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Tongan flanker Zane Kapeli is one of 46 rookies named in the New Zealand Super Rugby squads after impressing for the 'Ikale Tahi at the Rugby World Cup.
The 27-year-old, who only made his test debut 12 months ago, started all four of Tonga's pool games in Japan and made headlines for a crunching tackle on England number eight Billy Vunipola on the opening weekend.
The former Waikato and Bay of Plenty loose forward is one of three Tongan-born players in the Highlanders squad, alongside promising halfback Folau Fakatava and prop Siate Tokolahi, who is embarking on his sixth Super Rugby campaign.
Former Queensland Reds and Fiji Under 20s representative Kirisi Kuridrani, who is the younger brother of Nemani Nadolo, is among the 15 newcomers at the Highlanders squad, while Fiji-born winger Tevita Nabura is fit again after a knee injury in pre-season ruled him out of the entire 2019 campaign.
Two-test Tongan international Fetuli Paea is among the new faces for the defending champion Crusaders, after impressing for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup.
The 25-year-old made his test debut three years ago against Spain and earned his only other cap against Romania in 2017.
Paea is part of a strong Pacific influence in the champion franchise, with Manu Samoa prop Michael Alaalatoa and Fiji-born wingers Manasa Mataele and Sevu Reece also returning another season in red and black.
Manu Samoa lock Kane Le'aupepe will play his first full season of Super Rugby at the Hurricanes next year.
The 26-year-old, who was last week selected in a stats-based Rugby World Cup XV, is contracted until 2021 after being called into the squad as injury cover in March and impressing across his ten appearances.
Fellow Samoa international Ray Niuia will be hoping for more game-time at the Blues with the eight-test hooker swapping the deep south for the far north.
The 28-year-old hooker only managed one appearance for the Highlanders last season, in his debut Super Rugby campaign, but has signed on with the Blues in 2020 after featuring in all four of the Manu's Rugby World Cup pool matches in Japan.
Fiji-born winger Emoni Narawa is among eight 'rookies' in the Blues squad after impressing for Bay of Plenty in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Another Fijian flyer, Kini Naholo, is among the nine new faces at the Chiefs.
The 20-year-old younger brother of former All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo was a schoolboy star at Hastings Boys High School, scoring 48 tries in 2017 alone.
Lautoka-born number eight Pita Gus Sowakula is also back in the red, yellow and black for a third Super Rugby campaign, while All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala and centre Tumua Manu were both born in Samoa.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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