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Ex-All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo is one of nine players leaving London Irish

By Liam Heagney

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London Irish have released ex-All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo following his injury-hit spell at the Gallagher Premiership club. The Exiles confirmed on Friday that nine players are leaving following the completion of the 2020/21 campaign and that list is headed by the exit of Naholo, the 30-year-old who played 26 times for New Zealand between 2015 and 2018. 

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The winger was unveiled as a massive signing coup in 2019 when London Irish gained promotion back into the Premiership but his stay at the club was an on-field disappointment as he was limited to just four appearances – and two tries – in his two-season stay. 

He made a debut in November 2019 and played his fourth match the following February but he didn’t appear in another competitive fixture in his 16 months following that at Irish due to his slow rehabilitation from knee surgery. Irish boss Declan Kidney had praised Naholo in recent months for how he had coped with his adversity, adding that he was excellent in becoming an off-field mentor to the club’s raft of young backfield players.

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“If somebody was to write a book about rehabbing (an injury) I would be interested in his. Sometimes when you see a player on the pitch it comes down to talent but professionalism is about how you go about your job and stick to the task. The way he has gone about his would show any player the way back and it hasn’t been easy for him – but I haven’t heard a word of complaint out of him.

“It was a case of getting it right and he has worked as diligently as anyone I have met. You don’t ever want to see a player in that position. In adversity, you see the best of people and I cannot speak highly enough of him. He never dragged his arse about the place or felt sorry for himself, never acted the victim. He is not a guy to steal the limelight and he has helped the back three in training.”

That admiration, though, hasn’t resulted in a contract renewal for a player who this time four years ago was involved with the All Blacks in their drawn series with the Lions. Naholo won’t be alone either in leaving Irish as eight other players are on the list of departures – retiring duo Theo Brophy-Clews and Tom Homer, Harry Elrington, Nic Groom, Charlton Kerr, Andrei Mahu, Motu Matu’u and Vladimir Podrezov.

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Kidney said: “On behalf of everyone at London Irish, I would like to thank the departing players for all their hard work and efforts. I also want to thank their families because without them the players wouldn’t have been able to give their all for the club.

“Tom retires after making more than 100 appearances for the club, with Theo and Harry both reaching the 50-game milestone. All three have been fantastic servants. Motu, Nic and Andrei have all worked tremendously hard to get London Irish to where we are at present.

“Although not able to play as much as he wanted, Waisake has been a brilliant influence on our back three players and so is leaving with a long-term positive effect on the club. Charlton and Vladimir will not be as well known by our supporters, as unfortunately injuries and opportunities did not fall their way, but both are great people and we thank them for the work rate and energy they both brought to the squad. It’s been a pleasure to work with them all and they are always welcome back at Hazelwood.”

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Ex-All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo is one of nine players leaving London Irish

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