Rugby: Fijian star Matawalu joins Glasgow
NEW Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend has added to his squad by signing the Fijian scrum-half hailed by Scotland as the star of their South Seas Test encounter last month.
But, ironically, in striving to strengthen Glasgow and the quality of scrum-halves developing in Scotland, in the short-term at least he may exacerbate the incessant scrum-half quandary faced by national coach Andy Robinson.
Nikola Matawalu was playing in only his sixth match for Fiji when he faced Scotland in Lautoka, but he was the orchestrator of the home team’s potent attack and there was relief when he was forced off injured late in the game. Scotland went on to clinch victory with two late scores, but the Scottish players paid tribute to Matawalu at the after-match dinner by nominating him as their man of the match.
His opposite number Mike Blair told The Scotsman: “He is a talented player and will bring something quite different to Glasgow. He made a big impact in that game and was pretty quick around the base, and I don’t imagine him going through a game quietly so he will be an interesting addition.”
With Chris Cusiter expected to be on Scotland duty through November and the Six Nations months, the 23-year-old sevens expert provides depth as the Warriors bid to challenge for the RaboDirect PRO12 title. He also brings new skills and fresh competition to push young Scots Henry Pyrgos and Murray McConnell, as well as Cusiter, in the battle for the No 9 jersey.
Matawalu, who has signed from the Navy Rugby Club in Suva, subject to a work permit and medical, was marked out by Robinson ahead of Scotland’s match in Lautoka and his former assistant Townsend is confident that he will help to raise the bar at the Warriors.
“Niko is a really exciting signing for us,” said the new coach. “He’s quick, strong and one of those players who can do something a bit different – the unexpected. He was hugely impressive in the Test match in Lautoka and really caught the eye and I think the Warriors fans will really take to his style of play. I’m delighted he’s agreed to come to Scotstoun and he’ll provide some serious competition in the back line.
Matawalu might have played at Scotstoun even before many of his new team-mates but the star of last year’s world sevens was dropped from Fiji’s team for the IRB event in Glasgow in May for disciplinary reasons after winning the Player of the Tournament award in Hong Kong.
The Fijian rugby union did not expand on the reason, stating only that leaving him out “was a collective decision made by team management”.
There was no mention made of this by Glasgow yesterday, who quoted Matawalu in a press release as saying: “It’s a very exciting time to be coming to Glasgow and I’m really looking forward to joining up with the rest of the Warriors squad.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a massive change from playing in the southern hemisphere but I’m really looking forward to the challenge. The quality of the squad, a lot of the guys I played against in the Scotland match last month, is really impressive and I hope I can add to that.”
Matawalu is the seventh Warriors signing ahead of the new season, following Scotland wing Sean Lamont, second row Tim Swinson, former All Blacks flanker Angus MacDonald, Tongan No 8 Viliami Ma’afu, Scotland sevens centre Byron McGuigan from South Africa, and teenage Canada cap Taylor Paris. Only Lamont and McGuigan are currently Scottish qualified, but, like Sean Lineen before him, Townsend insisted that bringing in overseas players with proven experience and/or quality at a high level, of the kind he cannot find locally, can help him to drive the Scots in the squad to greater heights.
However, there could be a bigger concern for Robinson. He faces the prospect of Cusiter being the only one of his top four international scrum-halves playing rugby at the top level in the lead-up to a daunting autumn Test schedule – provided he keeps the Flying Fijian at bay.
Mike Blair arrives next week at his new club Brive, in the French second division, and Edinburgh have replaced him with Welshman Richie Rees, who will challenge Chris Leck and 22-year-old Scot Alex Black at Murrayfield, while Rory Lawson launches into the new season with Newcastle in the English Championship.
Robinson might be happy for Edinburgh to shift Greig Laidlaw back to his preferred position of scrum-half and hand youngster Harry Leonard a good run at the start of the season to develop at stand-off but coach Michael Bradley’s focus will be solely on what is best for the capital side.
With Munster first up in the PRO12, there is no time to ease into a new season and begin to bury the painful memory of last season’s league championship.
So, if that means Laidlaw’s hands remaining on the stand-off controls – and he has been Scotland’s most impressive controller in 2012 – and Leck or Rees at scrum-half, then that is likely to be his choice. Dilemmas are ever thus in a meagre two-team professional game that struggles to ensure sufficient opportunity for young Scots, which is why Lawson and Blair remain key parts of Robinson’s plans, wherever they are playing.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east