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Peter Bills: Noves factor a danger for Schmidt's men

In light of recent events, you'd wonder why French clubs continue to target some of the game's more complicated characters. When it comes to going AWOL from their clubs, certain Fijian internationals have not covered themselves in glory of late.

Clermont Auvergne wing Napolioni Nalaga disappeared off home to Fiji earlier this season and defied all attempts at contact. The club even sent an official to Fiji to try and find him, without success.

But triumph at last. A French newspaper 'Midi Olympique' this week announced it had finally tracked him down in a village on the island. "I'll come back to Clermont after the World Cup," he is said to have told the reporter, most generously.

Clermont may have other ideas, having already signed All Blacks wing Sitiveni Sivivatu for three seasons after the World Cup in November.

Meanwhile, another French club, Agen, suffered nightmares with one of Nalaga's fellow countrymen, who also happens to be a wing. Rupeni Caucaunibuca was involved in assorted activities including drug-taking allegations, suspension and assorted no-shows.

At one stage, Agen also sent club representatives from France's Lot-et-Garonne region all the way to the south Pacific island to try and locate their missing man. He was regularly absent for matches and then sat out a three-month suspension for alleged cannabis abuse.

I once went to Agen to interview him. Everyone said he wouldn't turn up, and if he did he wouldn't answer any worthwhile questions. Well, he did and he did. Mind you, there wasn't a lot of 'mea culpa' in the conversation. But he sat there and talked and was perfectly amenable.

Eventually though, despite the fact that he had twice finished top try scorer in a French championship season, Agen tired of the distractions.

"Where to now," you wondered? For who on earth would take the chance of hiring him with his record? When he quit Agen, his weight is alleged to have ballooned to a gargantuan 129kg.

Yet England captain Mike Tindall once called him "the best player I have ever played against".

Clearly, Fijian wings are an acquired taste. Yet one man in France wasn't scared of snapping up Caucau after Agen. And at the end of next week, that man will likely look to Caucaunibuca to help steer Stade Toulouse past Leinster into the 2011 Heineken Cup final.

That man is Guy Noves and his innate rugby brain represents a real danger to Joe Schmidt and his men.

Noves has been head coach at Toulouse since 1993, a tenure of extraordinary length in the professional game. He may be 57 now but don't be misled -- this guy is as fit as a man half his age. He's also super cool and highly intelligent. He is by far the most successful coach in French rugby history with seven French Championships (Bouclier de Brennus), two domestic cups and four European titles.

But where does Caucau come in? Noves was virtually alone in believing he could resurrect the Fijian's top-class playing career. He backed his own judgment and signed up one enormous lump of a player.

Business

Now you can bet there were some exceedingly soaked training pitches at Toulouse as Caucau sweated off the excess. But the bad news for Leinster is that the Fijian is back and means business.

He's slimmed down to about 116kg (18st 4lb) and although he no longer has that searing speed, he's still quick enough and at that weight, remains a serious threat -- particularly going forward.

I am sure Joe Schmidt's spies will have noted that against Toulon at Marseille last weekend, the Fijian looked nowhere near as capable under the high ball directed above him, or when he had to go backwards. But using his blasting power, low squat frame and devastating hand-off, he can be a real handful for any defence.

He was used sparingly but effectively a couple of times, coming into the line on the burst at inside centre. Cutting angles there with his strength and pace onto the ball would test anyone.

Noves might start with him at Lansdowne Road, or maybe use him as an impact sub in the final quarter. It has always been hard to read Guy Noves' mind. But what we can be sure of is that the Frenchman's judgment on Caucau has already been proved sound.

Irish Independent