Glasgow Warriors finally completed the homecoming of Leone Nakarawa as a New Year gift to their restless support – but just as Jonny Gray appears ready to leave.
The deal with the Fijian Nakarawa, plucked by Racing 92 in mid-contract from the Warriors in 2017 but sacked by the Paris club last month for returning late from the World Cup, is until the end of this season only.
And that’s when Gray, a Glasgow player since he was 18, is set to leave the club, reportedly to join former Warrior and Scotland team-mate Stuart Hogg at Exeter Chiefs.
With head coach Dave Rennie and assistant Jason O’Halloran already on the way out in May, club captain Callum Gibbins going out of contract at the end of the season while still dealing with relatively recent departure of Hogg and Finn Russell, the Nakarawa signing was supposed to assuage a Warriors fanbase growing increasingly concerned about the club’s onfield direction.
However the news that the hugely popular Fijian, such a force for the Warriors in his three seasons there that he still holds the Guinness PRO14 record for off-loads, is just confirmed until the end of term and the rumours about Gray will hardly have made their mood any lighter.
Nakarawa will arrive back in Glasgow this week to start training at Scotstoun. The 6ft 6 inch, 31-year-old Fijian international and Olympic gold medallist, European Rugby’s player of the year in 2017-18, has been back on his home island over Christmas.
The player returned to Fiji after the Rugby World Cup in Japan to attend to family matters rather than reporting back to Racing as contracted when Fiji were eliminated. He returned two weeks late, and his contract was terminated by the order of the billionaire club owner, Jacky Lorenzetti.
He played 86 times for Racing, scoring 23 tries – a high number for a lock forward, although he can also play in the back row. Nakarawa played 68 times for Glasgow in his first spell with the club, the highlight being his man of the match performance in the PRO12 final of 2015 in Belfast.
“I’ve remained close with my ex-teammates during my time in Paris and they played a big role in my decision to come back,” said Nakarawa.
“I’m really looking forward to working with Dave Rennie and the coaching staff. Glasgow Warriors play an attacking style, which suits the way I like to play.
“The pitch may be different but I can’t wait to see some familiar faces in the crowd when I run out at Scotstoun.”
The deal until the end of the season allows Nakarawa to weigh up offers from around Europe for a longer-term contract in the summer. English clubs like Sale Sharks and Bayonne in France were interested in signing him after he left Racing.
Glasgow fans will be dismayed at the news of Gray, a former club captain, who seems likely to be the third player in three seasons developed into a regular Scotland international at Scotstoun to leave the club for a more lucrative contract elsewhere.
Still only 25, the lock has 52 caps for Scotland and has made over 100 appearances for the Warriors. The strong rumour is that Exeter – the club Glasgow host in the Heineken Champions Cup next week – is his likely destination.
However it has been hinted that the Warriors management are in discussions to bring back Gray’s elder brother Richie, who is out of contract at the end of this season.
The 30-year-old, who has 62 caps for Scotland and played for the British Lions, was at Glasgow for three seasons before leaving in 2012, initially to Sale Sharks and laterally for Castres and Toulouse in France.
The elder Gray declined the opportunity to join the Scotland rugby training squad ahead of the Rugby World Cup due to family commitments, but has declared himself available again for international duty this year.