In what has been a difficult season by recent standards for Glasgow Warriors, the confirmation on Thursday that Leone Nakarawa was returning to the club came as a timely boost. The Scotstoun faithful may have to wait a bit to see their old hero back in action, however.
On the day that Jonny Gray’s move to Exeter Chiefs in the summer was officially announced, meaning the core triumvirate of the lock, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg will soon all be gone, outgoing coach Dave Rennie couldn’t be definitive on when Fiji forward Nakarawa would be back in a Warriors jersey.
The 31-year-old has signed until the end of the season following his sacking by Racing 92 for reporting back to the Paris club late following the World Cup last year. The Kiwi coach, who leaves himself to become Australia coach in the summer, said it will now be a case of assessing the 6ft 6in lock/No 8’s physical conditioning and how quickly he can assimilate back into the Warriors systems.
“He arrived on Thursday. He had a few issues around planes and cyclones in Fiji. But he’s arrived and he looks in pretty good nick,” said Rennie, who travelled to Italy with his squad without the Fijian yesterday for this afternoon’s Guinness Pro14 match against Benetton in Treviso.
“We’ll start getting him back into things. Once we get clarity on where he’s at physically, we’ll start making decisions around that.
“We don’t envisage that being too much of a problem for him. We’ll test him on Monday and get some clarity on where he’s at.”
Asked if he could be available for next week’s crunch Heineken Champions Cup match at home to Exeter, Rennie replied: “Potentially not. Obviously we’ve got a little bit of loyalty to the guys we’ve got there, too, in the second row and loose forwards. He was listed in Racing’s European squad but never stripped so we could name him in ours, yes.
“We’ll see how things are after this weekend. If you get a couple of injuries, that can obviously change the picture a little bit. The first thing is we need to make sure he’s ready to go.
“He’s got a lot to learn in terms of our lineouts and his role within the structures. But he’s a smart man and we think he’ll be able to slot in seamlessly. This time next week, we’ll have a clearer picture.”
With Rennie departing in a few months he admitted the issue of Nakarawa staying beyond the end of the season was not one for him to make.
“That’s a decision for [incoming head coach] Danny Wilson and Scotland and Glasgow but he’s really excited to be back.
“Obviously the fact that he’s been here before, he’s really tight with Ryan Wilson and [fellow Fiji star] Niko Matawalu and I think they were constantly pestering him when he was talking about departing from Racing.”
Rennie’s main focus today is revitalising a Guinness Pro14 Conference A campaign which is looking precarious after Edinburgh inflicted their fifth defeat of the season last Saturday. That left Glasgow outside the play-off spots, two points behind the Cheetahs, who have a couple of games in hand. Adam Hastings, who went of with a head knock is rested after playing five on the bounce, which means Pete Horne will take the No 10 jersey and partner his brother George in the half-backs.
“Adam’s okay. He woke up on Sunday with no symptoms,” explained Rennie. “He’s already passed his cog [cognitive test as part of the head injury assessment protocols] so, physically, he’s okay, but he’s one of the internationalists who we’re resting.
“Tommy [Seymour, who has now retired internationally] failed his cog test yesterday – he’s not quite right so we’re not going to take any risks.”
Zander Fagerson also gets a rest which gives an opportunity to 22-year-old tighthead Adam Nicol. He will be backed up on the bench by 38-year-old South African veteran Petrus du Plessis, who has been transitioning into his role as scrum coach, but Rennie feels he can still do a job on the pitch if required.
“Petrus has been training throughout. His focus has been on coaching but he’s still been doing a lot of work – he’s been in the gym and been doing a lot of running and so on,” said Rennie. “When D’Arcy [Rae] got injured, he started doing a lot more training knowing that this weekend, we might need him.
“He’s still been doing a lot of scrums anyway, to get a feel for how our young looseheads are going. So he’s fine and if he has to play a big chunk of the game, he can do that.”