Race is on for All Black's signature
A rival English club could be set to beat Wasps to the signature of All Black winger Waisake Naholo.
The Coventry-based club is currently home to former Highlander Lima Sopoaga and to soon to be the home of Malakai Fekitoa, and were leading the race to sign the All Black.
Wasps have lost Christian Wade – who is pursuing a career in the NFL – and are set to lose Springbok Willie Le Roux this summer. Both moves have opened up extra funds and possibly a marquee player exclusion under the salary cap. There are also continuing doubts over Elliot Daly’s future at the club.
Naholo – who has slipped down the All Blacks wing pecking order – could be the latest players on the margins of the New Zealander to favour cashing in a lucrative deal in Europe over duking it out for a spot on the All Blacks.
The 27-year-old has done very little wrong in the black jersey, scoring 16 tries in 26 Tests. However critics of the Fijian born wing have pointed at a less rounded game than the likes of Nehe Milner-Skudder, Damien McKenzie, Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane.
Currently ranked as the fourth best left wing in the world by the RugbyPass Index – if Naholo does fly the coop, Coventry may not be where he lands. RugbyPass understands that the winger is now top of London Irish’s wishlist and that it is they – and not Wasps – who are leading the chase to sign the speedster.
RugbyPass has reported a raft expected signing by the club – who have already signed Allan Dell – and have been linked with big-money moves for Steve Mafi, Paddy Jackson, Nick Phipps and Adam Coleman.
London Irish are set to bounce back up into the Premiership after a year in the Championship, and in the midst of serious rebuild – a rebuild that is being largely funded by the club’s share of the Premiership Rugby’s £200million minority stake sale to CVC Capital Partners.
RugbyPass exclusively revealed that British and Irish Lions prop Allan Dell would join the London bound side, and the club confirmed it two days later.
Earlier in the month we also exclusively revealed that Irish had secured the services of Steve Mafi from Castres. The Tongan forward is set to earn in the region of £500,000 per annum as the Exiles reap the benefits of their share in the CVC investment windfall.
London Irish confirmed in December that it would leave Reading after 18 years playing at the Madejski Stadium.
The Madejski is around 30 miles away from its state-of-the-art training base in Sunbury and a move back to London had been on the cards.
The club confirmed they will be playing in London at the new Brentford Community Stadium from the start of the 2020/21 season.
In the early years of professional rugby London Irish quickly outgrew the capacity of its spiritual home at The Avenue in Sunbury and, needing to comply with Premiership Rugby requirements, had to move its home ground, initially sharing Harlequins stadium at The Stoop for one season in 1999 before then moving its first team games to the Madejski Stadium in 2000.
The club’s ambition has long been to return to west London and to re-establish itself closer to its historic base. London Irish’s management believes that the timing of the new Brentford stadium fits perfectly with this ambition and that the circumstances are now right to make this move.
The club has over the last few years been considering various stadium options and locations across London. At the same time Brentford FC unveiled exciting plans for a new community stadium and wider regeneration of a site just north of Kew Bridge which had strong synergies with London Irish’s own ambitions.
Now an agreement has been reached with Brentford FC allowing its games to be played at the new Brentford Community Stadium which is currently under construction and due to open in time for the 2020/21 season.
By Ian Cameron, RugbyPass
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