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Hansen farewells Irish-bound Naholo

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'Waisake is a special member of the All Blacks group... we wish him well for his future ventures'

Steve Hansen has wished Waisake Naholo all the best for the future after the All Blacks winger confirmed he will be playing for Gallagher Premiership club London Irish after this year’s World Cup.

It was in February, fresh after officially confirming the signing of British and Irish Lions back row Sean O’Brien, that RugbyPass announced Naholo would also be coming to London Irish.

We reported that Irish had beaten Wasps to the Highlander’s signature in what was the latest addition to a growing raft of big name international talent switching to the English club.

It has taken three months before London Irish were finally officially able to pull the trigger, but it has now been confirmed that Naholo will be lining up in the Premiership alongside O’Brien two years after they clashed in the second Test of the All Blacks versus Lions series, an incident which resulted in a post-match citing for O’Brien.

That incident is all water under the bridge now that the pair are ready to become club team-mates with the Londoners who are aiming to be far better equipped for the English top flight compared to how they fared in 2017/18 after their previous promotion from the Championship.

“Waisake is a special member of the All Blacks group,” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen. “He’s an exciting player who brings an infectious sense of energy and humour to the team environment. “While we look forward to seeing him in action in New Zealand in 2019, we wish him well for his future ventures.”

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger, who had playing and coaching stints in England at Leicester, added: “Waisake is a unique player who can make special things happen on a rugby field; he is always a threat to the opposition with that blistering pace and strength.

“He responded well to the Highlanders’ team environment and always seemed to get the best out of himself when playing at home in front of our fans. We wish Waisake and Moana all the best in the UK.”

Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said: “Waisake came down from Auckland in 2015 and had an immediate impact on team performance and the way we played the game.

“He is an excitement machine and there is nothing better than hearing his name chanted around the stadium as he runs in yet another try. His deeds will long be remembered by the Highlander faithful.”

The 28-year-old first played provincial rugby for Wanganui as an 18-year-old schoolboy. He has played 58 games for the Highlanders after shifting from the Blues in 2015. His dazzling form for the Highlanders that year earned him a Super Rugby Championship title and All Blacks selection.

Naholo is also the Highlanders top try scorer with 41 to date. He boasts 26 All Blacks Test caps and has scored 16 tries after debuting against Argentina in Christchurch in 2015.

He said: “I’m looking forward to the opportunity of playing in the UK but I’m still very much focussed on the present and want to work really hard with the Highlanders to ensure we finish our season on a high.

“I feel like I owe it to the Highlanders after all that has happened to me since I came down here in 2015 – it really changed my life. I’m very appreciative of everything the club has done for me and our fans are the best in the world.

“I also have other goals I’d like to achieve with the All Blacks in 2019, and I know our Highlanders fans will be right behind me all the way.”

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'Waisake is a special member of the All Blacks group... we wish him well for his future ventures'