Itinerant Levi to return for Makos
Story by: Wayne Martin - The Nelson Mail - Photo by: Marc Palmano - Shuttersport
Samoan international Filipo Levi is returning for this year's Tasman Makos ITM Cup campaign.
The Tasman Rugby Union yesterday confirmed the re-signing of the 25-test lock following his four-match cameo with the province last season.
Levi was called into last year's squad as temporary injury cover, appearing against Waikato, Hawke's Bay, Canterbury and Taranaki.
He has an extensive background in New Zealand rugby but joined Tasman last year from a stint with the Newcastle Falcons in Europe's Guinness Premiership.
Born in Huntly, the 1.98 metre 117 kilogram lock played 37 games for Otago and 63 for the Highlanders between 2000 and 2008 before joining Japanese club side Ricoh Black Rams in 2009.
From there he went to Welsh club Ospreys before eventually signing with Newcastle.
He has played 25 internationals for Samoa since debuting in 2004 and another five tests for the Pacific Islanders.
And he made enough of an impression on Tasman coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald that they wanted him back.
According to MacDonald, it was his experience that proved a major selling point.
"We've got a reasonably young tight five in particular so having that experience ... he's played international rugby and Super Rugby for a lot of years."
MacDonald said that they were also impressed by his "toughness and his workrate".
"When he played for us last year, he added a lot. His tackle count was up over 20 most games and the amount of rucks he hit was huge and you only had to look at our performances when he was on the park, that our team functioned better when he was in the side, so it was a no-brainer for us really."
He said that Levi's experience also shone through in other areas.
"It's also what he added off the field. He asked a lot of the other players around him and if they weren't doing enough, he'd let them know. He was great for us in terms of team culture."
Filipo is currently fulfilling commitments with his Marist club in Auckland but will arrive in Nelson on July 23 to start preparing for the ITM Cup.
Levi's return has been tempered by the loss of Marist loose forward Liam Squire for the season after he suffered a broken tibia and dislocated ankle in last Saturday's Tasman Trophy club final against Nelson at Trafalgar Park.
"That was a huge blow for Liam," MacDonald said.
"He's been training really hard and I feel really sorry for him. He's such an important part of our team now as well.
"It is a huge injury and a set back for us, but these things happen in rugby so we basically have to move on and look forward. But it was a disappointing blow. He's going to be tough to replace."
MacDonald said that Crusaders utility Tom Marshall's shoulder injury, also suffered during the Tasman Trophy final, was being closely monitored and that team management was awaiting results of an MRI scan.
An initial 26-man Tasman squad will be announced on Monday.