Rugby: Lolagi Visinia fit again and raring to go

By Campbell Burnes

Auckland player Ben Lam (left) is congratulated by team mate Lolagi Visinia. Photo / Nick Reed.
Auckland player Ben Lam (left) is congratulated by team mate Lolagi Visinia. Photo / Nick Reed.

The Blues are said to be in the market for a big wing.

That being so, and given that Tevita Li is headed to the Highlanders, they could do worse than re-sign Auckland's Lolagi Visinia, who made a tryscoring comeback from a hamstring injury last weekend against Bay of Plenty. The 23-year-old is off contract with his home franchise, but could be a good grab for another franchise if he is passed over.

Failing that, a cashed up European or Japanese club could always do with a strapping wing/fullback with a big punt who can kick goals at a pinch.

Visinia knows he is playing for a contract, but his frustration stemmed from the fact that he has hardly been able to get on the field for the last two months after securing ample game time in 12 matches for the Blues in Super Rugby 2016.

"I had an injury to my shin the first couple of weeks of the (Mitre 10 Cup).

I got back against Northland and then did my hammy, so I was out for another month, so that was tough," says Visinia.

It was also gut-wrenching to miss out on the Gallaher Shield club final, where his beloved Suburbs won their first title since 1992, the year before he was born.

Visinia, happily, says his body is now fine, so he is primed for a big finish to the season, which he hopes will coincide with Auckland sailing into the Premiership playoffs again.

"It's good to be back playing with the boys. Obviously it's been a tough few weeks for us, losing two games by not much, but I think they really stood up in that Bay of Plenty game and we took our chances."

As one of the senior players, with 36 games to his name, Visinia is, incredibly, also one of the oldest in the team at 23.

"In the last couple of years, we've had some old heads in the team. This year we have a really young backline. Me and Simon (Hickey) are probably the oldest and we still feel young!"

That means more talking from Visinia in the back three, alerting others for counter-attack chances. He enjoys playing with Nanai.

The hardest part might be playing outside Rieko Ioane, the hat-trick hero last weekend, when he is in running mode.

"It's hard playing outside Rieko because you never know if the ball is going to come or if he's just going to carry," he jokes. "But he's creating a lot of opportunities."

Visinia will be ready for tomorrow's clash with Otago.

"The boys will be fired up, especially playing an Otago side that has been playing well. We know how they play," he says.

At first glance, one might think that Melani Nanai would be suited on the flanks with Visinia fulfilling the custodian role, but Auckland coach Nick White likes Visinia in the No 14 jersey.

"He's got a good right boot and on the wing is where he is best for us. From phase play he can come off the wing. Melani is starting to own that role from the back with his talk and direction. He made massive progress in Super Rugby," says White.

As for talk of a contract, Visinia is coy.

"I'm not too sure what is going on at the moment... there's a few options. I'm hoping it'll take care of itself."

*Live commentary of the Auckland-Otago match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 7.35pm on Saturday.

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