Glasgow Warriors’ recent success has certainly raised the profile of the oval ball game in Scotland’s football-obsessed largest city but it remains the case that many of the team’s stars still enjoy an element of anonymity not afforded to their soccer counterparts.
When it comes to recognisability, 6ft 8in, 21-stone lock forward Brian Alainu’uese would certainly stand out strolling down Buchanan Street and the man who has become a firm fans’ favourite at Scotstoun admits that he does get attention from the locals.
“They think I play basketball, so I just go for that and say ‘Yeah, I play basketball’,” revealed Alainu’uese with a broad grin yesterday as he faced the media for the first time since he agreed a new two-year contract last week.
Born and raised in New Zealand with Samoan heritage, the 23-year-old colossus said it was an easy decision to extend his stay after arriving in Glasgow on a short-term deal earlier in the season and that, after a few initial culture shocks, says he is settling into his new home.
“There’s a lot of people in the city. Like they say, ‘People make Glasgow’, and they definitely do. I enjoy the city. It’s nice,” said Alainu’uese.
The new contract raises the possibility that he could become eligible to play for Scotland on residency grounds at some stage and, although it is not something at the forefront of his mind, it is a prospect he has entertained.
It is likely that the residency rule will be extended from three to five years but the new regulations are expected to come into effect after the 2019 World Cup and not affect contracts signed before the change. Alainu’uese represented Samoa in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup, when he went head to head with his Glasgow co-captain Jonny Gray in both the pool and play-off stages and he said: “It [playing for Scotland at some point] has crossed my mind. You never know. I might.”
Alainu’uese, who has made 16 appearances this term, has fallen foul of the officials in the Guinness Pro12 a couple of times but the fans have taken him to their hearts and recently voted him Warrior of the Month. “I really enjoy the company of the boys and the fans, and that just made it an easier decision for me to stay here,” he said. “I come from a sunny place, big family [he is one of 15 siblings], and it was a big move for me. I came over here and I was all alone, by myself, and like I said the boys in the team made me feel very welcome.”
The former Waikato player is looking forward to being re-united with Chiefs coach Dave Rennie when he takes the Glasgow reins in the summer. “He’s a good coach. He’s won two Super Rugby titles, so that’s good,” said Alainu’uese, who made two appearances for the Chiefs first team under Rennie before making the move north. “More importantly, he’s a good man as well. I think he likes the culture and the environment of the team, and he makes teams play better. I think he’ll bring more of a culture. Glasgow’s already a culture team, but he’ll bring his own kind of style into the team and I think you’ll see it out on the pitch, the changes he’ll make.
“I trained for a couple of months as injury cover and managed to play two games for the Chiefs. I learned a lot from those two games and all the training. Back at the Chiefs we had a strong local culture. We were well connected with the community. It’s similar at the Warriors, although the style is different. The weather is different. The northern hemisphere is very strong on the set piece – scrums, lineouts – and they are very technical around that kind of stuff. In the southern hemisphere they like to play wide to wide and throw the ball around. Though that is similar to the Warriors.”
Alainu’uese has given his congratulations to the two club-mates who were selected for the British and Irish Lions last week and he said he is hoping to see Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour in action when he is back for holidays once the season is over.
Glasgow still have a remote mathematical chance of making the Pro12 play-offs but it is more likely that this Friday’s trip to Leinster and the visit of Edinburgh on 6 May will be their last two games.
“Everyone has been very happy for both Stuart and Tommy,” said Alainu’uese. “I hope I can go and watch them back home. I think the Lions have a chance.
“Since I have been here I have seen the big players in the UK and I think they will have a good shot.”