Settled Tuitavake eager to end first Saints season in style

Nafi Tuitavake is ready to take on Stade Franais (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Nafi Tuitavake is ready to take on Stade Franais (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Nafi Tuitavake may not know too much about Stade Français specifically, but he does understand how French teams operate.

The Tongan centre had a stint at French second tier side Narbonne before moving to Northampton back in September.

And Tuitavake, who has established himself in the 13 shirt in recent months, is well aware of what Top 14 giants Stade will try to do against Saints on Friday night.

“I don’t know that much about Stade Français but I do know the French are very physical and they will bring a big forward pack,” said the former Crusaders player.

“They will try to outmuscle us, but I’d back our boys every day.

“We’ll try to tire their forward pack out and give it to our speed men on the wings, George North, Ben Foden and Ahsee Tuala, and they can razzle dazzle and break down the side for us.

“Stade Français have got some stars in their team that we’ve got to be aware of, but we’ve got to play smart footy, play at the right end of the field and be clinical with our moves and plays.”

Saints were just clinical enough last weekend as they overcame a lively Connacht team at Franklin’s Gardens.

That 21-15 success, which came courtesy of 16 points from Harry Mallinder and a try from Nic Groom, set up a Champions Cup play-off final against Stade.

The winner of this clash will take their place in Europe’s top tier tournament next season, while the loser will be consigned to the Challenge Cup, which Stade now hold.

And Tuitavake said: “French teams always love to be strong at home and don’t necessarily do well on the road.

“We’re here at our fortress and we’d love to end the season with a win for our supporters, who have been great.

“We want to be involved in the Champions Cup next year.”

Though Saints have not met the standards the club expects this season, Tuitavake has come away with plenty of credit.

He may not have had a pre-season with his new team, but he did settle in quickly, making his debut from the bench at Castres in October.

That game didn’t go well, as Saints were thrashed 41-7, but Tuitavake returned to the side in the December success against Sale Sharks.

Since then, he has been able to show what he’s made of, with his fast footwork and ability to throw himself into a tackle or two catching the eye.

“Every time I’m on the field it’s a happy place,” the 28-year-old said.

“Just being in front of the crowd is great, doing something you love and we got the win.

“As the weeks have gone by, I’ve got more and more confident.

“Now I’ve clicked with everyone, I feel at home.”

So how does Tuitavake feel he can improve in Saints colours?

“Playing 13 has been a work-on for me,” he said.

“This is the most I’ve played 13 in a long time and it’s about getting used to the game plan of how the Saints play and what we’re trying to achieve as a team.”

Tuitavake has been impressed with Saints team-mate Ahsee Tuala.

And he said: “Ace is in good nick, confident, can kick the ball and also run and it’s paying dividends for him.

“When he’s got the ball I just try to support because he pulls tricks, left, right and centre.”