Northampton Saints can today confirm that Ahsee Tuala, Api Ratuniyarawa, Piers Francis and Taqele Naiyaravoro will depart the Club this summer.
The experienced quartet have 23 seasons and over 400 appearances in Black, Green and Gold between them, but will move on to pastures new at the conclusion of the 2021/22 campaign.
“All four players have made massive contributions to our environment and what we’ve achieved in recent seasons. They will be missed around our camp when they leave,” said incoming Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson.
“Ace is a genius with the ball in his hands, but he’s also an incredible Saintsman and does a lot away from what you’ll see on the pitch. He’s constantly looking after and coaching the youngsters, trying to pass on knowledge, so he’s been a big part of our culture for several years now.
“For me, Api has been one of the best heavyweight locks in the Premiership during his time here, and works unbelievably hard to both improve his game and develop athletically. Off the field he holds a lot of gravitas within the squad – anyone nicknamed ‘the Sheriff’ or ‘the Boss’ is obviously bound to be a legend of a man – so we’ll miss having him amongst the group, but he’s made a decision with his family’s long-term future in mind.
“You won’t find many players that work harder than Piers to unlock their very best on the field. He’s an awesome athlete who takes great care over his conditioning, but he’s also an international-quality centre – which sometimes he doesn’t get the full credit for – who always brings an incredible competitiveness and toughness with him onto the field.
“Last but not least, Taqele is one of very few players who on their day is undefendable. He can change matches and beat teams on his own with his huge physicality, but his skillset and soft skills are often underrated too. He’s been unlucky with injuries the last couple of years and – like all of those who are leaving us – we wish him the best for the future.”
Ahsee Tuala | Saint #1956 (139 appearances, 145 points)
Ahsee Tuala was originally brought to Northampton as injury cover in February 2015 from Counties Manukau Steelers, but the Samoan-born back-three player quickly caught the eye in the Black, Green and Gold jersey.
He made the move permanent later that year, and started to make a big impression on the first-team during the 2016/17 season as he featured 25 times for Saints, scored the winning try in the European Champions Cup play-off final against Stade Francais, and scooped the Club’s ‘Breakthrough Player of the Year’ award.
A further half-century of appearances and 14 tries would follow over the next two seasons, with Tuala starting the 2019 Premiership Rugby Cup final as Saints lifted the trophy courtesy of a 23-9 win over Saracens.
While notching up over 100 caps for Saints, Tuala has played for Samoa 23 times to date, featuring at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Tuala, 32, said: “I’ve loved my time with Saints – I never thought I would be here so long when I first came over, but it’s been a massive privilege to represent Northampton.
“The Club has a lot of history behind it and a passionate group of supporters. It’s a special place which now feels very much like a ‘home away from home’ for my family. We’ve all made lifelong friends here and it’s been cool to see the kids grow up in a different part of the world.”
Api Ratuniyarawa | Saint #1968 (124 appearances, 30 points)
Api Ratuniyarawa joined Saints during the 2016/17 season from French side Agen, and soon become a firm favourite among the Club’s supporters for his combative ball-carrying and deft offloading game – winning the Club's 'Breakthrough Player of the Year' award in 2017/18.
The Fijian brought up his 50th appearance in Black, Green and Gold the following campaign, while also helping Northampton to reach the Gallagher Premiership play-offs and lift the Premiership Rugby Cup as he started in the final.
Ratuniyarawa toasted a century of Saints appearances during the 2020/21 season, even naming his son ‘Franklin’ after his birth in 2019.
The 35-year-old lock has also been a regular with the Flying Fijians during his time at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, earning 36 caps for his country so far and featuring at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
“It’s been a great honour for me to represent this Club since 2016. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, learned a lot from all the players and coaches here, and created some fantastic memories,” said Ratuniyarawa.
“Northampton has been fantastic for my family; two of my sons were born here and the community of supporters have welcomed us in. We have cherished our time and the area will always be a big part of our lives, but now is the right time for me to move on.”
Piers Francis | Saint #1984 (79 appearances, 199 points)
Piers Francis began five seasons in Northampton at the start of the 2017/18 campaign, having been called into England’s squad for the first time that summer as the Red Rose toured Argentina.
The versatile back – comfortable at centre or fly-half – arrived at Saints after stints with Counties Manukau, Auckland Blues and Edinburgh Rugby and slotted straight into the first-team squad, making 21 and 23 appearances respectively in his first two seasons at the Club.
Playing a key role during the 2018/19 campaign, Francis started both the Gallagher Premiership semi-final at Exeter Chiefs and Premiership Rugby Cup final, where Saints downed Saracens to lift the trophy on home soil.
He was rewarded for his fine form with a call-up to England’s squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, featuring in four warm-up games and starting against the USA in Japan as England reached the final of the competition.
Injuries have disrupted the 31-year-old’s progress during the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, but Francis did notch up his 50th Saints appearance against London Irish in January 2020.
Francis said: “My time at Saints has been fantastic. I’ve loved playing back in England at such a great Club, and it’s been really exciting playing under Chris Boyd and the current coaching group.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to put the Black, Green and Gold shirt on. My body unfortunately prevented me from doing it as many times as I’d have liked, and this last year has been a really tough one for me both physically and mentally with injuries, but I’m leaving the Club in a good place and looking forward to a fresh start.”
Taqele Naiyaravoro | Saint #1993 (70 appearances, 110 points)
Powerful Fijian-born wing Taqele Naiyaravoro arrived at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens ahead of the 2018/19 campaign with a big reputation. Record-breaking stints with the NSW Waratahs, Glasgow Warriors and Panasonic Wild Knights had seen him capped by Australia and feature for the Barbarians.
He soon lived up to his billing, making 28 appearances and scoring 11 tries in his debut campaign with Northampton as Saints reached the knock-out stages of every senior competition – lifting the Premiership Rugby Cup along the way.
Naiyaravoro made more metres and clean breaks than any other player in the Gallagher Premiership that term, becoming the first person to beat a century of defenders in one league season since that data had been recorded.
The bulldozing 30-year-old wing brought up a half-century of Saints appearances in 2019/20, before adding a further six tries and 14 appearances to his tally in 2020/21 – although Naiyaravoro has been restricted to just one appearance this season so far, as he recovered from a knee injury sustained in preseason.
“It was a huge adventure for my family and I to move over to Northampton, and my time here has been nothing but awesome. The Saints family accepted us all and this feels like home now,” said Naiyaravoro. “It is always difficult to leave a place you have grown so close to. I’ve always been very grateful for the support I’ve had at Franklin’s Gardens, and I’ll take a lot of good memories away with me.
“My injury this season has been very frustrating and difficult for me as I would like to be out there every single game, but I’m back now and hopefully can put my hand up for the rest of this season to finish my time at Saints on a good note.”