over the Cheetahs.

“It was a good win at the weekend but having a player like that injured took the gloss off it a fair bit,” said Murray. “He has a lower leg fracture – on the ankle – so he is arriving in Cape Town as we speak, and he’ll be joining back up with the squad today to stay with us until we fly home after the Kings game.

“He’s had excellent medical care in South Africa and when he gets back home he will go for further scans with the appropriate medical staff, and that will let us know the extent of how long he is going to be out for. We can’t put a time on it at the moment, but it is likely to be months rather than weeks – we’ll have to see what the medics say back in Scotland.”

Murray added that there are no other major injury concerns, although Oli Kebble has sat out training on Monday and Tuesday as he goes through the return-to-play protocol for concussion.

Saracens loom over the horizon

With three wins from three outings so far in the PRO14 this season, plus two bonus points, it has been a pretty positive start to the campaign, and Warriors have every right to expect another triumvirate of successes against the Kings on Saturday, followed by the Dragons and Zebre, both at home. But beyond that there is a date with destiny, when English giants Saracens will rock up at Scotstoun on the opening weekend of the Champions Cup [Sunday 14th October].

Murray says the squad are very aware that there is still a lot to work on, and big improvements which must be made – with particular reference to the 60 points which have been conceded in three games so far.

“Defensively we’ve not started as well as we did last year,” he acknowledged. “I think some of the tries at the weekend were a bit soft – turnover tries which we knew was a big part of their game – although in the second half we showed that when we stick to our systems and keep hold of the ball we’re really hard to break down.

The Munster game was a highlight for us, we only conceded one try and defended really well, so we just need to tighten up on turnover defence. Teams like the Cheetahs really punish you there if you’re not sharp enough so that was a good lesson. We showed against Munster when we defend and hold on to the ball we’re difficult to beat. We’ll continue to ramp that up going into the Saracens game.”

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About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.