Wallaby comes home while All Black takes riches on offer in France

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

All Blacks wing Leicester Fainga’anuku will leave New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup after signing a deal with French club Toulon.

Just 23, the back three player has established himself in the Crusaders’ XV and has already earned a couple of caps for the national team.

On form, the speedster would be included in the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship and World Cup, but New Zealand coaches have previously omitted players who have signed elsewhere.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Crusaders tried hard to retain his services, but Fainga’anuku has his mind set on Europe.

“The opportunity to stay here was there with NZR and the Crusaders,” the wing told Stuff.

“Razor (Scott Robertson) made it quite clear and obvious. Just seeing the amount of effort they put in to hopefully retaining me, throwing the kitchen sink at me, showed a lot of care and how much they really saw the potential in me for the next few years in that black jersey. It really meant a lot.

“Heading overseas, I’ll definitely have that in the back of my mind.”

Not solely about money

Although Fainga’anuku will earn significantly more money while at Toulon, the youngster also wants to test himself in what he perceived as a tougher environment.

“When people hear about this, they think straight to the money, but for those rugby heads who really look into the European competition and the footy they play, it’s got to take guts for a 23-year-old to leave everything behind and head over,” he said.

“That’s the thing that excites me. The money is just the bonus, but the real excitement is competing against some of the best international players in the world every week, the majority of them are up there.”

Fainga’anuku has not given up hope on featuring for the All Blacks in the future, however. He has only signed an 18-month contract and has given himself plenty of time to achieve his international ambitions.

“100%, I’m still hungry for that black jersey. Obviously, last year I didn’t quite get as much game time as I expected, but this season I really want to make a mark,” he added.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto joins Rebels

One player that is going the other way and returning to Antipodean shores is Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who has signed a two-year contract with the Melbourne Rebels.

The lock, who can also feature in the back-row, began his career professional career at the Reds and stayed there for six years.

He also earned a Wallabies call-up in 2017 and featured over 20 times for the national team before departing for Northampton Saints in 2022.

Less than a year into that deal, the second-row was granted an early release for family reasons, allowing him to join the Rebels.

“Having the opportunity to add what’s been brewing down in Melbourne was really exciting,” Salakaia-Loto said.

“I’m looking forward to reuniting with Maf (Alex Mafi) and Nela (Taniela Tupou), who are basically my brothers. The opportunity to reconnect and play together for the same team once again is something I’m really excited for.

“It’s going to be awesome joining forces with Nick Stiles again as well. He’s someone who’s had a lot of influence early on in my career, so I’m looking forward to getting back to work with him.”

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