Tongan star joins Sharks

2008-01-09 00:00

THE massive Tongan rugby international Epi Taione, one of the outstanding performers at last year’s Rugby World Cup, has signed a Super 14 contract for the Sharks.

The 123-kg, 1,93-metre Taione, a controversial, colourful and versatile rugby player, is scheduled to arrive in Durban in mid-February.

His signing was confirmed yesterday by Sharks head coach Dick Muir, who described Taione as a "big, big ball-carrier who is able to play either at outside threequarter or in the backrow".

The 28-year-old made a major impact at the RWC, turning out for surprise packets Tonga at centre against the Springboks. He also scored the match-winning try in Tonga’s shock 19-15 win over Samoa.

"He was one of the six or seven nominations for player of the Rugby World Cup," Muir told The Witness yesterday, "but I have been watching him now for a couple of seasons."

Taione had six years with the Newcastle Falcons (2000 to 2005), playing alongside former Sharks Mark Andrews and Warren Britz.

"He has been strongly recommended by both Mark and Warren," said Muir.

The Sharks coach said that Taione is one of the most versatile players on the world stage.

"He can play in the forwards, at flank or number eight, and he can play in the backs at centre or wing. I’ll use him wherever he is needed."

Taione’s career has not been all beer and skittles. After leaving Newcastle in 2005, he signed for the Sales Sharks but in February 2006, he was banned for 18 weeks after admitting to biting the arm of Munster’s Denis Leamy in a Heineken Cup tie.

He was effectively drummed out of the English club and has since being playing in Japan for the Sanyo Wild Knights and alongside former Sharks and All Black flyhalf Tony Brown. The team are top of the Japanese league and this has delayed Taione’s arrival in Durban.

"He has to see out his contract in Japan because the club are doing so well and we are only expecting him in mid-February. He is likely to miss our first one or two Super 14 games," said Muir.

Taione ruffled feathers on and off the field at the World Cup in France, intimidating opponents with his bruising play and upsetting the International Rugby Board with his unorthodox marketing approach.

On the eve of the World Cup, he changed his name by deed poll to Paddy Power to provide exposure to an Irish bookmaker who had provided the cash-strapped Tongans with sponsorship.

The plan was for the Tongan players to dye their hair green in a further show of support for the sponsors, but the IRB proved party poopers, ordering the Tongans to re-dye their hair.

Taione has listed "laughing on a regular basis" as one of his hobbies.

The King’s Park crowds will be hoping that the big Tongan also puts a smile back on Sharks rugby — and keeps it there.

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