Taqele a tease for Aussie rugby fans

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    As exhilarating as Taqele Naiyaravoro’s tackle-shredding runs have been over the last month, each one should also leave Australian rugby fans feeling a little bit dejected.

    Like the defenders he bangs out of the way and onto the ground, Waratahs and Wallabies supporters may feel a bit low.

    Why has it taken this long for the beastly winger to get fit? And perhaps the most lamentable part? He’s heading overseas in a few months to join Northampton.

    Naiyaravoro at the moment resembles – excuse the cliché – a human wrecking ball. I suppose the problem in the past hasn’t been the wrecking, but the ability to bounce back for another run given his often well-rounded physique.

    (That’s fat shaming, some of you scream! Look over there – Israel Folau reckons gays are going to hell. Go pick on him some more.)

    There’s plenty of reasons why Naiyaravoro might have finally got into his rhythm for the Tahs this season, but it’s a safe bet to assume a large part of it is because he’s stripped a fair few kegs off his massive frame.

    He’s been Australia’s best winger in Super Rugby so far this year, and it wouldn’t be ridiculous to say he’s the form winger of the competition.

    It’s over the top to say Naiyaravoro’s charges are reminiscent of Jonah Lomu, but he’s looking a lot like some of the best wide-running bulldozers of the last few years. Think Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Nemani Nadolo, Alesana Tuilagi. John Kirwan?

    Taqele Naiyaravoro of the Waratahs

    (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

    We’re told he arrived at Waratahs pre-season at 136kg. The response from the Tahs was to not let him lift a weight and flog him in the cardio room. The result was he dropped down to 125kg. A tall man, at 195cm, that’s an impressive athlete given his speed and power. That puts him in the monster category, among the meanest tight ends in the NFL such as Rob ‘The Gronk’ Gronkowski.

    Only time will tell if he can sustain his form over the rest of the Super season. But it’s worth asking the question – why has it taken this long for the Waratahs to get Naiyaravoro fit?

    He signed with the Tahs from the Wests Tigers in 2014 and after making only a handful of appearances that season, headed over for a stint with the Glasgow Warriors.

    Michael Cheika was impressed enough that Naiyaravoro made his Wallabies debut in the one-off Test against the United States in Chicago in 2015 – ensuring that he couldn’t play for his native Fiji – but he didn’t go on to play in the World Cup a few months later.

    But he was back in Australia in the middle of 2016 and coming off the bench, scored a try for the Wallabies in the third Test against England in Sydney.

    He’s played 37 Super Rugby games for the Tahs now. He’s shown glimpses that he’s the consistent line-breaker every team craves in a game in which getting over the advantage line can be so difficult. But over the last month he’s been at his best. The way he swatted off Henry Speight a few weeks ago was brutal. He made him look silly.

    The Waratahs coaching staff probably felt they had to show some tough love now, or never. Had they been too lenient on him fitness-wise? Probably.

    Would the Crusaders have whipped him into shape earlier? It happened to Nemani Nadolo, who went from Sydney club rugby with Randwick to stints in France and Japan and then blossomed into a destructive winger in Christchurch.

    Perhaps they were hoping Naiyaravoro was a Merv Hughes case – in that he was best when he was happiest, which was when he could eat what he wanted. Remember big Merv lost a whole lot of weight over one off-season, and his bowling fell apart. Of course, fast bowling and bowling over your opposite winger are two wildly different things.

    And, of course, you can’t baby-sit professional athletes, as the Isael Folau Twitter flare-up shows. They’ve got to take responsibility for their preparation when they leave the training paddock. Waratahs staff can’t be standing with Naiyaravoro in the kitchen, ditching the pizza and adding the broccoli. Or escort him home past Maccas, Oporto and KFC.

    The vast majority of pro athletes are highly self-motivated in their quest for excellence. Rugby isn’t any different, although perhaps the props traditionally are the ones who can get away with carrying a bit of extra padding and need a bit of close attention.

    But when it comes to weight it only takes a quick quantitative test to measure diet discipline. The scales are purely objective. It’s easy to find out who needs a kick up the bum.

    The NRL can be ruthless when it comes to training and conditioning markers. Only a few months ago, the case of Moses Suli highlighted this. The 19-year-old’s weight had ballooned from 110kg to 125kg, forcing the Wests Tigers to release him from his $1.3 million three-year deal. Canterbury swooped but soon after released the powerful outside back because of his poor attitude towards training.

    It’s legitimate to ask why it’s taken this long to get Naiyaravoro fit, but pointless trying to pin blame on anyone. Credit has to go to the coaching and conditioning staff who have got the winger fresh and firing, for he’s made a huge difference for the Waratahs. He’s looking very much like a starting Wallabies winger this season, although is it worth picking a player who is close to jumping on a plane to England?

    Is it too early to entertain the possibility of Rugby Australia buying out his Northampton Saints contract? Or offering a degree of compensation. Yep. But his progress over the next few months will be intriguing given the early signs.

    Taqele Naiyaravoro crosses for try (Photo: A Knight)

    Photo: A Knight

    Remember he’s only 26 so he’s coming into some good years. While he’s been demolishing defenders down the left-hand touchline, there’s little doubt that Tahs coach Daryl Gibson and their attack coach, Chris Malone, will want to bring Naiyaravoro further infield and get him running off Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and even Jake Gordon.

    And you don’t even have to get 80 minutes out of Naiyaravoro either. He played a full game against the Sunwolves last weekend, but he would still make a huge impact in as little as 55 minutes.

    And one facet that he hasn’t been tested too much in but looms as a deficiency is how quick he is to retreat for kicks. When the Tahs play four Kiwi teams in May, he will get a good workout.

    Every defender that Naiyaravoro brushes away feels a bit bittersweet. It’s taken too long to get him in this shape. Even if he’ll be in Europe in a few months, we will need to soak up what remains for him in Super Rugby.

    Combining his size and power makes him a unique player and one that draws defenders in as much as fans. Hopefully he stays fit. And hopefully he finds a way to stay put in Australia.

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (96)

    • April 13th 2018 @ 8:17am
      roarer man said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      He was the form aussie winger in 2015 also and i thought we missed a trick that year by not bringing him to the world cup as atleast an impact player off the bench.

      thats where i see that he could make most imapct at the international level.

      Imagine him coming into a game with 20 to go. get him the ball as there are not a lot of players able to tackle him 1 on 1.

      Yes he goes to northhampton next season but its only a 1 year contract. I’d be signing him up for the end of next year and taking him to the world cup. He’d be coming off the bench with 20min to go in every test if it were up to me.

      • April 13th 2018 @ 10:16am
        Otara Boy said | April 13th 2018 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        Look who the coach is.?? Dumbo the Clown.

        • April 14th 2018 @ 11:59am
          Bakkies said | April 14th 2018 @ 11:59am | ! Report

          The same clown who encouraged him to leave his Glasgow deal half a season in to a three season deal.

          • April 15th 2018 @ 8:27am
            Cliff (Bishkek) said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

            But Cheika still remains a Clown as a Coach! No argument there at all.

      • April 14th 2018 @ 3:53pm
        Johnno said | April 14th 2018 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

        Um no, Drew Mitchell from Toulon was a better option and Cheik got it right, him and AAC were safe as a bank in the big games and experienced. Drew Mitchell made some errors in the final which was a shame, but overall he had a good world cup eg try vs Argentina and way more experienced than the big Fijian.. Drew Mitchell is class

    • April 13th 2018 @ 8:27am
      jameswm said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      It’s not just that the Tahs have just got him fit,. it’s that they’re just now working out how to use him. Move right then sweep left to give him 1 on 1s, then follow him from the inside for the pass back in (if he’s stopped). \

      They are still working out how to use him closer to the ruck too – the Tahs seriously lack power ball runners, with only 1 I can think of. Yes – 1 out of 8 forwards. Maybe Holloway counts as a half, but he’s currently off the bench anyway.

      • April 13th 2018 @ 11:01pm
        Ozinsa said | April 13th 2018 @ 11:01pm | ! Report

        Is Kepu the one? Ryan is good off the bench too. And Simmons seems more impactful this year. But your point is a good one. We need more grunt. I suspect Qld will test us

    • April 13th 2018 @ 8:30am
      Gav said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Growing up he was always a 6 or 8. He’s not naturally a winger and so it’s probably taken him longer to learn the position as well.

      • Roar Guru

        April 13th 2018 @ 11:38am
        John R said | April 13th 2018 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        I wish they’d kept him at number 8!

        • April 13th 2018 @ 11:48am
          Markus said | April 13th 2018 @ 11:48am | ! Report

          Can’t tackle and did not have the fitness to last full games even as a winger, there is no way he would have made it as a number 8.

          • Roar Guru

            April 13th 2018 @ 12:31pm
            John R said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

            You think he is physically incapable of acquring those skills?

            Like there’s a ceiling on him? or it’s an attitude issue to S&C?

            • April 13th 2018 @ 1:36pm
              Markus said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

              I think that playing as a backrower requires more physical endurance than playing on the wing.
              And I think Taqele lacks the mental attitude toward physicality that makes a good backrower.

              Growing up as a 6 or an 8 could mean no more than he was the big kid that you gave the ball to so he could run through everyone, and have little bearing on his likely proficiency in the position at professional level.

              • Roar Guru

                April 13th 2018 @ 2:00pm
                John R said | April 13th 2018 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

                Definitely agree there. Like as divided as the posters are here, I think they would all agree that it’s a lot more, roll your sleeves up, hard work, to play in the forwards, than it is in the backs.

    • April 13th 2018 @ 8:41am
      Fionn said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      Love watching him. Sad to see him going overseas.

    • April 13th 2018 @ 8:41am
      Red Block said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      There are two major issues with Big T.
      First he can’t tackle to save himself and second he has the turning circle of an aircraft carrier.
      Smart coaches, of which unfortunately most reside across the ditch, will target him by moving the ball wide quickly and isolating him one-on-one or by kicking in behind him and running speedy wingers past him.
      Not holding my breath that B. Thorn will target this area though..

      • April 13th 2018 @ 8:55am
        Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        this was the same argument that led to Nemani Nadolo being lost to aussie rugby.

        Wingers that are 125kg+ and that can run liek the wind and score glorious tries have positives that far out weigh the negatives

        • April 13th 2018 @ 9:42am
          Dontcallmeshirley said | April 13th 2018 @ 9:42am | ! Report

          This was also the argument put up against Lomu and Savea.

          • Roar Rookie

            April 13th 2018 @ 10:39am
            piru said | April 13th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

            It was erroneous in the case of Lomu, he tackled very well for a winger

            • April 13th 2018 @ 11:19am
              Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report

              For a winger Lomu was okay in defence but he had a huge turning circle and teams did kick in behind him

              No player is perfect, you gotta take the good with the bad, particularly when the good far outweighs the bad

              Naiyarovoro is no Lomu, but he and Nadolo are/were the closest we’ve had to him and it saddens me that we use excuses not to select them.

              In Nadolo’s case he took off overseas and it seems now that is what Naiyarovoro is doing. lets bring him back so we don’t lose him forever

              • Roar Rookie

                April 13th 2018 @ 11:32am
                piru said | April 13th 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

                Personally, unless you expect to have a lot of ball, I don’t think the Lomu model is all that effective (unless you actually have Jonah in eleven).

                So many have been tried and rarely have they lasted, as soon as they hit a lean patch in try scoring they disappear quickly (ask Julian Savea)

                Australia has been looking for the ‘next Jonah’ since they enticed Wendell Sailor across and have failed to find him.

                Wingers just have to be able to do more these days, if your winger can’t kick or tackle to international standard, he’s just a passenger waiting for a pass in space that he might get once or twice a match

                I’d much rather a Corey Jane or Israel Dagg on the wing

              • April 14th 2018 @ 10:48am
                Connor33 said | April 14th 2018 @ 10:48am | ! Report

                I don’t think there is much evidence that Austrlalia have been looking for the next Jonah.
                If AU wanted to do that, that just convert a 108 kg Kerevi into a winger. And he’s probably have the added bonus of off-load. And, in any event, I think there were some points of difference between Lomu and Wendall.

                We agree, though, that Jane and Dagg are preferable wingers.

              • April 13th 2018 @ 12:20pm
                Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

                piru you can’t be serious.

                Corey jane was as mediocre a test winger as anyone I’ve ever seen.

                Dagg has been good at times but seriously? A fully fit and committed Savea is twice the player.

                That Lam fellow from the Canes is another one that as a giant winger looks much more of a match winner than Israel dagg or any other winger at the moment.

                others can kick, not every player needs to be an allround player

              • Roar Rookie

                April 13th 2018 @ 3:08pm
                Die hard said | April 13th 2018 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

                Ray I disagree. Corey Jane was a magician. Catching high balls at the back or chasing forwards.Stepping in congestion with outstanding acceleration and coupled with the most awesome fend he was incredibly dangerous.

                I wish he was still playing

              • April 13th 2018 @ 12:29pm
                Fionn said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

                Corey Jane was an awesome winger for the All Blacks for years.

                Savea was the best winger in the world until he slowed down in about 2016.

              • Roar Guru

                April 13th 2018 @ 12:32pm
                John R said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

                Savea still has plenty of gas.

                He looks like he’s just way down on confidence, which is causing him to overthink things, and make mistakes (i.e. dropping the ball everytime it’s near him)

              • April 13th 2018 @ 12:37pm
                Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

                Fionn name a game that Corey jane was excellent?

                He was mediocre and was selected only because for a few years NZ had even more mediocre players like Zac Guilford in their squad

                SBW had to play wing at around this time because they had no one else

              • April 14th 2018 @ 10:50am
                Connor33 said | April 14th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

                Jane was excellent against AU in the 2011 semi. And that whole World Cip.

              • Roar Rookie

                April 13th 2018 @ 1:01pm
                piru said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

                Corey jane was as mediocre a test winger as anyone I’ve ever seen.

                This has got to be a joke yes?


                I’m not sure I can take your opinion seriously

              • April 13th 2018 @ 1:14pm
                Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

                if you got to a dictionary and look up mediocre there is a picture of Corey Jane and Zac Guilford

                possibly the two most mediocre of any all blacks to have ever played test rugby

              • Roar Rookie

                April 13th 2018 @ 1:17pm
                piru said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

                I’m not going to try and mount a defence of Jane as I can see you’ve made your mind up.

                Nayaravoro is world XV material and Jane is mediocre – have I got that right?


              • April 13th 2018 @ 1:24pm
                Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

                at the moment Naiyarovoro is in world xv form yes

                he’s averaging over 100 runs metres a game and has scored atleast 4 memorable tries and even more memorable runs worthy of Lomu comparisons

              • Roar Rookie

                April 13th 2018 @ 1:27pm
                piru said | April 13th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

                Anyway I think we’ve gotten off topic, I was using Jane as a type rather than advocating him specifically.

                A smaller, quicker, more skillful player rather than a wrecking ball.

                Australia seems to have forgotten how to produce these players with all the focus on gigantic islanders – Alex Newsome is the only one who comes to mind (but then I haven’t watched much SR this year – I’m sure there are others)

              • April 13th 2018 @ 3:17pm
                Cole said | April 13th 2018 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

                Bring back Joe Roff!

              • April 13th 2018 @ 2:16pm
                Dave from Mt Druitt said | April 13th 2018 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

                I feel you have to take into account the quality of the opposition before you start saying Naiyarovoro is in world xv form.

                Henry Speight is hardly known for his defensive abilities.

              • April 13th 2018 @ 2:43pm
                Ray said | April 13th 2018 @ 2:43pm | ! Report


                we only have 1 massive PI wrecking ball

                the rest are smaller wingers in the mould you are calling for

                Newsome, Maddocks, Perese, Daugunu are the young wing up and comers alongsde existing Naivalu, Korobite, Speight etc who although are PI in heritage are not the giant wrecking balls.

                None of them are great kickers but neither was Corey Jane really. He was okay at everything not great. Yawn.

                We need match winners out wide

              • Roar Rookie

                April 13th 2018 @ 3:00pm
                piru said | April 13th 2018 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

                Well that’s good news then, Peni was another I was thinking of

              • April 14th 2018 @ 9:35am
                P2R2 said | April 14th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

                I think you are full of it….for a start he is NOT a PI….he is Melanesian eg: Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomons….- different stock…PI’s are Polynesian…like Tongan, Samoan, Niuean, Cook Is, even NZ is a Pacific Island…do you know the difference…? the last I heard he was from Fiji…

              • April 15th 2018 @ 8:35am
                Ben said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

                Omg…do you know what PI stands for…Fijians are Pacific Islanders.
                Pacific Islanders arent just Polynesians.
                Wikipedia: It is a geographic term to describe the inhabitants of any of the three major sub-regions of Oceania: Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.
                Palagis…..esp Aus palagis…just ignorant.

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