Namibia lock Tjiuee Uanivi is understandably keen to play down any comparisons with Leone Nakarawa but believes his game is suited to Glasgow’s high-tempo attacking gameplan.
The Fijian fans’ favourite left Scotstoun at the end of the season bound for Racing 92, leaving a difficult hole for head coach Gregor Townsend to fill. It would be unfair to expect Uanivi to fill those big shoes but his stand-out performances in last year’s Rugby World Cup suggest a player with the potential to get the Scotstoun faithful on their feet.
The 25-year-old, who spent two seasons with French club Brive, had been on the radar of English clubs after a particularly strong showing for Namibia against the All Blacks but opted to join the Sharks at the start of the year and, although he didn’t play any Super Rugby, he did feature in the Currie Cup.
“I got a message from my agent to say that Glasgow were interested. Right away, I was pretty keen to come here and told my agent it is something I would be considering,” said Uanivi yesterday as he settled into his new home for pre-season training.
“I did see them play a couple of times, especially the Pro12 final against Munster. At the time I was in France and I watched it there. They played some pretty good rugby and that was one of the things that attracted me to come here, the rugby they play. So when I heard they were interested I was keen to come.”
Uanivi can cover all three back-row positions but, with Nakarawa gone, it is second row where he sees the bulk of his rugby being played.
“I don’t know him [Nakarawa] but I have seen quite a lot of him and he is a great player. I am flattered to be compared with him. He did really well here,” said the 6ft 7in, 17st 5lb forward.
“I see myself as somebody who likes to play the ball, has a good work rate and I pride myself on my lineout work.”
Moving from a southern hemisphere season straight into a northern one presents its challenges but Uanivi doesn’t feel there will be too much of a culture shock in style due to the Warriors’ philosophy, which played a big part in luring him to Scotland.
“Very much so. The way they believe the game should be played here was something I was very much attracted to,” he said.
“They believe in running the ball which is similar to most other European teams.
“Unlike the English teams – who have lots of kicking and mauls – they play a fast-tempo game and I think that is something I can add value to because it is similar to the strengths in my game.
“My goals are pretty simple, I just want to do the best I can every time I get a chance. I am really looking forward to contributing any way I can.
“I arrived last week, so I have only been settling in since then. I am still finding my feet. I must say it has been good, the boys are good and that there is a great team atmosphere here, which makes it so easy.”
Townsend and assistant Mike Blair also played for Brive, with the latter still at the French club when Uanivi was there. “Yes, when I arrived at Brive as a youngster Mike was there so it was good seeing a familiar face,” said the Namibian.
“I first spoke to [Townsend] back in June. He just told me what they are about here. Watching them play and feeling what he was telling me meant it was somewhere I was really excited to come.
“Now I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Townsend certainly sees Uanivi as a dynamic addition to his pool of locks, which also includes skipper Jonny Gray, USA internationalist Greg Peterson and Scotland Under-20 captain Scott Cummings.
“He has excellent athleticism and his strengths suit the high-tempo rugby we aspire to play,” said Townsend when the signing was announced last month.
“But he will have to work hard every day to win a starting place up against the other second-rows at the club.”
Gray is, of course, the leading light in that position and Uanivi is looking forward to playing with the skipper.
“I have seen him play a couple of times, he is a very good player and for him to be captain of the team that young says a lot about his quality.
“Jonny is a great lock and can bring out the best in me because he really plays well and I will try to push him too.”
That experience of the World Cup, in which Uanivi played in all four of Namibia’s pool games, including that test against the eventual winners at London’s Olympic Stadium, has given him the confidence to take his game to a new level.
“Ask any player about the World Cup, and it is the biggest stage you can play rugby on. I was really excited and really enjoyed it,” he said.
“I hope we qualify for the next one and we are already working towards that. I hope I can do Namibia proud here.”