Fiji scrum-half Niko Matawalu has returned to Glasgow Warriors, two years after the fans’ favourite departed for the Aviva Premiership.
Matawalu was a free agent after leaving Exeter Chiefs, whom he joined from Bath but never made an appearance for, and has signed a one-year deal, subject to visa and passing a medical, with the option of a second year.
The 28-year-old was cleared of a sexual assault charge earlier this month after he had been accused by a woman of groping her in an Exeter pub during the Chiefs’ Christmas night out.
Matawalu, who has 32 caps for Fiji, joined Glasgow in 2012 and soon became a firm favourite with the Scotstoun faithful due to his attacking flair and unpredictable genius. He announced he was leaving before the Guinness Pro12 title triumph in 2015 but came off the bench in the Belfast final as a farewell appearance.
The Fijian, who can also play on the wing, has been training with his old club and has done enough to convince new head coach Dave Rennie that he deserves a deal.
“It means so much to me,” said Matawalu. “Glasgow Warriors was my first professional club and first club outside of Fiji, and it’s where I met a lot of good people.
“Dave Rennie is a very good person. He’s very down-to-earth and he had a good chat with me before I decided to come back. He’s a good man.
“I always play like it’s my last game and I’m really looking forward to playing in front of the fans again.
“I’m very excited to be back in Glasgow.”
Since he left the two main scrum-halves at the club have been Henry Pyrgos and Ali Price. With both now stalwarts of the Scotland squad, the Fijian could play a vital role during the international windows which Gregor Townsend’s squad struggled to cope with last season.
Matawalu scored 24 tries in 74 appearances during his first stint at Scotstoun and was twice voted player of the season by the club’s supporters.
Rennie said: “I’ve seen Niko play a lot of Test footy for Fiji and for Glasgow Warriors, when they won the title too. He’s a bit of a freak on the field, he’s a game breaker.
“I know he was incredibly popular here with the fans and when I met with him he made it very clear that he was very passionate about Glasgow and wanted to come back.
“We’ve got three really good nines already, Henry and Ali are Scotland internationals and George (Horne) has really impressed us during pre-season.
“Niko is going to have to work really hard, but the fact that he can play on the wing and at full-back is a bonus and his utility value will help us during the Autumn Tests and Six Nations periods.
“We want to harness his individual brilliance and not coach it out of him. He’ll be dynamic on our artificial pitch.
“He’s been out of footy for a fair amount of time, so the next month will be about getting his body right so that once he gets his opportunity he’s ready to fire.”
Matawalu made the move to Bath after being offered a lucrative contract but injury problems limited him to just 10 appearances for the Aviva Premiership side and he switched to rivals Exeter last November.
However, he was released by the Chiefs earlier this summer.
Matawalu started three of his country’s four 2015 Rugby World Cup fixtures in England, and was in the Fiji squad for the recent June internationals but did not feature in the win over Scotland.
Meanwhile, Rennie will name his team at noon today for tomorrow’s Guinness Pro14 opener against Connacht in Galway.
The Irish province will be without Ireland internationals Niyi Adeolokun and Tiernan O’Halloran, who have both been ruled out of tomorrow’s game. Adeolokun, who underwent knee surgery at the end of last season will return to partial team training towards the end of next month while O’Halloran is still recovering from his own summer knee surgery and will return to team training in the coming weeks.
Fijian flanker Naulia Dawai injured his hamstring in training and is being assessed.