Rugby-Wallaby Salakaia-Loto returns home to bolster Rebels pack

  • Rugby
  • Thursday, 08 Jun 2023

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - European Champions Cup - Northampton Saints v La Rochelle - Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, Britain - January 21, 2023, Northampton Saints Lukhan Salakaia Loto Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra/File Photo

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Versatile Wallabies forward Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has signed a two-year deal with the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby Pacific after parting ways with English club Northampton.

The 26-year-old played most of his 30 tests as a loose forward but the Rebels said he would partner Josh Canham in the second row from the 2024 season.

"Lukhan will be a great addition on the field, bringing in valuable experience at the Super Rugby, English Championship and international test level," Rebels director of rugby Nick Stiles said in a team statement on Thursday.

Salakaia-Loto played his last test in 2021 and was not included in Wallabies coach Eddie Jones's initial squad this year, but the Rebels deal puts him back into the selection frame for the Rugby World Cup in France.

Wallabies selectors give preference to players with home-based contracts and can only pick three overseas-based players per international series or tournament due to a Rugby Australia policy intended to protect domestic competition.

Salakaia-Loto will reunite with former Queensland Reds team mates Alex Mafi and Taniela Tupou, and former Reds coach Stiles at the Rebels, who missed out on the current season's playoffs which start on Friday.

Hooker Mafi switched to the Rebels after the 2022 season, while Wallabies prop Tupou will kick off his tenure at the Kevin Foote-coached club in 2024 after signing in February.

"I'm looking forward to reuniting with Maf (Mafi) and Nela (Tupou), who are basically my brothers," said Salakaia-Loto.

"The opportunity to reconnect and play together for the same team once again is something I'm really excited for."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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