Let Taqele Naiyaravoro ‘run riot against Scarlets’

Taqele Naiyaravoro's hat-trick against Scarlets reignited Glasgow's Champions Cup campaign. Picture: SNS
Taqele Naiyaravoro's hat-trick against Scarlets reignited Glasgow's Champions Cup campaign. Picture: SNS
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Modern professional rugby can be a mind-bogglingly complex affair, with defensive systems, attack patterns, exit strategies and a constantly evolving glossary of terminology all combining to mean that the uninitiated can feel that they have gate-crashed a NASA technical meeting rather than a post-match pint in the clubhouse.

Once in a while, however, something happens on the field of play that reminds us all that while this technical jargon and management speak is all well and good, rugby at every level is still fundamentally a very straightforward game built around the age-old principles of pace, power and bloody-minded determination to get over the whitewash.

One such occasion was witnessed at Scotstoun last Saturday, when Taqele Naiyaravoro battered his way to three breathtaking tries against the Scarlets during a bulldozing performance reminiscent of the late, great Jonah Lomu, when he first burst onto the scene 20 years ago.

Naiyaravoro had shown hints of his full potential in previous matches – scoring tries against Leinster, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues in the Pro12 – but in a team struggling to replicate the fluidity of last season, he had not yet managed to grab a game by the horns in the way head coach Gregor Townsend had hoped he would when unveiling the Fijian-born 23-year-old as the club’s marquee signing of last summer.

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That all changed on Saturday, when Naiyaravoro led the charge as the Warriors blazed to a six tries to nil victory, which reignited their Champions Cup campaign. Now the poor Scarlets must face Naiyaravoro and the 
Warriors again this coming Saturday, and veteran winger Sean Lamont was in no doubt about what the tactics should be in south Wales. “We just need to do the same as last week – get the ball to ‘V’ again and let him run riot. That worked pretty well last time,” smiled the man who passed the century mark of Scotland caps during the recent World Cup.

“We knew he was capable of that, but it is still quite impressive when you see it happen, with a wake of players lying in pieces behind him.

“He’s only 23 and he’s not played a lot of rugby union games overall, with a lot of his appearances in Australia from the bench, so it takes time to get up to speed with a new team – and I think we saw it click at the weekend.

“The more we play with him the easier it is to get him the ball, trail him, pick our way through the devastation, and hopefully get an offload on a cheeky support line at the end. When there is nothing on, having a guy like that can create something by just bursting the line.”

Lamont used to be Glasgow’s go-to man when it came to making hard yards in the wide channels and he can still hold his own in most circumstances, but the affable 34-year-old happily admits that his new team-mate (and rival for selection) is on a different level when it comes to combining pace and power.

“I’d love to be like that. When you get 130kgs on the hoof – that takes some stopping. And it’s not 130kgs going slowly either. Physics wins on that one,” he concedes.

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Lamont’s generous appraisal of a man who is likely to keep him out of the team much of the time may be attributed to his status as a veteran who is embracing the challenge of helping integrate the next wave of talent into the set-up, but the competitive instinct has not subsided and he reveals that rather than hang up his boots at the end of the season, he has asked for a 12-month extension to his current contract.

“I’ll have to see what the powers that be have to say about that. Watch this space – if I had my way I’d take another four years,” he laughs, only half-jokingly.

More likely, Lamont’s commendation of Naiyaravoro is related to his admiration of the Fijian’s personality, as well as a clear pride in the sense of team cohesion championed at the club they both represent.

“That’s the sort of squad we are. It is easy to fit in and, if you try to keep an ego, you get cut off at the knees. Some of the banter is pretty brutal, which means there are no tall poppies – and that is great because it means everyone has to fit into the dynamic of the team, rather than try to have the team fit around individual players,” says Lamont.

“Taqele is a really good guy and it’s a joy having him around,” he added. “It has felt like he has been part of the furniture from day one and if he keeps playing like he did last Saturday he should become another fans’ favourite.”