Glasgow continued their pre-season prospecting ahead of the Guinness PRO14 launch by reclaiming one of the most popular Scotstoun favourites on a one-year deal yesterday.
The original “Weegie from Fiji”, scrum-half/wing Niko Matawalu, is coming back to the club after two seasons in England bringing his unpredictable but often devastating skills which were such a factor in the Warriors’ rise to success.
Matawalu was signed to his first pro contract for the club in 2012 after impressing during Scotland’s tour of Fiji that summer. He made 74 appearances for the Warriors during his first spell, scoring 24 tries, but it was the thrilling nature of his play at both scrum-half and on the wing that made him such a huge favourite with the Warriors fans. He was twice voted the club’s player of the season in his first spell.
Now 28, Niko spent a year with Bath and much of last term with Exeter, but is thrilled to be coming back to Glasgow.
“It means so much to me,” he said. “Glasgow Warriors was my first professional club and first club outside of Fiji, and it’s where I met a lot of good people.
“Dave Rennie is a very good person. He’s very down-to-earth and he had a good chat with me before I decided to come back. He’s a good man.
“I always play like it’s my last game and I’m really looking forward to playing in front of the fans again.”
With two Scottish international scrum-halves in Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos, as well as the highly rated George Horne, the 32-times capped Matawalu may see more time on the wing as he did during his first spell at Scotstoun.
Head coach Rennie described Matawalu as “a bit of a freak on the field, a game breaker.”
“I know he was incredibly popular here with the fans and when I met with him he made it very clear that he was very passionate about Glasgow and wanted to come back.
“We’ve got three really good nines already, two Scotland internationals and George has really impressed us in pre-season.
“Niko is going to have to work really hard, but the fact that he can play on the wing and at full-back is a bonus and his utility value will help us during the Autumn Tests and Six Nations periods.
“We want to harness his individual brilliance and not coach it out of him, he’ll be dynamic on our artificial pitch.”
Matawalu has been out of the game for a spell fighting charges of sexual assault which were dismissed last week, and Rennie added he will require some proper preparation ahead of returning to action.
Meanwhile Scotland centre Alex Dunbar is poised to become the Warriors’ latest centurion against Connacht in Galway tomorrow, but admits it’s taken him longer than he expected.
“It has been a long time coming. This is my eighth year at the club and at times at the start and through injury, I might have thought it wasn’t going to happen so when it comes I will enjoy it,” he said.
The players are geared for a big season after falling short of their expectations.
“We let ourselves down in a few games last year,” added Dunbar. “It was tough when the international boys went away, didn’t get many points so they’ve focused on recruitment in the summer and we have some great signings.
“We are looking forward to getting out there and playing again. It is mostly the same core group with a few new additions which will hopefully boost us.”