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14 of the biggest transfer flops in rugby union history

By Neil Fissler
Chris Jack of New Zealand is left in despair following defeat in the Quarter Final of the Rugby World Cup 2007 match between New Zealand and France at the Millennium Stadium on October 6, 2007 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

RG Snyman was branded the worst signing ever following Munster’s Champions Cup at the hands of Northampton Saints last weekend.


This article is by no means just a critique of the players listed: rugby transfers don’t always yield the expected outcomes for various reasons, including internal politics, injuries and clashing personalities.

With that said, here are 14 other transfers that RugbyPass don’t believe will be remembered fondly by fans.

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Sam Burgess – South Sydney Rabbitohs to Bath 2014
Earmarked as England’s answer to Sonny Bill Williams when the RFU financed a £500,000 move from the NRL ahead of England hosting the 2015 World Cup. But less than a month after crashing out of the Pool Stages, he was back at the Rabbitohs as the highest-paid league player of all time.

Dan Carter – Crusaders to Perpignan (loan) 2008
The greatest player in the modern era got the rock star treatment when he arrived in the Languedoc-Roussillon to take up a €700,000 six-month deal, but it didn’t work as intended after Carter played just five games before partially tearing his Achilles tendon in a draw with Stade Francais.

Willie Mason – Free agent to Toulon 2011
Big Willie enjoyed an illustrious career as an NRL enforcer but was released by Hull KR after just six games into a three-year contract. That didn’t stop Toulon from splashing the cash, but after playing just 74 minutes, he was shown the door with Toulon fans describing him as a “Brad Thorn wannabe” in the club’s history.

RG Snyman – Bulls – Munster 2020
The giant South African might have picked up two World Cup winners medals but his time at Munster has been nothing short of a disaster. He has spent more time on the surgeon’s operating table than the pitch-playing, just 432 minutes in four years. Bath really have dodged a bullet.


Chris Jack – Crusaders – Saracens 2007
The All Blacks lock branded Northern Hemisphere rugby as “easy” after he was released from his expensive contract a year early. But the truth was that despite his arrogance, Jack, who was a world-class player, struggled to make a major impact and his time at Vicarage Road with much fondness.

Justin Marshall – Crusaders to Leeds Tykes 2005
Leeds, who had always been prudent with spending, decided to open the chequebook after winning the last-ever Powergen Cup Final.  But the scrum-half didn’t see eye to eye with coach Phil Davies, and the club got relegated at the end of his only season and Marshall joined the Ospreys.

marshall phillips
Justin Marshall during his time with Ospreys. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Mathieu Bastareaud – Toulon to Rugby United New York 2020
The transfer of Bastareaud was supposed to be a massive coup for the MLR, but instead, it turned out to be a massive flop. The centre-turned No. 8 was visibly overweight and looked slow and cumbersome, struggling to keep on with the pace of the game.


Chiliboy Ralepelle – Bulls to Toulouse 2013
The Springbok hooker joined an exodus of players from South Africa when he moved to Toulouse. But it turned into a disaster after just nine games when he damaged knee ligaments, and then in March 2014, he failed an out-of-competition drugs test for the anabolic steroid drostanolone and was banned for two years.

Nico Matawalu – Bath to Exeter Chiefs 2016
The Fijian scrum-half left The Rec in search of more game time after being restricted to just 13 appearances because of injury. Sadly, within a month of arriving at Sandy Park, he was arrested and charged with sexual assault, and even though he was cleared was released without playing a game.

Niko Matawalu scores try for Glasgow Warriors against Lyon (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Waisake Naholo – Highlanders to London Irish 2019
The All Blacks World Cup-winning winger was one of several expensive big-name signings costing around £4m made by the Exiles when they won promotion back to the Premiership. But a persistent knee injury restricted him to just four appearances in his two years in the capital.

Christian Cullen – Hurricanes to Munster 2003
The All Black icon will feature on almost every list of the best full-backs to have played the game. But his spell in Ireland after John Mitchell dropped him was blighted by injury problems, and, by his own admission, not being able to fulfil his potential remains a regret.

Marika Vunibaka – Fiji to Leicester Tigers 1997
The Fijian sevens winger was a world-class player who would have carved up the Premiership after scoring a hat-trick against Loughborough Students in a friendly when he was on trial. But a permanent move to Welford Road fell through when he was turned down for a work permit.

Henson Saracens
(Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

Gavin Henson – Ospreys to Saracens 2010
One of the best generational talents had been on 18 months unpaid leave from the Ospreys when it was announced he would join Saracens after completing his commitments with the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. He only made four appearances before being released from his contract and joining Toulon.

Chris Ashton – Harlequins to Worcester Warriors 2021
The former England winger won’t want to remember 2021 with any great fondness. After exiting Quins mid-season after only making two appearances, he joined Worcester. But his stay at Sixways only lasted four games. He was sent off against Northampton Saints before picking up knee and calf injuries.

Jason Jones-Hughes –  Newport to Munster 2003
Wales won a tug-of-war with Australia for the highly-rated centre, but he suffered from injuries. After failing to win a contract with any of the Welsh regions, he tried his luck across the Irish Sea. But a lower back injury forced him to retire a year later, aged 27.



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Diarmid 10 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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