A barnstorming prop in the form of his life. Genge has taken his game to new heights this past year, melding fine scrummaging to immense carries and influential leadership. He helped propel Leicester Tigers to the Premiership title, and his presence, personality and prowess will provide Bristol with a huge shot in the arm after a gloomy campaign.
Genge delivered some his most bruising stuff on tour with England in Australia – who can forget the smiting of Samu Kerevi? – the classic, confrontational snarl underpinned by hard-won skill.
Now 27, he left Bristol six years ago carrying the reputation of a young man whose talent was marred by temper, and whose obvious potential was threatened by off-field strife. Sadly, and predictably, he is still tarred with this ‘hothead’ brush in some quarters. Really, Genge dares to be different in the things he says and the way he plays. He applies splashes of colour to a sport blighted by grey conformity.
And he returns home to Bristol a captain, champion, and world-class prop forward. His emotional connection to the place goes a long way to making this such a mouth-watering acquisition. Rugby is all the richer for the part Genge plays in it. And so, too, will be the Bears.
George Ford and Jonny Hill are more eye-catching summer additions, but O’Flaherty may be Sale’s most influential. Ford is injured just now, and unlikely to see any action before the New Year. Like Hill, he could miss a swathe of the season on England duty. Sale are badly in need of Ford’s game management, but they certainly do not want for Hill’s forward oomph.
O’Flaherty has never cracked Test rugby and at 28, probably never will. Instead, he has made himself one of the Premiership’s most effective and dangerous outside backs. He bagged eight tries last season, eleven the year before, and seven more on Exeter’s run to the double in 2020. He is consistently among the best line-breakers and tackle-breakers and places in the top 10 for each category over the past three seasons.
This is the kind of potency Sale need. For all their grunt and ruggedness up front, they have at times looked a little blunt out wide. Long lay-offs for Faf de Klerk, Raffi Quirke and AJ MacGinty did not help last season. De Klerk and MacGinty have since departed. Manu Tuilagi seems forever close to full fitness but never quite there. O’Flaherty will bring durability, reliability, and clearly, a ruthless edge to capitalise on Sale’s forward dominance.
Handre Pollard (Montpellier to Leicester Tigers)
Leicester’s biggest, and most pivotal, addition. In losing Ford to Sale, the Tigers have been shorn of their pace-setting, spiral-bombing conductor. His kicking game is exceptional, his work as a facilitator and orchestrator tremendous. Few rival Ford with the boot or tactical cunning, but if anyone does, it’s Pollard.
The problem is, Pollard is only now getting back to somewhere near his best, and he’s been sent from the Springboks camp to the Tigers after another knock. Serious injury kept him out of the picture for much of last season at Montpellier, and when he returned to fitness, Paolo Garbisi had wrested away the 10 jersey. The swashbuckling Italian helped drive Montpellier to the French title. Springbok duty will keep Pollard away for the first three Premiership rounds next month, and at least another two in November.
In the past two seasons, Pollard started a total of nine Top 14 games. Unflappable and adroit and a world champion, he seems a perfect fit for Steve Borthwick’s Leicester blueprint. But how much rugby can the Tigers get out of him? And can they keep him fit? Get it right, and he could become a totemic figure.
Danilo Fischetti (Zebre Parma to London Irish)
In a London Irish team encouraged to play with elan, Fischetti will be extremely fun to watch. One of the crop of emerging Italians blooded by Franco Smith in 2020, the loose-head has a terrific skill-set in open play alongside the typical brawn you’d associate with an Azzurri scrummager.
Fischetti’s point of difference is his jackal threat. For a prop, even in today’s game, he pilfers a vast quantity of ball, like a giant limpet at the breakdown. Irish can feed off these turnovers with their dazzling array of broken-field threats.
At 24, Fischetti is a good age to develop and grow under a new rugby stimulus. He has been impressive on the Test stage for two years and while Irish will miss him in the autumn and the spring, he will not have come with a heavy price tag. Expect to watch him fly in the Premiership.
Vincent Koch (Saracens to Wasps)
Serious pedigree. Two Premiership titles, two European crowns and a World Cup winner’s medal. Koch is a colossal scrummager, and will soon become the bedrock of the Wasps set-piece. Just as well, for it needs some reinforcing.
Only Bath and London Irish had a poor ball retention rate on their own put-in last season. Only Bath conceded more scrum penalties and only two teams won fewer. Koch’s arrival should go a long way to addressing those ugly figures. And he is far from a one-trick pony – ranking joint-eleventh for tackles made, the highest prop on the list.
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