LEONE NAKARAWA’S delayed return to Scotland after spending lockdown in his native Fiji, and the two-week self-isolation period he must now go through before he can start training with his club-mates, means it is likely that Glasgow Warriors may not get a chance to field the 32-year-old until mid-December.
“He has been a long time away and he won’t be able to train with us before we play our second game [of the 2020-21 PRO14 season] against the Scarlets on 11th October,” said head coach Danny Wilson. “Then we have a weekend off before they go into camp with Fiji, so it’s not the best.”
Fiji are one of the guest sides in this Autumn’s one-off Nations Cup competition which has been organised to try and generate some much-needed revenue for the international game after nearly six months of inactivity. The Pacific Islanders will play France on 15th November, Italy on 21st November, Scotland on 28th November and then a play-off against yet to be confirmed opposition on the 5th December, so Warriors fans may have to wait until the first round of European matches on the weekend 11th to 13th December before they see Nakarawa in action.
“That is what it is looking like,” conceded Wilson. “You never know what Fiji will say but I would imagine they would want him straight into their camp. It is definitely a blow, no doubt about that. Timing has not been great on many fronts there.”
Wilson initially told the press that he was expecting Nakarawa back in Scotland by the end of August, but that timeframe was pushed back due to a family bereavement and he only touched down in Scotland last Friday.
The utility-forward joined Warriors on a short-term deal in January, and then signed a season-long contract extension in June, after he was sacked by Racing 92 for going AWOL in Fiji following the 2019 Rugby World Cup. While Wilson was clearly relieved that Nakarawa has not performed another disappearing act here, it is far from ideal that one of the team’s marquee names is likely to miss almost all of the first two months of the season.
“There is a bit of frustration and disappointment there, but at the same time the circumstances are understandable and these things can’t be helped,” added Wilson. “First and foremost is that we support him through a tough period. Now he is back he is looking to focus on rugby.
“We can’t properly have a conversation with him at the moment. It is a case of getting him back in daily contact with myself and the conditioners. He is keen to get back into training and back onto a rugby field – there is no question about that – and Fiji and Glasgow are keen for him to do so.”
Wilson stressed that even with Nakarawa unavailable, his team is well-stocked with second-row options at the moment, but he also acknowledged that pressure could build during November depending on international call-ups.
“We’ve got five fit second-rows in Kiran MacDonald, Richie Gray, Scott Cummings, Rob Harley and young Hamish Bain, so we’ve actually, touch wood, got a full selection there,” said Wilson. “You would have seen how well Rob Harley played in that second game against Edinburgh last month, he was outstanding, especially when you go back and look over the footage to see the important nature of the nuts and bolts things he does. He’s really put his hand up which is great because we need depth in that position. We know Scott Cummings as a minimum will be going off to Scotland in a couple of weeks.”
Warriors get their 2020-21 PRO14 season underway on Saturday with a tricky trip to Galway to take on Connacht.
“I think the first thing you need to be ready for over there is the weather conditions,” said Wilson. “Whether that’s 40mph wind, or no wind, or pouring rain or bright sun. Every time you go to Connacht is a different weather day, and it’s quite an open pitch so does get hit by the conditions.
“They’re quite an expansive team,” he continued. “They’ve had mixed fortunes in their two games [since the end of lockdown]. They played well and beat Ulster well in that first game. The two red cards made the Munster game quite difficult to analyse because you’re watching them for the majority with 13 men. They’re a good side, well coached but as much as you’re dealing with the opposition, you’re also dealing with the conditions you face on the day.”
According to Wilson, the key to success in Galway – as it will be throughout the season – is for the team to be more ruthless when it comes to depriving the opposition of opportunities to stay in the game.
“At times it’s about being a bit more pragmatic, ensuring we get set-piece control and dominance where we can, and don’t allow own-goals like being turned over,” he explained. “I thought we did that better in the second game against Edinburgh last month.
“We scored a really good try from our 22 so we know we can play at high speed, but we’ve got to learn when not to as well. The pleasing part for me was that we limited Edinburgh to three points in that match. It’s something we’ve got to get better at doing more often. If we score three or four tries, we should be winning games of rugby. We’re still working on that in game management but I think we’re improving.”