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The curious Irish verdict on All Black Naholo's injury-hit stint

By Liam Heagney

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Former All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo only ever got to play four times for London Irish during his two-year stint at the club. However, despite opting not to renew his contract last June due to this lack of game time, Exiles boss Declan Kidney has insisted that the 30-year-old’s stay at the Premiership club will be fondly remembered. It was June 18, just days after the curtain had come down on the 2020/21 campaign at Irish, that the club confirmed Naholo was one of nine players who would be leaving.

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Having played on 26 occasions for the All Blacks, Irish had generated headlines around the rugby world when they announced the signing of Naholo ahead of their return to the top-flight for the 2019/20 season. However, the recruitment didn’t work out on the pitch, a persistent knee injury restricting Naholo to just four Premiership appearances, the last of which came in February 2020.

He has since returned to New Zealand and has made two Mitre 10 Cup appearances in recent weeks with Canterbury as he looks to rebuild his career following a frustrating time in England. 

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Ian Foster on his latest All Blacks team selection
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Ian Foster on his latest All Blacks team selection

On the surface, it seems like London Irish wasted a huge pile of money on the ex-All Black, given how little he played. Kidney, though, insisted that waste wasn’t the case and he told RugbyPass that Naholo’s time at the club would be “brilliantly” remembered.

“You will find in first-team games he has a 100 per cent record. Every time he played for us we won. He was scoring tries, he was fantastic. And when he was out injured for the period of time the influence he had on the younger fellas in bringing them through, that is why we went after a certain quality of person as a senior player. 

“You can go after senior players no problem but it’s the qualities that they bring off the pitch and it’s the standards that they drive and show these younger fellas what it takes to actually get there. I remember a couple of matches when he would be in and around the dressing room and in the development of Ollie (Hassell-Collins) and Ben (Loader) over the last year or two, he might not have been playing but he was going in having a quiet word with them after it, showing them how to deal with the ups and downs of what happens. 

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“He has left his mark there with the rest of the players and I’m delighted to see him back out on the pitch. He has pushed himself so hard to do that but his time with us unfortunately just didn’t pan out that way. But more than fondly (remembered) would be the way I would put it. I’m not going to tell you we have been phoning one another but the way we’d leave it is we’d get in touch with one another whenever we can to help one another out.”

 

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The curious Irish verdict on All Black Naholo's injury-hit stint

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