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Connacht dangerman Abaham Papali'i is heading to France

By Kim Ekin
(Photo by Getty Images)

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Top 14 club Brive have made some key signings for the 2021-22 season, announcing six new contracts on Christmas Day.

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Current Brive players Pietro Ceccarelli, Vano Karkadze and Matthieu Voisin have all inked new deals with the club while Malino Vanai has shifted from Agen, who were relegated from the Pro D2 at the end of the 2020-21 season.

It’s the arrival of Abraham Papali’i and Rodrigo Bruni who will have the most tongues wagging, however, with the powerful loose forwards set to add some more starch to the Brive forward pack.

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Ihaia West is swapping jerseys in the Top 14.
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Ihaia West is swapping jerseys in the Top 14.

Papali’i has been a fan-favourite at Connacht since his arrival at the club last year. While originally being signed on a one-year deal, Papali’i’s time with Connacht was quickly extended and the New Zealand-born number 8 has managed 16 appearances for the club to date.

The barn-storming loose forward immediately made an impact for Connacht – though not in the way the club would have hoped – earning himself a red card in his debut match against Munster for a high tackle on Conor Murray.

The 28-year-old swiftly became known as a punishing ball-carrier as well as a hard-hitter on defence. It’s the physicality that makes him such an asset on the park, however, that has also made him a risky selection.

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Papali’i has picked up three red cards in his time in the green jersey and spent a number of weeks banned from taking the field, which prompted Connacht coach Andy Friend to admit that the loose forward would have to seriously work on his technique after making the switch from rugby league just a few seasons ago.

“The bottom line is that he needs to change his tackle technique,” Friend said. “If he doesn’t, well, he won’t keep playing rugby union.

“It’s as simple as that, because you can’t have a player continually getting red cards. The sanctions are going to become bigger on him and it’s impossible to stay in the game if you do that.”

Rodrigo Bruni, meanwhile, has emerged as a regular starter for Argentina – also in the number 8 jersey – and will likely contest that position with Papali’i.

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Bruni made his test debut in 2018 but was forced to play second fiddle to the likes of Facundo Isa and Javier Ortega Desio. He has made the jersey his own since the 2019 World Cup, however, and will now play his club rugby in the Top 14 following a season with Vannes in the Pro D2.

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