Fiji’s ‘Bonaparte’ is French try sensation

With the nickname of Bonaparte, Fijian flyer Napoleoni Vonowale Nalaga is conquering new frontiers in French rugby having put in four successive double-try scoring performances.

The Clermont winger, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Monday, seized the opportunity presented to him when Aurelien Rougerie and Julien Malzieu were summoned for Six Nations duty by storming to the top of the scoring charts.

His two tries in the recent 52-17 mauling of Albi gave him his fourth brace in a row, took him to 10 tries for the season and helped Clermont take top place in the French championship.

“My aim was to become the top scorer in the tournament and I’m happy to have done that,” said the smiling Nalaga, who is one try ahead of Toulouse’s Maxime Medard.

Clermont officials did not have to travel too far to unearth the Fijian whose nicknames also include Napo, Naps and Napoleon.

“We came across him in June 2006 during the Under-21 World Cup in Auvergne,” explained manager Jean-Marc Lhermet.

“We kept an eye on his progress after the championship and we invited him to come to us for a trial.” Nalaga made a huge first impression.

“In his first training session, we saw that he was unusual,” said Clermont youth team coach Fabrice Ribeyrolles.

“For me he is the new Jonah Lomu. He doesn’t look very quick but he is difficult to tackle.” Nalanga weighs in at 108kg and stands at 1.87m; he has been clocked at under five seconds over 40 metres.

He is one of many players to have the tag of the ‘new Lomu’ thrust upon him with most observers nonetheless trying to cool the fervour surrounding a winger who is following in the footsteps of compatriot Rupeni Caucaunibuca, the French Top 14 leading try-scorer in 2005 and 2006.

But the evidence is hard to ignore.

In his first match for the Clermont youth team against Oyonnax in April 2007, he scored four tries.

His development was hindered by a knee injury he suffered in the next match against Brive and it took him longer than expected to recuperate, said the club physio Sebastien Bourdin.

But now he is fully fit, Nalaga is seen as a key to both the French title and a new assault on the European Cup next season with Clermont also boasting the likes of South Africa World Cup winning skipper John Smit and French internationals Julien Bonnaire and Benoit Baby.

It’s not all rugby for the winger.

Away from the game, he spends his free time with Clermont’s other Fijian imports Seremaia Bai and Vilimoni Delasau and the three friends like nothing more than to sing gospel songs on a Sunday.

“It’s very important that they are here,” said Nalaga.

Sapa-AFP –

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