CLUB: Leicester Tigers
JOINED: July 2021 (from Yokohama Canon Eagles)
POSITION: Winger, full-back
Leicester Tigers are a club on the mend, with last season being the first positive sign for fans that they are beginning to get back to their old ways in the English Premiership. However, it will take time to get there, and this summer’s recruitment was essential in giving them the best possible chance of competing with clubs higher up the division in 2021/2022. One of the players they added to the squad is Tonga utility back Hosea Saumaki, and he looks to have been an outstanding find by Steve Borthwick and the recruitment team, as this analysis will now demonstrate.
The key qualities for any player involved in attacking play to have are pace and a desire to cause problems, both of which Saumaki has in abundance. In this image, we see how he is the second receiver at this lineout, showing how he constantly makes himself available as a passing option for his teammates.
Once he receives the ball here, he instantly looks for gaps to run through, with the opponents drifting across to block off his route, as indicated by the yellow arrow. However, this is where Saumaki’s skill comes into play, as his excellent spatial awareness allows him to spot small gaps where he can muscle his way through, and his ability to change direction on the spot is also critical in helping him to break the defensive line down.
When opposing players are running at him, he could choose to pass either backwards or sideways, looking to start an attack in another part of the field. However, he has a natural calmness under pressure, which is evident in much of his play, and likes to hold onto the ball and wait for the right opportunity to make his move. He is strong in possession too, which prevents defenders from ripping the ball, and, when he does get going, he proves to be difficult to stop.
On this occasion, the Shining Arcs players do succeed in getting back to tackle him, but only after he has gained plenty of ground for his team. This is something that obviously attracted Leicester Tigers, as their style of play revolves around quick attacking runs to gain ground, so we can expect to see a lot of these by Saumaki when the new season gets underway.
As a back, being a good defender is also vital, and Saumaki is just as important for his team in this area of the game. Here, we see how he has advanced up the field to tackle his opponent and force them into touch. By connecting with the player directly after they have caught the Eagles’ aerial clearance, Saumaki doesn’t allow them to decide where to pass the ball to, and that is another notable feature of his game. We can see in this image how he is the furthest Eagles player up the field, and that again shows his determination and speed around the field.
Leicester’s defensive tactics revolve around winning the ball as high up the pitch as possible, and it is common to see the likes of flanker Tommy Reffell closing opponents down in their own half, keeping them pinned as far back as possible. With this in mind, Saumaki will fit right in at Welford Road, both in attacking and defensive situations.
Being able to play as a full-back or a winger, and being able to get up the pitch and lead attacks, means that the best comparison to make is with Exeter Chiefs’ full-back Stuart Hogg. The Scotland captain has regularly been mentioned as one of the best full-backs in world rugby, and Saumaki appears to have been built in the same mould as him. Leicester Tigers have recruited well all over the pitch, but it does seem that Saumaki could be one to really excite the fans, as a result of his natural pace and try-scoring threat.