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James So'oialo's Connacht departure highlights problems overseas players can encounter

By Niall Crozier

Connacht's sudden release of 24-year-old centre James So'oialo from his contract on compassionate grounds has served as a reminder of the problems players sometimes encounter when they undertake to play their rugby in far-off lands away from their families.

The centre, who played for Samoa in the 2011 World Cup, had only been in Ireland a matter of weeks when circumstances at home forced him to request permission to re-join his wife and their three children back in New Zealand.

Signing overseas player can be fraught with unforeseen difficulties for any or all of the parties involved. And in So'oialo's case it appears that things went badly from the outset, for even though his move to Connacht was announced back in May, permit delays meant it was late September before he arrived. Hardly an ideal start for province or player.

As things transpired his Connacht 'career' consisted of 14 and 42-minute appearances against Saracens and Zebre in the Heineken Cup.

Playing abroad was not a concept alien to him as he had played in France – Connacht got him from Castres..

So'oialo, Connacht and the IRFU, whose permission was required before the midfielder could be released, were diplomatically silent as to the circumstances.

Connacht coach Pat Lam's explanation was: "James came to us with an urgent request to return home to New Zealand where his young family is based. His situation was one we could sympathise with and we were able to organise a release, effective immediately."

The whole affair brings into focus the problems that can arise when players and their loved ones are separated by thousands of miles.

Worryingly, that is true of Ulster's Kiwi tight-head, John Afoa, who has been here on his own since his wife Theresa – who never settled to life in Belfast – returned to New Zealand with the couple's son Mateo and daughter Chloe prior to the birth of their third child, Violet.

Unlike Ulster team-mates Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams – whose wives and children are here with them and, by all accounts, very happy – Afoa, whose deal expires at the end of the season, has not signed an extension.

Will he? I wouldn't bet on it.

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