Weight loss key as Naiyaravoro looks to step up his work at Saints
This time last year, Taqele Naiyaravoro was thrown in at the deep end.
The powerhouse wing jetted all the way across the world following a short summer break.
And, just two days after his arrival in Northampton, he was featuring for the Wanderers in a September 3 game against Leicester Tigers’ second team at Loughborough University.
It was by choice as Naiyaravoro was desperate to acclimatise himself to his new Saintly surroundings, having opted to move from Australia.
And it wasn’t much longer before he really got going, making his debut against Saracens just 12 days after that Loughborough outing.
Naiyaravoro’s introduction to first-team action at Franklin’s Gardens came exactly seven weeks after his Waratahs side had lost to the Lions in the Super Rugby semi-finals.
And what a start it was for the wing as he was handed a start against Sarries in a game which Saints eventually lost 38-27.
But Naiyaravoro had done enough to make a big impression on his new fans, with one rambunctious run down the wing seeing him brush off the mighty Billy Vunipola.
It was the first of many clips for a highlight reel that regularly included moments when the wide man steamrollered an opponent.
But there was difficult times at the other end of the field, with Naiyaravoro’s defence being questioned.
And now he is eager to show he can be the all round package at Saints, having felt the benefit of a pre-season campaign at the club, which he was unable to enjoy (or maybe endure) last year.
“It’s just been about getting my body right, getting myself mentally prepared for the long season,” Naiyaravoro explains during a relaxed chat at Saints’ annual pre-season media day.
“Everything else will come from the back of it, the work rate, the runs, the defence and everything.
“It’s about mentally and physically preparing myself and everything else will unfold from that.”
Naiyaravoro says he is now in much better shape to cope with the demands of life in England.
He has slimmed down in his bid to become the hard-working try-scoring machine Saints want him to be.
“A big thing for me was losing some weight so I’ve lost 6kg now in the seven weeks, which is a massive difference for me to how I ended up last year,” Naiyaravoro said.
“It was a big goal for me to try to drop some kilos and get more work done on the field than I did last season. It will be a big positive for me and for the team as well hopefully.
“I’m trying to strive for a lot more effort than I had last season and now I’m lighter and fitter, I expect to do a lot more than I did last season.
“Hopefully it will work out.”
But Saints supporters need not worry.
The man affectionately known as ‘Big T’ still cuts a sizeable figure, if a lot more lean and mean.
And it is clear just how far he’s come - not just in terms of air miles - since last year, when he relished the challenges created by his switch to Saints.
“It (not having long to prepare before last season) wasn’t really what bothered me,” said the 27-year-old.
“It was a bit hard in the first round but I enjoyed every minute of it.
“Some games were tougher than others but now I’ve had pre-season with the boys and it’s going really well.
“It’s gone by quite fast and I’m happy to be doing more rugby now.”
Reflecting on his first game in Saints colours in that Loughborough clash, Naiyaravoro added: “It was two days after getting in and I was trying to get the blood flowing.
“For those two days it was hard for me to sleep because of the time difference I was still on.
“But I actually put my hand up to play in that game because I wanted to get a sweat on and see what it was like.
“We had Saracens the following week and it was so memorable running out for the first time as a Saints player here. The crowd was amazing and unfortunately we couldn’t get the result.
“For myself personally, it really sparked up the comp for me.
“I really appreciate the fans’ support and it’s what drives me. If the fans enjoy what they’re seeing, it drives me to work even more. We play the sport for the supporters.
“If they love watching me play it’s a big thing for me and I strive to entertain. It’s great to have that opportunity in this massive stadium for a great team.”
It seems Naiyaravoro, who scored 11 tries in 28 appearances last season, has had no trouble settling in at Saints.
He has been helped by his family and also the family at Franklin’s Gardens, creating strong friendships with his team-mates, especially the likes of Ahsee Tuala and Api Ratuniyarawa.
“For me and my family, I’ve settled in as quickly as I could,” said the Fiji-born flyer.
“Some people might take two or three years, but my wife and my kids have really helped me to settle in.
“They tell me this and that and I find it a lot easier to crack on. Now I’m really used to it here.
“People like Ace and Api did a lot for me when I first started here so it’s been really helpful for me and I can’t wait to watch them play in the World Cup.”
While Tuala and Ratuniyarawa are strutting their stuff in Japan, Naiyaravoro will be focusing on helping Saints to get off to a strong start.
And if the determination he showed during this interview is anything to go by, he’ll do just that.
“The goal is to be better than last year and we’re working hard towards that,” Naiyaravoro said.
“Boys have done a lot in these seven weeks to do what we did last year and a lot better. It is the goal to end up in the top two and we’ll see when it comes.”