Connacht add former NZ u-21 outhalf to new squad

Connacht rugby will be boosted next season by the arrival of a former New Zealand u-21 outhalf.

Miah Nikora, who was the top points scorer for the Tasman Makos in the Air New Zealand Cup last season, is due to arrive in Galway next month.

The 24-years-old comes to Connacht with a fine reputation, having played for the New Zealand u-21, u-19, and secondary schools.

His kicking prowess, both at goal and out of hand, helped the Tasman Makos into seventh place in the Air New Zealand Cup with his 75 points coming from 10 starts.

Nikora will be one of three recognised outhalves in the Connacht squad next season, joining young Ian Keatley who took a staring role last season, and the versatile Troy Nathan who has become Connacht’s utility back.

Born in Gisborne, Nikora first came to prominence playing in the Gisborne Boys' High School first XV - one of the top rugby schools in New Zealand. After making the move from Poverty Bay to Wellington, Nikora was loaned by Wellington to Taranaki in 2006 for two years during which time he was also the province’s top points scorer. However he was drafted back to Wellington when Tamati Ellison was injured, and was placed 10th-equal on the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup individual score board with 60 points (1 try, eight conversions, 13 penalties ). He was named in the Hurricanes' wider training group for the 2007 Super 14 before moving to the Tasman Makos last season.

Nikora will be one of two New Zealanders who have signed for Connacht after a wholesale change in the squad ahead of next season. He joins fellow former Wellington lock Bernie Upton, who at 28 is expected to provide Connacht with added leadership and experience in the pack. A former Wellington age group representative, Upton hails from the Marist St Pat’s Club which has produced well-known rugby greats such as Grant Batty, Joe Karam, and John Schuster. A Junior All Black in 2005, Upton has played Super 14s with the Chiefs (2003 - 20005 ) and the Hurricanes (2006 - 2008 ), and comes to Ireland from a season with Air New Zealand Cup side North Habour.

With 13 players leaving the province this season, Connacht have already signed four new players, include two Irishmen who come from the English first division.

Backrow player Michael McComish hails from the Ballymena club, and has represented Ireland at schools level and in sevens, while he was also an Irish schools’ cricketer. Boasting a strong athletic presence, the 26-years-old comes to Connacht from Otley which he joined from Rotherham.

The fourth new signing is Brian Tuohy - the Limerick-born wing/centre who joins from the Cornish Pirates. A former All Ireland League medal winner with Shannon in 2004, 2005, and 2006, he has played with Munster, the Irish Sevens, and was on Michael Bradley’s Churchill Cup squad last year. He moved to Rotherham in 2007 where he was the club’s leading try-scorer, before joining the Cornish Pirates.

Connacht are expected to add another three players to their squad, including a tighthead prop, backrow, and centre/wing, to bring the squad total to 29 - one less than last season. Both Andrew Browne and Troy Nathan, who had development contracts, have been given full time contracts for next season.

The wholesale changes are seen as a necessary step after Connacht once again finished bottom of the Magners League table. Although many of the players who are leaving have served Connacht well, particularly lock Andrew Farley, it was believed that fresh blood was necessary in a bid to make the squad more competitive.

Those leaving the province are: locks Andrew Farley and David Gannon; props Brian McGovern and John Lyne; No 8 Colm Rigney, who has retired and will become the Buccaneers’ forwards coach; hookers Joe Merrigan and Conor Muldoon, centre John Hearty, who has been forced to retire with injury; wing Mike Roberts; centre Mel Deane, who has retired to take up a physio role at Richmond; and outhalves Tim Donnelly, who is returning to Australia, and Andy Dunne who is retiring to become a physio, and fullback Danny Riordan.

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