The Melbourne Rebels have bolstered their 2023 squad depth ahead of the new Super Rugby Pacific season, announcing a trio of signings.
Towering locks Tim Cardall and Angelo Smith join the talented Vaiolini Ekuasi as the Rebels newest additions, covering for injured pair Matt Philip and Rob Leota, who despite making great progress with their recovery, will be sidelined for the majority of this year’s campaign.
Ekuasi particularly looms as a player to watch for Rebels’ fans, with his physicality, speed and combative style of play complimenting the Rebels playing style under Head Coach, Kevin Foote.
Foote says the trio will be valuable additions to his playing squad.
“We knew about Vaiolini last year when we went to Auckland and since coming over, he’s been everything we thought he would be. He hits the ball really hard, plays with huge intensity, is very humble and also has family down here, which has been great,” said Foote.
“It’s massive to have the quality of someone like Tim Cardall come down from top level English rugby and help cover for the loss of Matty Philip. He’s very experienced and is a great lineout caller as well.
“Angelo Smith is a great story having come from humble beginnings to make it to Super Rugby. He plays the game the right way – fast, fearless and resolute – which suits Fijian rugby but will also fit in well at the Rebels.
“All three players will add great quality to our culture and performance on and off the field.”
Despite being just twenty-one years old, Ekuasi already boasts impressive top-level experience.
After an eye-catching Goodyear Club Rugby season in 2020, Ekuasi won selection in New Zealand’s much-heralded National Under-20's side, before signing with Auckland for the 2021 National Provincial Championship (NPC).
Twelve months later, the flanker would achieve Super Rugby honours, running out for the Blues in their opening match against Moana Pasifika.
After working closely under the watch of All Blacks stars Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu, Ekuasi arrives in Melbourne carrying a great pedigree and is hungry to make an immediate impact at his new Super Rugby home.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity the Melbourne Rebels have given me. It’s been so good to connect with my family here and experience something new after growing up in New Zealand and coming through the system there,” said Ekuasi.
“I’m excited to improve on and off the field, as a professional and a rugby player.”
Joining Ekuasi, is Tim Cardall, a 26-year-old lock from England.
Cardall joins the Rebels after playing four years for Premiership Rugby side, Wasps Rugby Football Club, where the twenty-six-year-old played 23 matches for the Coventry Club.
“I’m so excited to be here and for the opportunity to play Super Rugby for the Rebels in such an exciting city,” said Cardall.
“It’s been awesome getting to work with the likes of Geoff Parling, who has a great reputation in England, and Footey, who has really impressed me with the culture he’s putting together at the Rebels. He really cares for his players, which is great to see and something that’s really motivating.”
Smith arrived at the Rebels at the beginning of last year’s off-season, following a successful Hospital Cup campaign playing alongside eight Melbourne Rebels in Wests premiership winning team as part of the Rebels off-season strategy in strengthening on-field connection through increasing TWI.
After impressing his new teammates with his physicality, speed and hunger to learn, Smith would feature in the Rebels trials against the Brumbies, Victorian Axemen and the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners in Japan.
The Fijian-born lock says he is thrilled to continue developing at the Rebels and learning from the Club’s senior players.
“It’s a dream come true to receive the opportunity to be part of the Melbourne Rebels,” said Smith.
“Looking back just a year ago, I was back home with my parents in Fiji, now I’m here chasing my rugby dreams in an amazing city and able to support my parents.
“I’m also really excited to keep learning off the older boys like Rob, Trevor and Matt Philip and continue being a part of the great culture the Rebels are building.”
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