LEONE NAKARAWA has not yet returned from his lockdown sabbatical in Fiji to re-join the Glasgow Warriors squad ahead of the start of their 2020-21 season, which kicks off next weekend.
The 32-year-old flew to his homeland at the start of lockdown and was still there when his team played the final two matches of their 2019-20 season against Edinburgh last month because he was on paternity leave, however head coach Danny Wilson stated at that time that he expected the player to be back in Scotland by the end of August.
Now assistant coach Kenny Murray has revealed that Nakarawa’s return has been delayed because of a family bereavement, meaning that he will miss the start of the 2020-21 season which kicks off next weekend – and it now looks like a race against time for the second-row to feature at all for Warriors before mid-December given the likelihood that he will be selected for Fiji’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign.
“He’s definitely coming back,” insisted Murray. “We expect him to be here in the next 10 to 14 days. The issue was initially with Covid, and he’s also had a bereavement in his family, so it has been a tough time for him. But he is going to be coming back.
“He’s not going to play that first game [against Connacht away on 3rd October], and possibly the Scarlets game [on 11th October] depending on isolation and stuff like that as well,” Wilson added, before acknowledging that he is one of Warriors’ international contingent who will be absent throughout November and the first week of December on Nations Cup duty.
“There’s a good chance he’ll be selected in that Fiji squad, that’s a probability rather than a possibility, we just need to deal with that,” he said. “That’s one of the challenges this season will bring us.”
Nakarawa re-joined Warriors initially on a short-term deal in January – and then signed a year-long agreement with the club in June – after his Racing 92 contract was terminated because he went AWOL in Fiji following the conclusion of the 2019 World Cup.
But Murray insisted that Warriors are comfortable that history is not in the process of repeating itself.
“We’ve been communicating with him regularly,” said Murray. “Obviously, Danny spoke to him and he’s got really good friendships with a few of the players, particularly Ryan Wilson, who has been speaking to him daily. So, there’s never really an issue regarding where he is and what he’s doing, there has just been a few difficulties around him managing to get back because of personal circumstances.
“It is obviously difficult, isn’t it? He’s had a few tough things to deal with back home – the Covid initially, then this bereavement, and a new baby as well – so there has been a whole host of things that have been difficult for him.
“But, listen, he’s coming back and he’ll be on the pitch, hopefully soon, to play. I suppose it is never ideal but that’s where we are at the moment.”
Clarity of purpose
Despite the ongoing absence of one of the team’s most experienced, decorated and influential players, Murray insisted that things are shaping up nicely under new head coach Wilson ahead of the start of the new season.
“At the start, when he came in for the build-up to those Edinburgh games, he was clear about what he was looking for in terms of game-plan and his expectations, and this mini pre-season has given us an opportunity to reinforce a lot of those messages,” explained Murray.
“We’re not going to be playing any outside opposition [before the Connacht game]. It is just too difficult in the current situation, but we have enough players at the moment for us to do 15 on 15 here, so we have been doing specific contact sessions going bone-on-bone … full bhoona.
“We did a bit of that last week and we’ve got another session tomorrow, and that has been great for trying to replicate that game environment and physicality.”
Dealing with fixture congestion
The fixture list for the first eight rounds of the coming PRO14 campaign was announced yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon with Warriors matches being scattered between Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, meaning that they will only have one week with a regulation seven-day turnaround, which means it is going to be very hard to establish a consistent match-week routine.
“It’s a bit a different season this year and it’s going to be tough,” conceded Murray. “We’ve already sat down to talk about how weeks will look like and there’s so many more things to think about now. We now have to get everyone tested at the start of the week and then wait for those results to come back before you can start training, that’s an issue we didn’t have before.
“There’s a whole host of things to take into account. TV are playing a big role in determining when we play and quite rightly so because we need TV to support rugby, so we have to go with it. It will be challenging in terms of travel, something different for us to deal with. But we need to be flexible. It’s a different way of working but an essential way of working.”
With their top players away for six international matches instead of the usual three or four this Autumn, the depth of the Warriors squad is going to be tested like never before, which is hardly ideal when a recruitment freeze is in place, but Murray stressed that the players and coaches are ready for whatever comes down the track.
“I think it was season before last we got 20 points during the international windows which was excellent – it showed how well the [fringe] guys had played,” he pointed out. “We’ll get guys back from Scotland as well, although that might be difficult when we play Mondays [because it eats into the build-up to the next international match].
“We just need to trust the guys we’ve got who will be playing here. We’ve got young guys coming through like Jamie Dobie, Stafford McDowall, Robbie Nairn and guys like that, and we need to trust them and help them perform during the windows. You can’t sit and complain about, it, you’ve got to get on and do the best you can.”