Aviva Premiership
Tonga'uiha thrilled with Saints stay
Rob Wildman
August 6, 2010

Soane Tonga'uiha has a polite way to describe his personal trauma of last spring, when Northampton and Saracens fought over his services for the new season. "It's fair to say I got a bit tangled up," is how the giant Tongan explains one of the most heated episodes between two clubs in the history of the Premiership.

Northampton settled the contractual arguments by agreeing to pay Saracens compensation, after the loosehead prop backed out of an initial agreement to travel down the M1 to Watford. "I was told by lots of people here that I was making the wrong decision and I'm glad I had a rethink," he added during a relaxed pre-season media gathering at Franklin's Gardens.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of a dispute which went before an arbitration panel, Tonga'uiha emerged as one of the highest paid players in the Premiership. He struck a new deal at Northampton which makes him one of the big six-figure plus wage earners.

At 6ft 5 and around 20 stone he is a rare player who can mix physicality and mobility. In honour of his size he has gained the nickname of 'Tiny' at the Gardens. Off the pitch, Tonga'uiha is a quietly spoken Pacific islander who is looking forward to his fourth season at Northampton followed by a second appearance in the Rugby World Cup finals for his native Tonga.

He has based his style on watching several former All Blacks while growing up in Auckland. Olo Brown, Craig Dowd and Carl Hayman were all role models at one stage or another. His play, especially in the early stages of last season, was outstanding. It attracted him huge attention and prompted Saracens to offer him a contract for this season once his old deal at Northampton ended.

Tonga'uiha accepted and the deal was announced in late January triggering fierce pressure from Northampton fans to stay and a counter bid. "Yes, I did get myself tangled up a bit last season, but I did not sign a contract with Saracens," he insisted.

The argument raged for a good month until the two clubs agreed a solution which prevented the arbitration panel, set up by the Premiership, having to make a judgment.

"I had my reasons for wanting to stay at Northampton and I enjoy playing here," added the 26-year-old. "The fans are great and my family is local to here. I'm very happy with the decision I've made to stick around. Dorian West [the club's forwards coach] said I was wrong and he was right.

"I was never certain of what was happening and where I wanted to be. But in the end I was happy with the decision and I'm really glad I made it. I had to look at it from a family viewpoint. My wife comes from Bedford and we have three kids. If we had chosen to move then it would have been a big upheaval."

 
"Saracens were the only team that beat us home and away last season and they took away our home record as well. So to lose the semi really hit home. We've got to put it behind us."
 

The Tonga'uiha case capped an intense period of rivalry between the clubs. In all, they met five times last season with Saracens winning three, including the last two games which earned Brendan Venter's men a place in the Premiership final against Leicester at Twickenham.

That semi-final defeat is still fresh in the memory for Tonga'uiha. "It was really disappointing," he said. "We got in a position to win and lost. I think the defeat has pushed my own situation in to the background.

"Saracens were the only team that beat us home and away last season and they took away our home record as well. So to lose the semi really hit home. We've got to put it behind us."

Defeat brought Northampton's season to a halt, without a Twickenham finale to cap a campaign which brought a quarter-final place in the Heineken Cup and success in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Tonga'uiha has spent the summer resting up having opted not to play for Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup. He might play for his country should the opportunity arise in the autumn but that depends on how Northampton are faring.

"I've not said 'no' to Tonga," he said. "I've spoken to the coaches and they understand my reasons that I have to give my body a rest at the end of the season. They are happy with that.

"I'm hoping to play for them in the autumn but it depends on the situation at Northampton. I would love to play in the next World Cup. Having played in France, I want to play again in the tournament. We had some good success and we've set ourselves another target. As a squad we really played well and did a lot better than some people thought."

Before the World Cup, his attention is focused on Northampton. Can he repeat the form that made him a favourite of Franklin's Gardens? "I'm fit and ready to go. I've had four or five weeks off and really looking forward to it. If we can build on what we achieved last season we will be up there again."

© Scrum.com

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