Duane Ratu Willemsen, a 20-year-old cousin of Leicester Tigers winger Nemani Nadolo, has joined Gallagher Premiership rivals Northampton on a senior academy contract deal after arriving in England last week following a recent stint in Australian rugby league. 

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Nadolo, the 33-year-old capped on 30 occasions at Test level by Fiji, returned to the club scene in England last year ten years after his early career stint with Exeter proved unfruitful.

The powerhouse winger went on to hone his reputation elsewhere in New Zealand, Japan and France before taking up an opportunity at Leicester in 2020 and he has now been joined in England by an English-qualified cousin who has the makings of becoming a giant operator in the Premiership back row judging by his vital statistics.

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A Thursday morning statement from Chris Boyd’s Northampton confirmed that Willemsen had signed a senior academy contract for the Franklin’s Gardens club and was already training with the senior team. “Northampton Saints can today confirm that English-qualified back row Duane Ratu Willemsen, 20, has signed a senior academy contract.

“The 6ft 6in, 128kg forward – a cousin of Fiji international Nemani Nadolo – grew up down under and holds an Australian passport. He represented New South Wales at age-group level in both rugby union and basketball, and most recently enjoyed a stint in rugby league with the NRL’s St George Illawarra Dragons. Willemsen landed in Northampton last week and has now begun training with the first-team squad after observing a quarantine period upon his arrival in the UK.”

Northampton also announced that apprentices – out-half Matthew Arden, lock Emeka Atuanya, scrum-half Jake Garside, back row Geordie Irvine and lock Tom Lockett – had also all signed full-time senior academy deals for the 2021/22 season having caught the eye of Saints academy coaches Mark Hopley, Will Parkin, James Craig and Jake Sharp.

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The quintet, who graduate from Northampton’s U18 side, have all been selected for either England (Irvine, Atuanya, Arden and Garside) or Wales (Lockett) at age-group level and will begin working with the Northampton first-team squad from July 1.

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