Dean Richards says the box-office appeal of new signing Alesana Tuilagi was a secondary consideration in bringing the giant Samoan winger to Newcastle Falcons for next season.
A Premiership winner with Leicester Tigers as well as a former top try-scorer in England’s top flight, the 6ft 1in powerhouse joins younger brother Anitele’a in signing a two-year deal at Kingston Park.
By far the most high-profile of Newcastle’s eight new signings, the 30-times-capped wide man has spent the past two seasons playing in Japan. Part of a family dynasty which began with Freddie playing under Richards at Leicester, the long line of Tuilagis to shine on the Premiership stage includes Manu, the England and Lions centre.
Richards said: “I have known Andy (Anitele’a) and Alex (Alesana) for a long time, and obviously Freddie for even longer. I have followed all of their careers with interest, and I think they will be ideal for what we want.”
With yesterday’s announcement catching Falcons fans by surprise and immediately generating considerable excitement, the director of rugby said the commercial aspects were not uppermost in his thinking in bringing the pair to the North East. He said: “In terms of generating a buzz these are signings that are going to do that – but that is not the reason we are bringing them here to Kingston Park.
“The reason for me is not about selling tickets, it is about winning on the field.”
Alesana has plenty of experience of that as a former man-of-the-match in a Premiership-winning final for Leicester, the bulldozing wide man renowned for his finishing and destructive physicality.
Younger brother Andy has been on a more winding road during a career which has seen him at Leicester, Leeds and Newport Gwent Dragons, his hard midfield running replacing that lost by James Fitzpatrick’s summer move to Leeds.
Their arrival at Kingston Park takes the Samoan contingent at the club to four, countrymen Sinoti Sinoti and Jamie Helleur already on the books.
Richards said: “The Samoans don’t mess about in rugby. With the way that we want to play the game, it will complement our style.”
He added: “These are guys who have won things, and won regularly They are both extremely physical, uncompromising and have good skill sets.
“From Alex’s perspective he is 33, but he has spent the past two seasons in Japan where they play a very small number of games per year.
“He is still as fresh as they come on the back of that, and for Andy it is getting him back into the Premiership with hopefully regular rugby.”
Alesana’s 109 Premiership appearances have yielded 46 tries during his eight seasons in England’s top flight, a further 47 Heineken Cup games seeing him cross the try-line on 15 occasions.
He said on announcing his imminent move to the Falcons: “I am extremely excited about the prospect of returning to the Aviva Premiership with Newcastle.
“It is a big club with huge potential and, under Dean Richards, there is an exciting vision for rugby in the North East that I want to be part of.”
Andy, the 6ft centre who made a single Premiership for Leicester before going on to play for Leeds and Sale in the competition, is also excited by the chance to join a Newcastle side now assured of Premiership rugby. He said: “There are certainly big things taking shape at the Falcons, and it is a club that is looking to thrive in the Premiership next season.”
Newcastle are at home to Exeter Chiefs in Saturday’s final game of the season, with a 3.15pm kick-off at Kingston Park.