Tuitavake is loving life at Saints

Nafi Tuitavake's first Saints try came at Welford Road in January (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Nafi Tuitavake's first Saints try came at Welford Road in January (picture: Sharon Lucey)

Nafi Tuitavake has come a long way from the man who mistook salt for sugar in the Saints canteen.

The Tongan centre, who arrived from French division two side Narbonne back in September, has since got his feet firmly under the table at Franklin’s Gardens.

He took his time to make his way into the first-team, treading the traditional Wanderers route before making his debut in the Champions Cup clash with Castres in October.

Although that game did not go well - Saints were crushed 41-7 at Stade Pierre Antoine - Tuitavake had been given his first taste of top level rugby at his new club.

It took him a while to grace the first-team again, with his next appearance coming off the bench against Sale Sharks in the December 23 victory at the Gardens.

But since then, Tuitavake has been trusted to wear the 13 shirt, starting against Montpellier on January 20.

That game saw Saints produce some fluid attacking moments, with Tuitavake’s twinkling feet putting pressure on the French team.

And that was to be the first of seven successive starts in the absence of injured centres Luther Burrell, Tom Stephenson, JJ Hanrahan and George Pisi.

Tuitavake helped Saints secure a fine win at Sale last time out and has clearly now found his feet in the green, black and gold.

“Especially coming from France, I felt I wasn’t ready fitness wise and up to the pace of the game at the start of my time here,” the 28-year-old said.

“It’s just about being amongst the boys and being among the A side (first team) helps me get used to the game pattern.

“It’s about keep building, getting to know the game plan, building a partnership with Harry (Mallinder) and being positive and confident.

“The attacking side has been going well recently.”

As Tuitavake mentions, he has been able to build up a rapport with Harry Mallinder, who has been a fixture at 12 in recent weeks.

And Tuitavake said: “It’s been pretty good being amongst the boys, being out playing and being able build some combinations with Harry and the others backs.

“We’ve had a settled backline and that’s probably just due to a few injuries to some midfielders and we’re just trying to take the opportunity we’ve been given.

“With the injured boys coming back, they’ll be looking to get their spots back so it’s a good challenge out there.”

While Mallinder has helped Tuitavake settle in on the field, Saints’ Samoan contingent have helped him adjust off it.

“The Pisi brothers have been a real help and Ace Tuala,” said Tuitavake, who was a graduate of the same 2009 IRB Junior World Championships-winning All Blacks team as Ken Pisi, Aaron Cruden and Zac Guildford.

“All the boys from home have made me feel welcome and also the English boys, who are a great bunch, a good laugh and love to joke around.

“It’s been cool.”

And how has Tuitavake, a regular for the Crusaders in Super Rugby for two years and North Harbour in the ITM Cup for close to a decade, found English rugby?

“It’s quite difficult compared to home,” he said.

“I feel it’s a lot more structured here, which is good in a certain way.

“The weather is the other key factor, a lot of wet-weather rugby and I guess I’ll grow into that and get used to it.”

And Tuitavake is certainly keen to keep getting used to English life.

He has signed a deal at Saints until the summer of 2018 and has enjoyed making Northampton his home.

“I do see a good future here,” he said.

“I love the town, it’s a great community, a great bunch of boys and if I’m kept around I’m more than happy to stay here.

“I joined for this and next season and I’m always looking to improve.”