Fuimaono-Sapolu pens deal to play in Japan
ELIOTA Fuimaono-Sapolu has completed a two-year contract to join Japanese club side Coca Cola West Red Sparks at the end of the season.
The 31-year-old Samoan centre was not offered a new deal by Gloucester, and has turned down approaches from several Super 15 franchises and top French clubs.
Toulon are thought to have pushed hard to recruit the maverick playmaker, but Fuimaono-Sapolu (pictured) was keen to move closer to home.
The Citizen understands there would have been greater cash incentives on offer in France's Top 14 for the highly-talented midfielder.
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But a move to Japan allows him far easier access to both New Zealand and Samoa, where his family are based.
Fuimaono-Sapolu has long planned on a return closer to home, but the fall-out from the World Cup and his varying playing bans strengthened his resolve not to seek to extend his stay in England.
And for Gloucester's part, Kingsholm bosses made the call fairly early to take a different direction moving forward.
So head coach Bryan Redpath recruited Leicester playmaker Billy Twelvetrees as a direct replacement.
Gloucester Academy graduate Ryan Mills will also compete more regularly for the 12 shirt next term, while Tim Molenaar can operate comfortably in either centre berth too.
Fuimaono-Sapolu's IRB ban for his outspoken comments in criticism of game scheduling and referee Nigel Owens followed further censure for twitter comments regarding Saracens' Owen Farrell.
Confusion abounded as to whether Fuimaono-Sapolu's suspended IRB ban would be activated by his RFU punishment.
In the end it took further hearings for Judge Jeff Blackett to determine whether Fuimaono-Sapolu should indeed be banned for six months.
Blackett ruled Fuimaono-Sapolu was free to keep playing, and he has since settled back into rhythm at the Cherry and Whites.
But now his three-year spell is coming to an end, and he will join the Fukuoka-based side once Gloucester have completed their final four league games.
Fuimaono-Sapolu signed for Bath in 2006, putting his legal career as a solicitor on hold to join the Blue, Black and Whites.
After three years with Bath he made the switch to Gloucester, rejecting a big-money offer from Leicester to move to Kingsholm.
Last season certainly proved the zenith of Fuimaono-Sapolu's Cherry and Whites career.
Mixing raw power in defence with sharp attacking acumen, Fuimaono-Sapolu proved part of a devastating midfield, in tandem with either Nick Robinson or Freddie Burns.
And it was his interchange with Robinson in the LV=Cup final that led to his stunning stand-out try and helped Gloucester lift the trophy, in their third successive final.
He swept the board at the club awards and was shortlisted for the RPA Players' Player of the Year Award.
Redpath was able to get the most out of Fuimaono-Sapolu last term, by giving him free rein to run his entire skill-set in the right circumstances.
And the Apia-born centre has left a profound impression on Gloucester's youngsters.
The likes of Mills, Dan Robson and even more established backline talents like Burns and Charlie Sharples have definitely benefited from his influence and prolonged exposure to his approach to the game.
This season the World Cup and its fall-out certainly stymied his impact in at least the first half of the campaign.
But even when below par by his standards he has still been able to show little touches that break down defences, or put in big hits that scupper opponents' attacking impetus.
Fuimaono-Sapolu left Auckland in 2006 as a lawyer with a startling rugby talent.
He will return to the Southern Hemisphere as one of the professional and internatioal game's most destructive attacking talents.
He might not leave with as many trophies or accolades as he could have mustered, but he has four games with which to end on a high note.
Gloucester can still salvage a frustrating season with a top-six finish and a Heineken Cup spot for next term.
If Fuimaono-Sapolu can help tie that up, it will be a reasonable way to sign off.
Whatever happens though, this is a complex and passionate man who will leave an enduring Kingsholm legacy.