WELLINGTON, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Japan winger Ataata Moeakiola was a surprise inclusion in the Waikato Chiefs’ squad for the 2019 season as New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams announced their lineups on Wednesday.
Tonga-born Moeakiola made a name for himself at the under-20 World Cup in 2016 when he scored three tries in the first 30 minutes of Japan’s match against South Africa and earned three caps for the senior team later that year.
Moeakiola, who played for Japan’s Sunwolves in 2017 but was not contracted this year, was exactly the type of player the Chiefs were looking for to bolster their outside backs mix, said coach Colin Cooper.
“He’s a big, strong, fast midfielder-winger that has been doing a lot of damage over there,” Cooper said of Moeakiola’s play in Japan.
Cooper said they had added Moeakiola to the squad before winger Sevu Reece had his contract torn up by Connacht following his appearance in court on domestic assault charges.
Reece, who was the top try scorer in New Zealand’s provincial competition and helped Waikato to promotion to the top tier last week, was discharged without conviction and fined NZ$750 ($491.85).
“With Sevu Reece’s contract not coming through with Connacht, we had already committed to him (Moeakiola), so it’s unlucky for Sevu to miss (out),” Cooper added.
The Canterbury Crusaders, who won their ninth title earlier this year, added promising 18-year-old Leicester Faingaanuku to their squad.
The winger was the youngest person to sign a provincial rugby contract in New Zealand when he joined Tasman aged 15, but did not make his senior debut until this year.
“Leicester was an incredible age-group player and dominated through schools’ rugby,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said.
“His size and power are his greatest strengths, so it’s no surprise he finds his way to the try line frequently.
“We know he’ll take that potential and perform for us in a Crusaders jersey.”
The Crusaders will again be anchored by an All Blacks-laden pack and will be heavy favourites to secure a third successive title next year.
The Auckland Blues, who had already announced the return of former All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu and the signing of current national prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, stayed largely within their region in their squad selection.
“Our provincial unions have had solid seasons for the likes of Northland and Harbour but of course Auckland have enjoyed a fantastic year,” Blues coach Tana Umaga said of their first provincial title victory since 2007 last Saturday.
“That will give us a boost.”
$1 = 1.5249 New Zealand dollars Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford