Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

Saki Naisau: Dubai Hurricanes player taking UAE and Asian rugby by storm

Scouted from Fiji in 2015, the centre has been fast-tracked into the national team and has established himself as one of the finest players in the region

If Saki Naisau had opted against travelling into the unknown when he was offered a move away from his homeland in 2015, his life might have been very different to what it is now.

Maybe if he had stayed back he might have gone on to national honours within Fijian rugby. Or maybe he would have remained in relative obscurity in a country where making a life from rugby can be a tricky venture.

As it was, he trod the lesser-used path from Ba in the north-west of Fiji’s main island to the UAE desert to play for Al Ain Amblers.

Once a year in the time since, the brilliant Fijian centre has had a day out on the sort of platform that best befits his talent.

Naisau has played in cup finals in front of thousands on Pitch One at the Dubai Rugby Sevens in every season since he arrived, with three different teams.

Included in that are three runners-up medals, with Al Ain and then Jebel Ali Dragons, as well as winning ones for the past two seasons with Dubai Hurricanes.

“I was scouted from our province by a rugby agent and one of the coaches from the national team to attend a rugby camp,” Naisau said. “From there, I was picked to come and play in the UAE, for Al Ain Amblers.

“Of course I miss home. I come from a close community of family and friends. I try to go home for a month in the summer when it’s the off-season from rugby.”

It was no surprise Naisau was rushed straight into the UAE team as soon as he was eligible, as per World Rugby’s three-year residency criteria.

He made his official debut 12 months ago when the national team dominated Asia Rugby Championship Division Two in Thailand. For much of it, it appeared as though the third-tier of Asian rugby was too easy for him.

In UAE’s first game of the 2019 campaign, a thrashing of Guam, Naisau scored three tries, and passed up a number of others out of choice. Such as when he passed to his fellow Fijian Kini Natuna when he was already over the tryline.

Because of the global health crisis, he has been unable to add to his haul of caps this year.

Asia Rugby were among the first administrators to act when coronavirus first started to take a grip of world sport. The domestic season is unconcluded, while the country’s leading players might go without Test rugby again this year.

International competition on the continent was suspended at the start of March until at least the end of June. It meant UAE’s scheduled tour to Sri Lanka was called off. Whether it is rearranged at all remains to be seen.

Growing up “playing in our village as a child, and being taught rugby by the older boys”, Naisau’s vision of the future would unlikely have involved wearing UAE colours. But he is grateful to have had the chance to represent his adopted country.

“The UAE is my home now so it is a great honour to represent and compete in tournaments for the national team,” Naisau said.

He lists winning the Sevens with his new teammate at the Hurricanes as his favourite memory of his time within the game here so far, and his clubmates are certainly happy to have him.

“For me, Saki is without a doubt the best open-field player there is in the West Asia Premiership,” Mike Wernham, the Hurricanes coach, said.

“He is the sort of player that excites anyone, be that your teammates, coach, spectators. He has a real explosive spark about him that makes him difficult to read.

"He is always breaking up defences, even when it looks like he shouldn’t be making any yards whatsoever, he seems to get through.”

Before the season was curtailed, the Hurricanes were looking to add a 15-a-side title to the one they took at the Sevens.

Influence

They were due to play table-topping Dubai Exiles in the UAE Premiership final. Whether that goes ahead at all appears unlikely at present.

Wernham says his side’s improved fortunes are in no small part down to Naisau’s influence.

“He came to me suggesting a platform we could play from,” Wernham said. “We looked at it at training and it worked perfectly. It has helped us during the season, so that really shows his maturity as a player. He is an absolute pleasure to coach. He doesn’t let you down.

“When he was at Jebel Ali before he joined us, I remember watching him and I thought, ‘Jeez, he is a helluva player’.

“Fortunately we were able to get him over to the Canes. I said to him at the time that with a little more direction I felt he could be the best player in the league.

“Having a back line that has been able to move and adapt to make him our focal point for the team has been brilliant for him.”

Updated: March 26, 2020 10:51 AM

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