Na­holo Re­turns In Style

Fiji Sun - - Sport - MARC HINTON Feed­back: os­eab@fi­jisun.com.fj

If any­one de­served a tri­umphant re­turn to Su­per Rugby like this, Waisake Na­holo surely did. Over the last 12 months the su­per­charged High­landers wing has been wag­ing a dandy of a bat­tle with Lady Luck, and get­ting his butt kicked from here to king­dom come.

So last Satur­day’s two-try star­ring role in a doozey of a High­landers up­set 26-13 vic­tory over the Chiefs in Hamil­ton is hope­fully a sign that the Fi­jian­born All Black’s for­tune has fi­nally turned. Good­ness knows he de­serves it.

Na­holo, of course, had a bril­liant Su­per Rugby sea­son last year, run­ning in a com­pe­ti­tion-lead­ing 13 tries in the Lan­ders’ charge to their in­au­gu­ral ti­tle, was right­fully pro­moted to the All Blacks and then frac­tured his leg in his first test in the most in­nocu­ous of cir­cum­stances. Some­how he made it to the World Cup, with ei­ther a mir­a­cle witch-doc­tor cure, or just fast nat­u­ral heal­ing (de­pend­ing on which tale you read, and be­lieved). But by then he was play­ing a hope­less game of catchup against a ri­val (Nehe Mil­ner-Skud­der) who had made the most of his un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity on the right wing. He was a bit-part player only in Eng­land, though no doubt en­joyed his van­tage point for the All Blacks’ his­to­ry­mak­ing achieve­ments. He would have been full of hope, then, when the new sea­son rolled around, armed with the knowl­edge that Steve Hansen rated him highly enough to take him to Eng­land when all logic sug­gested it was an un­nec­es­sary gam­ble. Then, wouldn’t you know it, fate slapped him in his smi­ley face once again when he re-frac­tured the same leg in the High­landers’ first game against the Blues, and missed the next eight matches heal­ing and re­hab­bing the prob­lem ap­pendage. It’s a rou­tine he now has down pat. Which brought us to last Satur­day at a packed sta­dium in Hamil­ton, with the Chiefs rid­ing a seven-game win­ning streak and picked by all and sundry to despatch a wob­bling High­landers out­fit with a de­gree of ease. Phooey. Not with Na­halo back on the right wing, and with the High­landers back in their great un­der­dog mode sit­ting favourites on their back­sides. In a game fea­tur­ing an ar­ray of All Black con­tenders and qual­ity New Zealand play­ers in gen­eral, Na­holo quite sim­ply grabbed the oc­ca­sion by the scruff of the neck and made it his own. Where a num­ber of oth­ers strug­gled to un­leash their best stuff, the big wing was all class as the High­landers brought up their sev­enth vic­tory of the sea­son, and surged back into the mix at the top of a Kiwi con­fer­ence as crowded as the Auck­land mo­tor­way at rush-hour.

He scored two crisply taken tries, and looked sharp in al­most all he did. He was also strong over the ball at the ruck, and was only just de­nied a hat­trick at the fin­ish by a des­per­a­tion tackle in the cor­ner which left him a lit­tle the worse for wear. He will no doubt need to roll out one or two more like this be­fore the June break, but as­suredly he is well on the way to an­swer­ing the call in the prob­lem­atic No 14 po­si­tion. “He’s had that pres­ence at train­ing − the boys get a bit ex­cited when they see the ball in his hands,” said a de­lighted High­landers skip­per Ben Smith af­ter­wards. “It’s great to have him back and great to see him out play­ing rugby.”

Hear, hear.

Waisake Na­holo scores a try against Chiefs in Hamil­ton last Satur­day.

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