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Fainga'anuku's Toulon move confirmed but his All Black ambitions remain

By Ben Smith
Leicester Fainga'anuku poses during the New Zealand All Blacks 2022 headshots session at the Park Hyatt Hotel on June 21, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Greg Bowker/Getty Images)

Crusaders wing and All Black Leicester Fainga’anuku’s move to Toulon next season has been confirmed, with the 23-year-old set to join the French glamour club on a unique deal.

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Fainga’anuku has signed on a 19-month term, which covers one and a half seasons in the Top 14 and will conclude in July 2025.

He will be 25 when the deal finishes, opening up the door to a return to New Zealand after being courted heavily by Crusaders coach Scott Robertson during this contract negotiation.

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The incoming All Blacks head coach tried desperately to retain his young star, but a desire to test himself out overseas won Fainga’anuku over.

“The opportunity to stay here was there with NZR and the Crusaders,” Fainga’anuku told Stuff.co.nz.

“Razor [Robertson] made it quite clear and obvious. Just seeing the amount of effort they put in to hopefully retaining me, throwing the kitchen sink at me, showed a lot of care and how much they really saw the potential in me for the next few years in that black jersey. It really meant a lot.

“Heading overseas, I’ll definitely have that in the back of my mind.”

Fainga’anuku has quietly amassed 52 Super caps with the Crusaders since his debut in 2019, winning two Super Rugby Aotearoa titles in 2020 and 2021 before the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title in 2022. He played one Super Rugby game in the Crusaders’ 2019 title-winning season.

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He made his All Black debut in 2022 against Ireland in July but after two caps missed out on selection in the Rugby Championship squad. He was recalled for the end-of-year tour but remained home for personal reasons.

The motivations for the European move extend beyond the financial rewards, but Fainga’anuku holds a deep respect for European rugby and is keen to play against the ‘majority’ of the world’s best players.

“When people hear about this, they think straight to the money, but for those rugby heads who really look into the European competition and the footy they play, it’s got to take guts for a 23-year-old to leave everything behind and head over,” he said.

“That’s the thing that excites me. The money is just the bonus, but the real excitement is competing against some of the best international players in the world every week, the majority of them are up there.”

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Fainga’anuku hasn’t given up on representing the All Blacks again in the future, claiming he is still chasing more time in the black jersey particularly with the World Cup on the horizon.

“100%, I’m still hungry for that black jersey. Obviously, last year I didn’t quite get as much game time as I expected, but this season I really want to make a mark,” he said.

 

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1 Comment
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Lloyd 369 days ago

As much as we don't like to lose very talented players, the young stars should make the journey north when the opportunity arises. Leicester, in my opinion, is making the right choice both
professionally and personally. Get the European Experience under your belt now and return home a much wiser man. Bon chance!

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