Disagreeing with the 195cm, 140kg Nemani Nadolo never seems like a wise option – except for when he disputes the suggestion that he is one of the biggest superstars in world rugby.
His three-year stint with the Crusaders turned Nadolo from a realitve nobody, following disappointing stints in Europe with Bourgoin and Exeter, into one of the most talked about wingers in the sport.
No wonder the world loves to watch him play. Nadolo has a special combination of the power that comes with his frame, fused with speed and natural ability. And he kicks at goal. Forget watching him out on the pitch, Nadolo should be found in comic books.
To to his credit, Nadolo doesn’t see it that way. At just 28, he is both still learning and about to enter his peak years.
“Mate in all honesty, I have not once considered myself a superstar,” he said.
“I still look at these wingers running around – your Julian Saveas and guys over here. I admire the wingers I come up against. Every now and then you hear it, and it is good to hear, but you still have to be yourself and remain grounded. The more progress you make, you are going to be more of a marked man.
“I still think of myself as a developing player but I back what I can bring, my skills and the stuff I can do, and I guess that is what has taken me far and taken me to where I am today.”
What his standing the sport does provide Fiji however is a voice. If Nadolo speaks, more people will listen. Which makes his thoughts on the discussions this week regarding the gulf between England and Fiji’s match fees and funding worth taking onboard.
Any criticism on that topic hasn’t come from Nadolo or the Fiji camp. There are no complaints; only pride in the shirt.
“I am pretty disappointed to read about it. Look, England is England – they are one of the big power brokers of world rugby,” Nadolo explains.
“I just want to get one thing straight. None of the boys have been complaining about the pay or our allowances, so wherever that came from it is nonsense. If you spend an hour in this camp with the boys there is not one time when we complain – we are the happiest bunch.
“We have known for years that we have got limited resources, but we don’t let it get to us mate. If anything we are proud of the fact we can punch above our weight sometimes and play against these big nations. Kudos to England for getting £20k a match, good on them.
“For us, when we get the opportunity to play for Fiji we know what we are playing for, and that is pride in the jersey and for the people back home. It is disappointing to be compared – I don’t think we should be getting compared to teams like England.
“When we come into this team, we are so happy. For a lot of the guys it is their first trip, we are just lucky to be here and to be playing for our country.
“Most of our guys earn money from outside of here – at our clubs – and if [playing for Fiji] was about the money then none of us would be playing. That should give you an insight into how much it means for any of us to play for Fiji.”
That of course doesn’t mean that Nadolo is ready for change, and to see Fiji given the best chance possible to compete with the world’s top sides.
Nobody feels the harsh realities at the top of the sport more than sides like Fiji. The solutions are crystal clear. Whether they come about is something else.
“I am not the sort of guy to have a say in this but look, there are a few things that could be done to help out, not only us but other Tier 2 nations, playing the bigger nations,” he said.
“You and myself know this is a business now. These Tier 1 nations want revenue and want money, and unfortunately we are probably unlucky because we don’t get first preference – if England could play the All Blacks over us I am pretty sure they would be doing that.
“Maybe we need more Test matches, but we have been talking about the same thing for years and years now. For us we just get up for games like this and make sure we can put in our best effort against these teams, and enjoy and relish these opportunities.”
Nadolo’s club life is starkly different. As a high-paid signing at Montpellier, he has been recruited along with the rest of the squad to win trophies, and fast. Except this time around he is ready for the transition.
Returning to France after three years in New Zealand has been a drastic change of scenery. Mohad Altrad, Montpellier’s owner, has constructed a squad built to win silverware, a journey that began with last season’s Challenge Cup title.
“It’s a new life. Different, very different. The lifestyle is good and the rugby is completely different over here. For me it is all about the challenge, enjoying my time in the south of France with my wife,” Nadolo said.
“I came here before (with Bourgoin and Exeter) and didn’t have the best of runs. But I am more mature now and have a bit of an older head on me.
“I am just enjoying my time – it is a big difference from Super Rugby but it does have its strength. I have played eleven games in the space of three months as opposed to back home when you are playing 16 games and you are done for the season. The body does take a bit of a beating – it is just what it is. I am enjoying the big guys and big teams. When I found out we were playing Champions Cup, I was really excited playing Northampton, a powerhouse and Leinster. I love getting up for those games.
“The president has gone out and signed some big players so the pressure is there, but we have got some world-class players in our team and you have got to realise it is a 30-game season. I am confident with the players we have there we will be there or thereabouts at the business end of the season.”
As for Fiji, Nadolo is confident that while starting the month with a heavy loss to the Barbarians might not look good on paper, Fiji will be better off as a result.
Returning to play at Twickenham too is special. Nadolo and the rest of a highly talented Fijian backline will get their chance to impress in front of a crowd of 82,500. The kind of stage that Nadolo is made for.
“We had a big wake-up call after last Friday night’s game against Barbarians – we had a good look at ourselves and acknowledge our faults. It is obviously disappointing to play the way we played, but we just underestimated them a little bit,” he admits.
“It will be my second time I have got the chance to play at Twickenham – it is one of the holy grails of world rugby.
“Personally, I love playing this sort of game. You get to see where you are on the world stage, how you compare individually. We are looking forward to a big game and I am sure the boys will fire up and learn our lessons from last Friday.
“We are just going to go out there and be ourselves. Last week we were probably in our shell a bit with experiencing that level of play. The weather may have played a big part, but we are really going to express ourselves this week and give everything we can to push this English side.
“We want to go in and win our small roles – winning the gainline, winning our tackles and I am sure if we win those small things in the game hopefully things will pan out and results will come our way. Expect the unexpected really.”
England have been warned.