By Alan Dymock
OSTENTATIOUS OR talent-filled, either way, it is hard to deny that the Top 14 will have an impressive array of international stars next season.
Indeed there is something for everyone in the French league’s ranks next term, with names like Jim Hamilton going to Montpellier, Morne Steyne off to Stade Francais, Wallaby prop Dan Palmer heading to Grenoble and Richie Gray hitting up Castres. However, these masters of grunt and efficiency are one side of the signings for next season. Some hugely exciting attacking talents are set to light up France.
Digby Ioane – Stade Francais
The Wallaby may have crocked himself after the first Test against the British and Irish Lions, but the winger famous for his greasy speed and dirtier celebrations is bound for the pink part of Paris for next season. When it breaks up, French rugby can be as beautifully unpredictable as a reality TV star with a credit card, and Ioane may be the one cashing in.
Bryan Habana – Toulon
Habana comes to the millionaire’s playpark of Toulon with the best try record in South African rugby. He will not arrive until after the Rugby Championship, mind you, but with his cachet and his knack of sniffing the try-line, Toulon fans will not be too fussed. When fit he will terrify defenders. If he doesn’t, his pals Martin Castrogiovanni, Ali Williams and Drew Mitchell will…
Jonny Sexton – Racing Metro
Okay, so he is not coming alone. Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate, Soane Tonga’uiha, Brian Mujati and Juandre Kruger are all Paris-bound, while several other Top 14 stalwarts, including Wenceslas Lauret, are set to be decked out in sky blue and white. However, Sexton is tasked with tying them all together and he is getting paid a lot to do it, with old sparring partner Ronan O’Gara watching in the wings. Never has so much been expected from one signing.
Hosea Gear – Toulouse
It is hard to imagine that Toulouse are not the all-conquering force in the Top 14 or Europe these days. There was even talk that long-standing coach Guy Noves could finally be on the way out of the club. Yet here they are, building for another assault on Europe’s titles and hoping to get back to where they were.
If Gear runs like almost everyone expects him to, cutting lines off Luke McAlister, Lionel Beauxis, new signing Jano Vermaak, Gael Fickou and Maxime Medard, it could be a fruitful year for the old powerhouse.
Stephen Brett – Bayonne
Not heard much of Brett? Well he was the pretender to Dan Carter’s throne for so many years in Canterbury. He had a short stint with the Blues but became disillusioned with life in New Zealand and headed for Japan. After a few years out there he is heading to Europe looking to find himself again.
He is only 27 and so has a lot of rugby still in front of him. He has slipped off the radar just enough for people to forget what he offers and is set to join forces with the most abrasive scrum-half in the game, Mike Phillips. The pair could form the surprise half-back duo of the championship and especially if he could coax a bit of old magic out of former Blues teammate Joe Rokocoko.
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