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Fissler Confidential: Esterhuizen's return to SA, Exeter sweat on Slade

By Neil Fissler
Andre Esterhuizen of South Africa breaks with the ball during the Summer International match between New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on August 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Andre Esterhuizen appears to be advancing towards a return to South Africa where the Sharks have emerged as favourites to beat the Stormers to his highly prized signature after a week of toing and froing.

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Gallagher Premiership high-flyers Harlequins are holding out for a £500,000 transfer fee for the Rugby World Cup-winning centre, who still has another left to run on his contract at The Twickenham Stoop.

RugbyPass understands from southern hemisphere sources both sides have been locked in talks with Quins in an attempt to get them to reduce their asking price for Esterhuizen, but it’s the Sharks who are close to doing a deal.

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Handre Pollard on that winning mindset in the big moments – Big Jim Show | RPTV

Jim Hamilton met up with Handre Pollard to discuss the Rugby World Cup and amongst other things, having nerves of steel. Watch now on RugbyPass TV

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Steve Diamond has started his rebuilding project at Premiership basement dwellers Newcastle Falcons by reuniting with former Worcester Warriors winger Alex Hearle to make him his first signing since taking over at Kingston Park.

Hearle moved to Kingsholm in October 2022 along with Sixways teammates Seb Atkinson and Finn Theobald-Thomas after the Warriors went out of business. He has played seven games for Gloucester this season, scoring one try.

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The 25-year-old, who hails from Shrewsbury, scored nine tries in 37 appearances during his time with the Warriors and has put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the Falcons.

Magnus Bradbury is said to be unhappy with Bristol Bears’ offer of a new contract and could return to his former club Edinburgh at the end of the season.

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Glasgow-born Bradbury, 28, moved to Ashton Gate in 2002 after making 117 appearances and scoring 15 tries for Edinburgh and has played No8, lock and blindside flanker since linking up with Pat Lam’s side.

The Scotland international, who has won 19 caps and scored three tries, was called into Scotland’s 2019 World Cup squad as injury cover for Jamie Ritchie. He has played 16 games and scored six tries at No8 for the Bears this season.

Sale Sharks will lose long-serving outside centre Sam James when his contract runs out at the end of the season. He is set to move to either the Pro D2 in France or to a United Rugby Championship side in Italy.

Manchester-born James, 29, who was educated at Wilmslow High School, is closing in on 240 appearances for the Sharks after playing 20 games for Alex Sanderson’s side this season.

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James, who went on the England Saxons’ tour of South Africa eight years ago and was taken by Eddie Jones on his 2017 summer tour of Argentina, has also played for Sale at fly-half and on the wing.

Rob Baxter says that the former Premiership and European champions Exeter Chiefs are still waiting to hear if England star Henry Slade is staying at Sandy Park when his contract runs out at the end of the season.

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Plymouth-born Slade, who is 31 next month, has had a meeting with Stade Francais about a potential switch to the Top 14 next summer but is reluctant to cross the English Channel while he is a member of Steve Borthwick’s England squad.

“That [Slade’s future] is still being debated as we speak. He will be one we let everyone know about as soon as we get everything figured out exactly what is happening there,” said Baxter.

Wales back row Taine Basham, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is at the centre of a tug-of-war between the Dragons and Premiership champions Saracens, who are keen for him to cross the Severn Bridge this summer.

The Dragons want to keep the Pontypool-born openside flanker, who has also operated at No8 and is closing in on 100 appearances for the region, but they are having to operate under a £4.5million salary cap next season.

Basham, 24, won his 17th cap for Wales against England last weekend and would be ineligible for Warren Gatland’s squad if he moves to Saracens because he is short of the required 25 caps.

Taine Basham
Wales’ flanker Taine Basham (Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images)

Regan Grace has signed a three-month contract with Bath as he continues to rebuild his career after an achilles injury that has kept him on the sidelines since August 2022.

Former Super League star Grace, 27, who scored 88 tries in 143 appearances for St Helens, is still waiting to play his first union game after being released by Racing 92 without playing a game.

He has been training with Bath, who want to take a close look at him in friendly games when West Country rivals Gloucester visit The Rec on March 9 and then when Leinster visit a week later.

Cardiff, who on Friday announced they have signed Ben Donnell from Gloucester (as revealed in Fissler Confidential), have been in South Africa in the last week.

Boss Matt Sherratt, who is looking to step up his recruitment for next season, has already signed Bristol and Wales international Callum Sheedy but is now believed to be switching his search towards the centres.

Stormers midfielder Wandisile Simelane, 25, has been mentioned as a possible target, but he only arrived at the Cape Town Stadium a month ago, two years after being first linked with a move to the franchise.

Gloucester will continue their clear-out this summer after telling former Ireland U20s and England Saxons hooker George McGuigan that he is free to leave the club when his contract ends.

McGuigan, 30, who had two spells with Newcastle on either side of a stint with Leicester Tigers, was called up by ex-England boss Jones for a training camp in June 2022 but was never capped at senior level.

The Cherry and Whites, who have released Donnell, Micky Young and Louis Rees-Zammit in the last month, are also poised to lose Adam Hastings to Glasgow Warriors.

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J
Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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