Gloucester sign Sila Puafisi to boost forward drive

Rugby Union Correspondent

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The Independent Online

Gloucester’s forwards are travelling backwards so quickly these days, they would start an Olympic rowing final as gold medal favourites. Hence a pre-Christmas move on the recruitment front. The Tongan international tight-head prop Sila Puafisi has agreed terms with the West Country club and will pitch up in the Cotswolds as soon as any visa and work permit complexities are ironed out.

Puafisi, who joins his countrymen Lua Lokotui and Sione Kalamafoni at Kingsholm, is nobody’s fool: he was in Tonga’s starting line-up for the Test against Wales in Cardiff four days ago, having enjoyed a successful spell in New Zealand’s domestic ITM Cup. The 25-year-old scrummager’s Tasman Makos team secured promotion to the top tier of the tournament next season by beating Hawke’s Bay a month ago.

The Cherry and Whites’ desperate set-piece problems have sent them plummeting down the Premiership table: they are currently 10th out of 12, a far cry from the top five position many expected them to be occupying. The issues at the sharp end have made life particularly difficult for a couple of England players, most notably the outside-half Freddie Burns and the open-side flanker Matt Kvesic. Neither man set foot on the field during the autumn international programme at Twickenham and now find themselves chasing the game ahead of the Six Nations, which begins in February.

By signing Puafisi, the Gloucester rugby director Nigel Davies has bought himself a tight head with some pedigree – one capable of challenging Rupert Harden and Shaun Knight, neither of whom has spent the opening months of the season ripping up trees. “The work behind the scenes can be quite lengthy in these cases,” Davies said, “but Sila has been in fine form and I’m confident we’ve added a quality player to our squad. Having Lua and Sione here already was a big help. They’ve confirmed to me that we have the right man.”

Wales have drafted the Ospreys lock James King into their training squad for this weekend’s meeting with Australia at the Millennium Stadium. The second-rowers Bradley Davies and Luke Charteris are off-limits – Davies is recovering from shoulder surgery; Charteris has been summoned by Perpignan for a big Top 14 game with Clermont Auvergne on Saturday – and there are still concerns over the fitness of the Newport-Gwent Dragons forward Andrew Coombes. The Lions wing Alex Cuthbert is also training after recovering from ankle trouble.