Connacht Rugby could soon be boosted by the addition of a Super 14 backrow player from New Zealand.
Connacht are in the process of negotiating with former Highlander George Naoupu on a short term contract. The 26-years-old expects to join the province before Connacht resume Magners League action against Cardiff on December 6.
It is perfect timing for Connacht. With one remaining contract to fill, Connacht have bided their time for this opportunity, and they have now swooped to sign Naoupu after he failed to get drafted from his Air New Zealand Cup side Hawke’s Bay in the latest Super 14 contracts. Ten players from Hawke’s Bay - two fewer than last year - were selected in Super 14 teams, and as a result the “disappointed” loose forward has now set his sights on some overseas game time.
Naoupu, who can play anywhere in the backrow and second row, but prefers No 8, will come to Connacht with a strong pedigree and formidable reputation.
A former New Zealand Colts, New Zealand Secondary Schools, New Zealand under-19 rep, and New Zealand Sevens player, he spent last season with the Highlanders after a brief stint with the Super 14 side in 2008.
Originally a Canterbury rep in 2005, he joined the new Tasman Makos side as a loan player and was the MVP before transferring to Hawke’s Bay where he regularly produced man of the match performances. His form saw him involved for four years in Super 14 wider training camps during which time he played against current Connacht lock Bernie Upton, before being drafted to the Highlanders’ Super 14 franchise.
Noted for his physicality and versatility, the 192cm Naoupu is both strong in defence and as a ball carrier. Regularly featured in the media, Naoupu has been described as a “105kg human wrecking ball from Hawke's Bay”.
On his arrival in the Hawke’s Bay, CEO Mike Bishop Bishop said: " He has excellent aerial skills and is a punishing ball runner. His versatility in covering blindside flanker, No 8 and lock will be of significant benefit to us over the next couple of seasons."
During those two seasons the Hawke’s Bay Magpies were the rugby story of the year in making a semi-final of the Air New Zealand Cup, a huge achievement. Along the way unions with much greater resources were defeated, such as Wellington, North Harbour, Otago and Waikato (in round robin play and the quarter final ).
His contract with the Highlanders was seen as a deserved reward, and according to the Otago Daily Times in April this year, “Naoupu has made an impact in the side since getting a start against the Cheetahs a month ago, and was enjoying getting some playing time, ahead of fellow No 8 Steven Setephano.”
His omission from the Highlanders’ squad for next season came as a surprise to many pundits, including Naoupu, who said he was “gutted” .
“I spent the last few games playing out of position for the Magpies, but I thought I was starting to find form which would warrant Super 14 selection." he said.
Now Naoupu is bound for Connacht where he will join a handful of fellow Kiwis as the province continues its bid for Heineken Cup rugby.
Naoupu, who put his business studies on hold to concentrate on rugby, is the oldest of six children. His sister Julianna Naoupu is goal shoot for the Southern Steel netball franchise in New Zealand and a former national u-21 representative.
• Five Connacht players are involved in the Ireland A clash with Argentina Jaguares tomorrow. Centre Keith Matthews, prop Brett Wilkinson, and No 8 John Muldoon are named in the starting line-up, while Ian Keatley and Frank Murphy are named on the bench. The side is managed by Connacht’s Michael Bradley. Connacht hooker Sean Cronin, who made his debut for Ireland on Saturday when he replaced Jerry Flannery in Ireland’s victory over Fiji became the 41st Connacht player to play for Ireland. Cronin, in his second season with Connacht, is again selected on the bench for Ireland’s clash with South Africa at Croke Park on Saturday.