Wasps weigh up prospect of losing talisman Fekitoa for Tonga games
Wasps boss Lee Blackett believes the switch of allegiance by Malakai Fekitoa, the ex-All Blacks midfielder, to play for Tonga is a positive for the Premiership outfit despite robbing the team of their talisman during the upcoming autumn internationals. When Fekitoa signed for Wasps in 2019 from Toulon he was already two years off the international scene having been last capped by New Zealand in 2017.
It was assumed that his Test-career-over status would increase his value to Wasps following a stint with the All Blacks that amounted to 24 caps. However, having played for Tonga in last June’s Olympic Games 7s qualifier in Monaco, the 29-year-old satisfied the qualification criteria to switch countries and play Test rugby for Tonga and he has now targeted a place in the squad for the 2023 World Cup in France.
Born in Ha’apai, Fekitoa first represented Tonga 7s in 2008 after being discovered at a tournament in Nuku’alofa, and he was joined in Monaco three months ago by former Wallaby Lopeti Timani, ex- Australian 7s player Afusipa Taumoepeau, and former New Zealand 7s player Tima Fainga’anuku who have all also switched countries to bolster Tonga’s XV squad.
Tonga currently have matches planned versus Scotland on October 30 and England on November 6 and Blackett, the Wasps director of rugby, explained that the imminent return of Fekitoa to the Test rugby arena comes with the full blessing of the club and he expects the lure of international rugby to bring even more out of the powerful centre.
Blackett said: “Malakai has a big influence on our team and he is unique in our backline in terms of giving us that physical presence I feel we need. He is a talisman for us. We chatted at the back-end of last season about allowing him time to go and play in that Olympic 7s tournament which made him eligible for Tonga.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 11, 2021
“We want our players to be playing international rugby and as a club, we would never stand in his way when he asked if he could go and join Tonga for the Rugby World Cup in 2023. We didn’t talk about the autumn internationals and the Premiership and when guys play Test rugby it can hurt you as a club, but when a player has aspirations to play at that level it generally inspires and motivates them more.
“There are loads of benefits from it, but we have yet to have conversations about it (the autumn Tests). He came back from a serious shoulder injury last year and had an operation on it. He had a slight bang with Tonga on it at the 7s and another in pre-season training. He is in full training and going well.”
"He is an All Black and you can see why"
– Vaea Fifita has quickly got down to work at Wasps ahead of the new Premiership season in England https://t.co/7TgILENN2N
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 1, 2021
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