URC signings of the season
The arriving South Africans set the standard in last season’s United Rugby Championship as the Stormers sunk the Bulls to clinch the trophy in riveting style.
The onus is on the European teams to regroup and reload, while the South Africans are eager to reassert themselves as the league’s dominant force.
To that end, recruitment will be vital. Big-name Springboks are now heading home. The Irish provinces have money to burn and as the Premiership salary cap falls, some of the Welsh and Scottish sides are in favourable financial positions.
Here, RugbyPass+ picks out some of the smartest additions of the off-season.
Charlie Ngatai (Lyon to Leinster)
Leinster have a proud history of recruiting foreign totems, men who add value with their excellence on the field and their cultural input off it. Think Rocky Elsom, Isa Nacewa, Nathan Hines or Scott Fardy. Each has been central to their European success.
Ngatai seems cut from the same cloth. A hugely intelligent centre, the one-cap All Black has overcome the concussion issues and injury problems that dogged the middle chunk of his career. He excelled for Lyon last term on their charge to the Challenge Cup trophy and averaged 10m per carry in the Top 14.
At 32, with his nous, carrying and distribution, Ngatai should be a perfect fit for Leinster’s stupefying multi-phase fare.
Taulupe Faletau (Bath to Cardiff)
World-class. Together with Liam Williams, Faletau’s return to Wales is brilliant for Cardiff. They are getting a Lion of immense pedigree, a ferocious carrier and jackaler and a leader to steer them away from the malaise that took hold last term.
Though Faletau has battled well-documented injuries, and will be with Wales during the autumn and Six Nations, he brings so much to the table, on and off the field. Cardiff already have a fine posse of loose forwards with James Botham, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi among the most prominent, and Faletau should have a telling influence on the emerging crop.
Sbu Nkosi (Sharks to Bulls)
Jake White has lost Madosh Tambwe, his galloping winger, to France, but in Nkosi, he has sourced a fantastic replacement. The 26-year-old is a bustling, try-scoring menace with ball in hand, and will be lusting to win back his place in the Springboks squad with the World Cup looming.
Nkosi battled injuries for much of last season and is still working his way back from a damaged ankle. When he gets up to speed, the Bulls will have a superb, and hungry, attacking threat.
Centre Wandisile Simelane, who moves from the Lions, is another pulse-quickening capture.
Vaea Fifita (Wasps to Scarlets)
A few years back, before the scandal at Saracens and the scourge of Covid-19, it would have been fanciful to consider Scarlets taking a premier Wasps player mid-contract. No longer, though, as the Premiership salary cap plummets and teams offload players to squeeze their spending under the limit.
Fifita leaves Coventry a single year into his three-season contract. He is a remarkable player. Few forwards of 6ft 5ins and 110KG move with his blistering speed. Fewer still have his flamboyant handling. Fifita took time to acclimatise to northern hemisphere rugby, but with a 18 Wasps appearances under his belt, should be well placed to fire in Llanelli.
If Scarlets can get him motoring, particularly in the same pack as Sam Lousi, the results could be spectacular.
Eben Etzebeth (Toulon to Sharks)
The Sharks are tooling up at a frightening rate, hoarding more South African beef than the average Cape Town steakhouse. Carlu Sadie – all 140KG of him – arrives from the Lions. So does Vincent Tshituka, a thoroughbred back-row who ranked in the top 20 for carries, tackles and breakdown steals in last year’s URC.
But Etzebeth, for all he will be missing on Springbok duty, tops the lot. The great colossus is at the peak of his powers right now. Free from injury. The youngest South African to reach 100 caps. A world-class cocktail of aggression, athleticism and ability. At home, he will be managed far more carefully than he was in Toulon, where the callous words of his club president stung. As a result, the Sharks should get a fit and snarling Etzebeth to spearhead their maiden voyage in the European Champions Cup.
Malakai Fekitoa (Wasps to Munster)
Munster have had limited success with the last two World Cup winners they brought to their great province. RG Steenkamp suffered two awful injuries and has hardly played. Damian de Allende’s impact grew last season, but he has now left for Japan.
To fill the void, Fekitoa, a world champion in 2015, arrives from Wasps. Fekitoa has endured similar fitness issues. At his best, he is virtually unplayable; devastating in attack, destructive in defence. And wonderful to watch. If Munster keep him fit and anywhere near his peak, he will be a game-breaker for them.
Antoine Frisch could be a really canny acquisition, too, after a top campaign in a struggling Bristol Bears side.
Wes Goosen (Hurricanes to Edinburgh)
This one should be fun. Goosen has a terrific try-scoring record, with 31 bagged in 71 matches for the Hurricanes. Edinburgh under Mike Blair play joyous rugby; they will look to give their new attacking weapon a heap of ball to make the most of his finishing prowess.
Goosen has big shoes to fill after Edinburgh let free-scoring Argentine Ramiro Moyano go, primarily for financial reasons, but he could be just as effective, while not at risk of being lost during international windows like his back-three colleagues Emiliano Boffelli and Darcy Graham.
Sam Skinner, who joins from Exeter Chiefs, is another major addition for Blair.
Huw Jones (Harlequins to Glasgow Warriors)
Jones was never truly happy in four years as a Glasgow player. His relationship with Dave Rennie was strained, and while he fared better under Danny Wilson, struggled to conjure the kind of sumptuous rugby seen during much of his Scotland career while the Warriors laboured.
The centre has been tagged with an unfair perception too. Some have accused him of being a big-time Charlie, only interested in taking on the All Blacks and Springboks and big boys of the European club scene. This is unjust and untrue and Jones struggled to unshackle himself from the notion during his Scotstoun stint.
At Harlequins, he found a home and a team who played with greater abandon. He shone at full-back a well as in midfield but with the shrivelling salary cap, was forced to move on. Word is, Jones might have been keener on a move to France, where Stade Francais were a legitimate suitor, but he has plumped, ultimately, for a return north and a crack at the World Cup squad.
With Franco Smith installed as head coach, expect Glasgow to play with flair and Jones to soon establish himself as a key cog.
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