We sat down with Northampton Saints lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto ahead of the men in Black, Green and Gold’s visit to Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership this weekend…
Q: How have you been settling in during your first season at Northampton Saints?
LSL: I’ve been here a couple of months now and I’m really enjoying my time so far. It’s been a good change, it’s something I probably didn’t know I really needed until I got over here and started to experience new things and be in a new environment. At this point in my career, a change was something that I needed. I know I’m at the right place.
Q: How did your move to the Club come about earlier in the year?
LSL: I missed out on the spring tour [with Australia], and my agent said there were a few clubs interested so I started to contemplate the idea of heading off-shore – basically to improve. I didn’t think I had much growth in me back in Queensland, and I felt I needed to get out of my comfort zone. Northampton were one of the clubs and what set them apart was just simply the way they approached me and the whole process of how we spoke. The communication back and forth was awesome and they were really classy in how they approached, and gave me time to think about the idea of being involved with them moving forward. Coming over here, experiencing the Premiership and what Saints and Franklin’s Gardens have to offer – it’s definitely the best decision I have made in my career so far.
Salakaia-Loto settling well at Saints
Q: What did you do to familiarise yourself with the team once you knew you were heading here?
LSL: When I started to think there was a real possibility of me coming over, I started to tune in and watch the games – this was around the time they started to go on their hot streak last year. They won seven on the bounce going into that semi-final at Leicester and, like everyone else, I was really excited to see it. What I saw was how they played the game and I thought that they played differently to a lot of teams in the Prem. Obviously, we like to throw the ball around with some running rugby and that’s something I’ve always thrived in. Coming here was the best choice as it’s the team that best suited to how I play the game and how I want to get better.
Q: Did you meet some of your Saints teammates while on international duty with Australia during the summer?
LSL: I got called into the squad late when they had a battlefield of injuries. I was lucky enough to get involved [with Australia] for a week and I got to meet the boys – Luds, Furbs, Dingers, Freemo, big Courts and all those boys. I met them at Brisbane and then there was a possibility I could have played against them, but it wasn’t meant to be. It would have been good to play against them, but it just didn’t happen.
Q: What have you made of the Gallagher Premiership so far?
LSL: It’s awesome. I’ve been playing senior rugby for the last eight or so years and it sort of takes me back to when I first got in, playing against more established players. That’s not to say there aren’t established players in Super Rugby but the average age there is probably a bit lower than when I first came through. There are more young people coming through, but for me coming here I’m up against guys who have been playing for years at the highest level. It’s been good to experience that, but to also experience a different type of rugby – I think the game we played against Exeter last Friday was probably like no other game I’ve ever played in, in terms of style and there being a lot of kicking. It’s been good to experience some new stuff and it forces me to grow in parts of my game that I need to grow.
Q: You seem to be becoming a real supporter favourite at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, do you feel that connection with them?
LSL: In terms of interaction with the crowd post-game and pre-game, people in Northampton are so friendly. Even when I’m out just with my family, doing some food shopping, the people in public in general are just really nice. The kids who come here obviously look up to us as players, and it’s good to be able to give back to them in some sort of way. The best way we can do that is to put in good performances on the pitch and then win, lose or draw we go up to them and shake their hands, take pictures and stuff like that. Everyone is so friendly here and so welcoming and it’s home for me now.
Q: There’s another big challenge coming up on Sunday, with a trip to Premiership leaders Saracens…
LSL: It’s the first time I’ll get to play against Saracens, who are a world class club that has had a lot of success in recent years. History tells you they are a very successful club. For us our season has been a bit here and there in terms of performances, but what better way to test ourselves after two tough wins against Bristol and Exeter than against the leaders, Saracens. The job for us is to go down there on Sunday and put on a performance that we know we can together. I’m sure that if we play the game we want to play, and do the things we say, there’s no reason why we can’t go down there and get a result.
Q: Did the Exeter game feel like good preparation for Sarries, given how Saints had to tighten their game up during it?
LSL: One hundred per cent. Even though it was not our prettiest win, it was a win we sort of had to have. In the wins we had had, we haven’t really strung consistent minutes together, and I thought while it was a tight game that could have gone one of two ways, the way we muscled our way in and just rolled our sleeves up and went to work was awesome. It’s those wins that aren’t pretty and you just earn by pure patience and sticking to the game plan that are the most pleasing, because we did what we said. I sort of got the feeling Exeter were trying to force us into a game we didn’t want to play, and we could have fallen into their hands, so I’m proud of the way we got stuck in.
Q: Finally, some supporters have been starting to compare you with Saints legend Samu Manoa…had you ever seen him play while he was here?
LSL: I did know about Samu Manoa, but I didn’t really know too much about him, which is probably poor on my behalf! But I’ve spoken to guys like Courts and I’ve heard stories about him around the club – I’m pretty sure everybody has a Samu Manoa story. It’s obviously nice to get the comparisons, but it’s disrespectful to him I think to be compared to me – I’ve been told that, at one point, he was one of the best forwards to ever play up here. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t watched his YouTube highlights, or stuff like that! I have heard a couple of comparisons recently and it’s awesome because you always want to play like guys you look up to. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look up to him in the way he went around his business. He’s obviously a legend of the club and it would be nice to have the sort of impact he did one day, but I’m just trying to be my own player and he’d want the same thing as well – not that he’d know who I am!