Paul Gustard has handed Tevita “Tex” Cuvabati a key role as Harlequins attempt to use their trio of Fijian internationals to bid for the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.
Gustard, the Quins head of rugby, signed Cuvabati and Niki Goneva from relegated Newcastle Falcons to join Fiji Olympic sevens gold medal winner Semi Kunatani at the Twickenham Stoop to ensure the versatile forward felt “ at home” in South West London.
Making sure the Pacific Islands players have a support network to help them deal with life away from their families is an area that Premiership clubs are recognising needs to be properly addressed and Quins also have a welfare manager tasked with overseeing this key area.
Kunatani joined Quins from Toulouse last season and has become a fans favourite with his big hits in defence and sevens inspired ball handling skills. With Quins failing to make a significant impact in Europe, the Premiership now becomes their main focal point this season and Gustard is looking to his Fijian internationals to help bring the best out of young stars such as Alex Dombrandt, the highly rated back row forward.
Gustard, whose Quins team heads to injury hit Wasps in the Premiership on Saturday, told RugbyPass: “ Semi came here from Toulouse and I had seen him play at 15,13 and back row and he has something different. He is an intuitive player and we liked his ability to beat people and get past the first tackler and dominate the gain line. We also recognised that he comes from a small village in Fiji and so it is good for him to have someone who can identify with his heritage and that was part of our recruitment process for this season.
“ Tex has been one of our most impressive summer signings and is a smashing guy who is full of energy and life which is awesome. We wanted to make sure there was someone who could be there for Semi and Tex is the perfect the fit.
“ We also employ a welfare manager at the club, we speak to Dan Leo and also Ben Ryan ( former Fiji seven coach) who lives around the Twickenham area and also Gareth Baber, the Fiji seven coach. Last season we had a more Samoan flavour and so Semi did have guys with Islander heritage but there is a difference between Fijian, Tongans and Samoans.”
Cuvabati is relishing his role at the club as he explained on signing from Newcastle: “Fiji will always be in us and we cannot shy away from that. That is how we play and that’s how we express ourselves. Hopefully we can also integrate it with the Harlequins mindset. Harlequins is one of the biggest clubs in Rugby. I grew up in Fiji and I had heard of Harlequins and I had seen the jersey around the villages”
Gustard revealed Saracens could have signed Goneva before he became a Premiership try scoring sensation with Leicester and Newcastle while he was still largely unknown and playing in the second division of French rugby. “I remember when I was at Saracens that Niki was offered to the club and Andy Farrell was talking with Mark McCall about it and they thought he may not be right for the club playing in the French second division. Then, he came across and lit up the Premiership. We had the opportunity to sign him following the retirement of Tim Visser to give us the experience and tries.
“ It was too good an opportunity to turn down and he is a great guy who has been in England for a long time and can add a lot to our young wings as he is a guy who has had a career of beating defenders.”