It seems to be open season in the Guinness Premiership with regards to action in the transfer market. There have been some major moves during the winter period as clubs look to strengthen their squads for the start of the next season, and here at The Rugby Blog, we are going to update you on the major moves so far and the connotations that these transfers may have.
Starting in the West Country, Bath Rugby are looking to bring former glories back to the Recreation Ground after signing two of the biggest back row names in European rugby. Lewis Moody has left a club that no one ever thought he could after his transfer from Leicester Tigers shocked the English game, and with the signing of Scottish back row Simon Taylor from Stade Francais to complement Moody in the back row, Bath look certain to have a dominant pack in next year’s competition. With the resurgence of the squad since the return of the injured Olly Barkley and Butch James we can expect a strong challenge from Bath next season. These two signings have paved the way for Australian flanker Julian Salvi to return to ACT Brumbies for next year’s Super 15 competition.
The other headline grabbing transfers of the winter have come from Adams Park where two of London Wasps’ better known internationals are making well-publicised moves abroad. Paul Sackey is to join the French revolution at Toulon whilst England outcast Danny Cipriani makes a trip further afield to the new Super 15 franchise Melbourne Rebels in Australia. As of yet, Wasps have not looked to strengthen their squad at all.
London Irish too have not been overly active in their recruitment so far, but they have just announced the signing of Daniel Bowden from Canterbury Crusaders, who comes with a great pedigree as a utility back. He is a proven goal-kicker and his style of open field running will certainly get the Exiles stamp of approval.
Leicester Tigers are a club whose squad will be diminished comprehensively before the start of next season. As already mentioned, Lewis Moody will join bitter rivals Bath, but New Zealand All Black Aaron Mauger has had to retire through injury and Lote Tuqiri has already joined Australian rugby league outfit Wests Tigers. If you couple this with Johne Murphy’s impending move to Munster, then Leicester’s back line for next season is starting to look weaker than it has been for years. The departing Mefin Davies back to Neath Swansea Ospreys and Brett Deacon to Gloucester have been replaced by Kiwi back row Thomas Waldrom and Bath hooker Rob Hawkins. That aside, Leicester may struggle if they don’t bolster their back line before next season.
Gloucester have also seen more players go out of the door than come through it, with internationals Gareth Delve and Marco Bortolami leaving the Premiership all together. Delve will join Danny Cipriani at the Super 15s Melbourne Rebels whilst Bortolami will join Aironi as one of the Italian sides in Celtic League. They have however brought in Brett Deacon from Leicester Tigers to replace Delve but the loss of Bortolami could leave a big gap in Gloucester’s set piece play.
Harlequins’ winger David Strettle is looking to resurrect his international career with a move to Saracens. This could prove to be a shrewd move as the Watford based club have been one of the big spenders so far this year. Big name acquisitions in the form of Kelly Brown from Glasgow, Matt Stevens from Bath and Richard Wigglesworth from Sale all point to the Saracens owners and coaching staff looking to produce an exciting and dynamic squad which would certainly suit Strettle’s style of play.
Worcester Warriors have also looked to strengthen their squad comprehensively since the turn of the year. The evergreen Adam Balding has joined from Newcastle Falcons to boost an already impressive back row. The popular Chris Latham will return to Australia after an impressive spell and will be missed, but the electrifying rugby league convert Luke Rooney has been signed from Toulon to replace him. The Worcester fans will be praying that they can stay in the Premiership this season as further signings and international experience in Andy Goode from the Sharks, Neil Best from Northampton and Bruce Douglas from Montpellier could lead to a prosperous season should they not be relegated to the Championship.
Sale are already having a torrid time this term but the loss of club captain Dean Schofield to Toulon next season will only hinder their run in this season and their efforts next time out.
The final big name move for next season so far has come from the North East where Newcastle Falcons’ captain and talisman Carl Hayman is to make his way across the channel to join Toulon. Although this will release some money for the Falcons due to Hayman’s excessive wages, the lack of a such a player at the club could reduce already depleted attendances, and unless some money is injected into the club for transfers then Newcastle’s challenge next year could be seriously jeopardised.
As the transfer market becomes similar to that of our football counterparts are we about to see a mass exodus of players to the Top 14 where there is no salary cap? Is it time that the cap got lifted or increased in this country? The top players are already moving to France but now that the Super 14 already has its first English player in Andy Goode and next year’s expanded Super 15 competition will boast players acquired from the Guinness Premiership, should we be worried that our most exciting home grown talent will soon all be playing abroad?
If this is the case, how will it affect a national set up that is already being questioned on a daily basis? France won a Grand Slam this year, and all of their players play their club rugby in their native country, so perhaps we should be looking to learn from them.
By Andrew Daniel