Taqele Naiyaravoro : Panasonic Wild Knights

After switching from rugby league to rugby union in 2014, the Fijian, Taqele Naiayaravoro’s career has been swift; playing for Glasgow Warriors and entertaining the idea of representing Scotland, before rejoining the Waratahs, and choosing to play for Australia instead. Since then he has scored his first try for the Wallabies against England, put in a man of the match performance for the Barbarians against South Africa, and has even been likened to the late Jonah Lomu due to his speed and power. 

The 25 year old could be forgiven for letting things go to his head and enjoying the limelight a little, but Taqele remains as humble as ever. “When they said that comment of relating me to the late Jonah Lomu I was really surprised, and I said ‘Nah!’ He’s a legend and I don’t think anyone will ever get close to what he has done for rugby.”

Taqele is now playing for the champions of the previous three seasons, Panasonic Wild Knights, and emphasises the things he likes most about his new club. “Firstly, It’s such a good family orientated team. The boys here are really humble and are easy to get along with, which helps make this team perform each week.”

The mixture of experienced Wallabies such as Robbie Deans, Berrick Barnes, David Pocock and Daniel Heenan has helped Taqele to settle into life in Ota city. “The foreign boys really make things easy for me. It’s my first season and so I’m like a sponge.”

“The local boys are good to hang around with and play with too. Fumi (Tanaka) is such a character. He thinks he’s from New Zealand but he’s not! He’s a senior player in the club...and he’s always there to help.”

Taqele has also been impressed by the youngsters at Panasonic. “Uchida, the half back, has been a shining star. They’ve been saying that he is the understudy of Tanaka. He’s really impressive skill-wise and reading the game...and Fumi (Tanaka) is really helping him along the way. I’d say Uchida is an upcoming star for Japan.”

Another player that Taqele rates highly is Takuya Yamasawa. “Mate, that guy is different as well, that Yama! Especially being the first uni player to be playing in Top League... The try he scored on the weekend (against Honda) was absolutely brilliant. He chipped the ball, kicked it twice more, chased it down and scored the try.”

And as for Taqele’s own performances this season, “I try to test myself, run in the gaps, play and pass more and get offloads, which I never really did a lot of at the Waratahs. I was so nervous in doing that but coming here (to Panasonic), I’ve been working on it so that I have the confidence to throw more offloads.”

So will Taqele be returning to Panasonic next season? “I’m just taking it step by step at the moment. Obviously, I’d like to come back..and keep moving. For me, with my type of body, I can’t rest for long...as I tend to put on weight.”

JRugby Podcast wishes Taqele all the best with the Waratahs and the Wallabies in 2017 and we hope to see him charging at the opposition here in Japan again next season.

- Lee Watkins: February 21st 2017

Suntory Sungoliath (15) -v- (10) Panasonic Wild Knights

All-Japan Championship Final

 Photos: John Gunning - Jan 29th 2017: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground 

Suntory Sungoliath (15) -v- (10) Panasonic Wild Knights

Top League

 Photos: John Gunning - Jan 8th 2017: Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground