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'At Exeter I'd issues, I used that as a learning and I'm thankful'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Stephen White/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Nemani Nadolo is proud that he will soon leave the Gallagher Premiership with his head held very high following his exemplary two-and-a-half years at Leicester. The Fijian powerhouse could understandably have baulked at the idea of ever playing in England again given how shattering his short-lived 2011 spell at Exeter was.


Having originally arrived in Europe to play for Bourgoin in the Top 14, he made a mid-season 2010/11 hop across the Channel to link with a Chiefs operation that at the time was getting used to life in the top-flight for the first time following promotion from the Championship.

A miserly five appearances were all Nadolo managed on the pitch for the Chiefs, limited exposure not helped by the Australian passport gaffe where he was mistakenly picked alongside two other non-Kolpak players which resulted in Exeter being docked two points and fined £5,000.

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RUGBYPASS INSIDERS | NADOLO – A RugbyPass Originals Documentary
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More gravely, he was arrested for drink-driving, fined and banned from driving, a conviction that resulted in him getting released from his contract the day after a magistrates court appearance and having to head to Japan to rescue a career that had hit the buffers.

Given that deflating experience, Nadolo might have easily crossed England off his list of preferred destinations when it came to moving on from Montpellier after the premature end to the pandemic interrupted 2019/20 Top 14 campaign. He thought the opposite, however, and his decision to hook up with the Tigers became life-affirming.


Asked by RugbyPass for his thoughts on returning to the Premiership in the summer of 2020 to Leicester nine years after slipping out the Exeter back door, Nadolo said: “I am always a big believer in second chances and that everything happens for a reason. Coming to Leicester, I realised when I was at Exeter I had issues both on and off the field. I used that as a learning and I’m thankful for it.


“I am grateful that it [Exeter] did happen to me at that age because it helped me become the player that I am today as well and that is part of the journey that you go on as a rugby career. What excited me about coming to Leicester was it was a young squad at the time and you just didn’t know what you were getting yourself into. Thankfully, 24 months later, we won the thing.”

Now 34 and poised to head to the Waratahs before the end of 2022 on a one-year deal covering the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season, Nadolo revelled in being an older, wiser figure in the Steve Borthwick-inspired transformation of Leicester from back-to-back eleventh place strugglers into champions of England last June.

What helped greatly was his own change in mindset. Nadolo had previously been the sort of character who would seek out what was said about him good and bad and that negatively affected him as he was constantly comparing himself to other wingers. Getting to Leicester, though, was the prompt for him to all-out enjoy who is his and what he brings to the rugby party, not what he is lacking in his game.

“I genuinely used to worry about what people thought. Throughout my career, there were always a lot of people that would say this about me, and I used to get satisfaction out of that whether I would have a good game or a bad game. It probably weighed me down a little bit.


“I used to always take people’s perspectives about me as a rugby player in a lot. I am a big winger and there are always people who are going to say this about me, I’m too slow, I’m this and that. It used to get to me, I’m not going to lie, but then I just realised I am different from everyone. What I offer is different to the likes of Chris Ashton.

“I stopped comparing myself to other wings, that is what I did. I just stopped comparing myself and accepted who I was, who I am. The sooner I got that I just enjoyed my rugby and it is like I am playing the game, they’re not, and now when I do get people that say this and that about me it’s water off a duck’s back.

“I have just got to look at myself and if I have done everything I can I should be happy but for so long I was always comparing myself to other wings. Don’t get me wrong, as the years go on the wingers are really quick. As you see here in the Premiership you have got the likes of (Adam) Radwan and Jonny May and these guys are rapid.

“I have had to play against them but rather than see it as daunting, I see it as a challenge and it’s good. It’s an opportunity for me to see where I am at with these guys. I’m never going to be quicker than them, never going to be fitter than them but the one thing I do have [size], I try and use it to my advantage.”

Why did this epiphany occur at Leicester after years of playing elsewhere around the globe? “I guess the situation around me changed. I came into Leicester as one of the older guys rather than going into other teams I have been in where I wasn’t so much the older guy. Naturally, when you are the older guy the younger guys are going to look up to you and I can’t be thinking like that and I had to change.

“Again, I just stopped comparing myself. I just enjoyed the challenge and the Premiership has so many talented wingers and rather than look at it as daunting, it’s okay, I know you are quicker than me that is for sure but… it just keeps my mind ticking over because it makes me realise okay, there is things that I need to do to get myself right.”

When he leaves the Premiership behind in the next few months for a return to Super Rugby ahead of his 35thth birthday in January, what is the standout winger moment Nadolo will take with him from his latest stint in England?

“The biggest one for me is Radwan, Newcastle Falcons. He is a kid that is going to go places. I am a big fan of him and how he plays the game. I’ve followed his career so far so, have played him a few times and a few times he has run around me and made me look silly.

“Yeah, obviously he is not my Leicester teammate but as someone who is in opposition, Radwan is someone who I guess is only going to get better as well which is scary. He has got a big future in him.”


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