Nakarawa finally ready to play for Glasgow after 11 months absence

Eleven months since his last game of competitive rugby, Leone Nakarawa is set to make his Glasgow Warriors return against Edinburgh on Saturday.

The hulking Fijian last played for the Warriors in late February before the pandemic shut the game down, and a troublesome knee injury has prevented him from seeing any action since.

Given the frequent setbacks in the Nakarawa recovery, Glasgow head coach Danny Wilson was understandably cautious about his prospects but expects to be able to utilise the lock in the rescheduled 1872 Cup match at Scotstoun.

“He trained again Tuesday in a full what we call a red session, a high-intensity session, and he seems to have gotten through that up to now,” Wilson said. “If that’s the case we should get him to a place where he will have some involvement this weekend.”

Nakarawa returned to Fiji during the initial lockdown period last year and remained there until October following the birth of his first child and the passing of a close family member. Glasgow’s strength and conditioning staff could not monitor his rehabilitation as closely as they would have liked and there has been some angst privately about his condition upon returning to Scotland.

Nakarawa resigned for Glasgow in the summer after a short stint last season following his acrimonious exit from Racing 92. He is only contracted to the end of the campaign, and the fear is Glasgow’s marquee acquisition may have proved a highly expensive mistake.

“There were a number of reasons for him not being here for such a long period of time, some that were maybe in his control and some that we know were not and we really 110 per cent supported everything he had to go through in that period,” Wilson added.

“Now he is back, he has worked hard. The frustrating part was he came back and he wasn’t where we needed him to be if I’m brutally honest. With a long layoff, not being able to physically contact or treat him or get our S&C staff involved with him while he was in Fiji was a real challenge and a really difficult situation. That led to the knock-on effect of where we are now.

“There are frustrations, definitely, but since the last few months, he has worked hard to get back to fitness and get his knee strengthened to a place now where we are going to put him out on the field. Fingers crossed we get there this weekend.”

At his peak, Nakarawa is one of world rugby’s foremost talents, a unique blend of outrageous off-loading craft and fearsome athleticism. It would be unwise to expect miracles from a player out of action for nearly a year, but getting the Fijian up to speed would offer the struggling Warriors a mighty boost. 

Nakarawa’s future beyond this disrupted and fraught season, though, remains unclear.  “A fit Leone, a Leone that is the player we have all seen, 100 per cent I’d want to keep him,” Wilson continued. “But Leone and everybody else needs to see him confident again, out on the field and playing the style of rugby that we all know he can play.”

Wilson confirmed that Glasgow are close to recruiting at least one fly-half, with Adam Hastings long-term injured and bound for Gloucester at the end of the campaign and Pete Horne requiring an extended break to recover from a concussion. Academy player Ross Thompson and versatile South African Brandon Thomson are his only remaining options.

Warriors have recently been in talks with Worcester and Scotland pivot Duncan Weir over a return to Scotstoun, and have been linked with former Munster playmaker Ian Keatley, whose Benetton contract has been terminated early.

“Short-term, we need a 10,” Wilson said. “Short-term being the next four-six months. Ross Thompson is an academy player on an academy contract who is getting some exposure now, but we need someone to come in and tide us over for the remainder of this season. And in the longer term, we wanted to recruit at least one if not two 10s. In the very short term, I should be able to give you some news on that in terms of both those situations.”