The new season is still weeks away but that hasn't stopped agents and players moving around the Pro12. Here are the movers and shakers ahead of the big kick-off
In a game of inches, sides with an established foundation of pragmatism usually emerge clutching the etched handles of oversized silverware. For once it was a debonair attitude to open green spaces that prevailed as Glasgow thundered their way to an inaugural Pro12 title. Since then, teams have toughened, honed and fortified their ranks ahead of next season’s assault while others have said farewell to ageing club servants and bruised fan favourites. We take a look at the ins and outs of Pro12 transfer business…
The Italians were the Pro12’s busiest team in the off-season, signing no less than 16 players and scrapping 18. Treviso have added Samoan Filo Paulo from Cardiff and the grizzled ex-England lock Tom Palmer to the engine room. Meanwhile, Italian internationals Robert Barbieri, Alberto De Marchi and Luke McLean rejoin the club after a single season in England. Former All Black Chris Smylie offers Super Rugby familiarity at scrumhalf and Tomaso Iannone will provide cover across the backline. Retired former captain Antonio Pavanello is now at the helm but will have to manage without flanker Simone Favaro and highly-regarded centre Michele Campagnoro. Other notable departures include Corniel van Zyl, who retires after eight seasons with club, Paul Derbyshire and Albert Anae who leave for Zebre and the Brumbies respectively.
Newly appointed coach Danny Wilson will be eager to recover from Cardiff’s dismal tenth place last season after signing a three-year contract at Arms Park. The region has wasted no time in recruiting former Blues’ wing Tom James, Samoan centre Rey Lee-Lo and American duo Blaine Scully and Cam Dolan. Adam Jones and the released Matthew Rees are huge losses in experience in the scrum with further strengthening required in the second row after Filo Paulo’s departure to Italy. Argentinean Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino has been released with fellow countryman Joaquin Tuculet joining the Puma’s Super Rugby franchise. Fans will be saddened to hear of Rory Watts-Jones and Dafydd Hewitt’s forced retirement through injury.
After an impressive season in Galway, Connacht have recruited just five players, all under the age of 25, for next season’s campaign. The trio of Quin Roux, John Cooney and Ben Marshall all join from Leinster adding further top flight experience before a congested European fixture list. Pat Lam has also enlisted the help of openside prospect Nepia Fox-Matamua, known from his time in Auckland, and Api Pewhairangi who represented Ireland in Rugby League. Eight players have departed the club including flanker Willie Faloon, All Black Mils Muliaina, emerging second row Mick Kearney and fly-half Miah Nikora. Lock Michael Swift also retires, at the age of 37, after making a record 269 appearances for the club.
It was a season of progress for Edinburgh but also heartbreak. Just a converted try short of claiming Scotland’s first European crown and only one win away from making the European play-offs. To make amends for last year’s shortcomings Edinburgh have signed Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu, fresh from claiming the Super Rugby crown, Tongan centre William Helu, and utility back Michael Allen. Wing Tim Visser leaves for Harlequins after a five-year spell in Scotland with Tom Heathcote and Ollie Atkins also following suite moving to the Premiership. Grayson Hart also departs after failing to wrestle the scrum-half jersey from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
The champions have added nine players to their roster over the summer including the thundering Taqele Naiyaravoro – if he doesn’t stay in Australia. The Fijian-born wing is arguably the most impressive, signing by any Pro12 club and will strike dread into defenders across the field. Glasgow will also welcome Simone Favaro on the flank, Mike Blair at scrumhalf and Kieran Low from London Irish. Departures include Sean Maitland, DTH van der Merwe, Jon Welsh and Euan Murray who seeks one last hurrah at newly promoted Pau. Crowd favourite Niko Matawalu is moving on to Bath, after a magnificent performance in the Pro12 final. Meanwhile captain Alastair Kellock and Dougie Hall retire after substantial stints at the club.
Leinster may still be without a coach ahead of next year’s Pro12 but two familiar faces hope to invigorate a side that last season disappointed. Jonathan Sexton arrives in Leinster after failing to impose himself at Racing and Isa Nacewa returns from a two-year sabbatical from the sport. The club has managed to nab development prospect Mick Kearney from Connacht but will bid farewell to a couple of provincial stalwarts. Shane Jennings and Gordon D’Arcy have both played their final match for the side and will, no doubt, prove tough to replace in the long-term. Meanwhile Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth will be the club leaving for Wasps after a two successful years.
Munster have omitted 13 players from the club’s books over the summer after being thwarted by Glasgow in the Pro12 final. The quartet of Sean Dougall, Alan Cotter, Patrick Butler and the exalted Paul O’Connell have all emigrated south to join French sides. While the province has seen Hooker Damien Varley retire through injury and rising star JJ Hanrahan poached by Northampton. In terms of recruitment, Munster have enlisted the physical attributes of 24-year-old All Black Francis Saili, Division 1A Player of the Year, Matt D’Arcy and Leinster academy product Jordan Coghlan on a development contract. Tomas O’Leary has also been drafted to provide competition for Conor Murray at scrum-half.
Newport Gwent Dragons
A ninth placed finished by the Dragons was not enough to keep prodigious talent Jonathan Evans at the club. The scrumhalf enlisting for Bath in a move that will enthuse purists as a potential union with George Ford nears closer. Elsewhere veterans Ian Gough and Lee Byrne announce their retirement from the game leaving the club light on grizzled international experience. Centre Ashley Smith also hangs up his boots after 129 appearances due to a series of concussive events. The Dragons have however announced six signings to strengthen the side. Scrum-half Sarel Pretorius makes the Dragons his seventh club while emerging Wasps pairing Ed Jackson, backrow, and Charlie Davies, scrumhalf, seek regular first team action at Rodney Parade. Adam Warren will endeavor to discover the form that earned him a Wales call-up after moving from the Scarlets while Nick Scott and Shaun Knight will introduce valuable topflight experience from spells at London Welsh and Gloucester respectively.
Just one point off top spot last season, the Ospreys remain the only Welsh region with genuine title aspirations. Paul James joins from Bath, in what might prove to be the club’s finest signing. The tighthead will ballast the front-row with his renowned scrummaging ability although, at the age of 33, is not a long-term investment. Gareth Delve and former All Black scrum-half Brendon Leonard will also provide further experience when they link up with Steve Tandy‘s squad. The region’s only youthful signing comes in the form of Kristian Phillips, the 24-year-old speedster returning to his home region after three years away over the Loughor with the Scarlets. Furthermore Ospreys have let a trio of young talents go as prop Nicky Thomas, 20, flanker Sam Lewis (who left for Worcester before the end of the season), 24, and No 8 Morgan Allen, 25, depart the Liberty Stadium, aggravated by the lack of first team opportunities. Cult-figure Duncan Jones retires after making over 300 appearances for the region while Aisea Natoga swaps the club for French side US Carcassonne.
A late surge by the region established an admirable 6th place finish in the Pro12, yet Rhys Priestland couldn’t be persuaded to stay, seeking fresh pastures in Bath. Other notable departures include Joe Snyman, who was vital to the revival of the forward pack at Parc y Scarlets, and fellow South African Jacobie Adriaanse who both are both playing French. Backrow Sion Bennett, Wales’ cap Adam Warren, Scotland qualified Javan Sebastian and wing Kristian Phillips also bid farewell to the club. In response, the Scarlets have snapped up Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe from champions Glasgow and Welsh qualified prospects Tom Price and Dylan Evans. Former Barbarians fly-half Aled Thomas adds depth in the halfbacks while age group representatives Will Taylor and Morgan Allen look to establish themselves in the Scarlets’ squad.
Ulster fell just shy of the Pro12 final last season as Finn Russell‘s boot condemned the side to an unbearable play-off defeat. The club has reinforced by adding former academy openside Willie Faloon and first-team challenger Sam Windsor at fly-half. Paul Rowley offers a leftie option from scrum-half after arriving from London Welsh and is joined by former teammate, and versatile forward, Peter Browne. Centre Michael Allen exits the club after limited first team appearances whilst longstanding prop Declan Fitzpatrick retires after a series of concussions.
“The second highest Italian finisher” is never an enviable tag. Zebre finished the season with just 15 points and have rightly rung the changes with a cataclysmic shift in personnel; 16 players in and 14 players out. All Blacks legend Mils Muliaina is the most recognisable name on Zebre’s new-fangled team sheet and he is joined by Wallabies international Luke Burgess in Parma. Bruno Postiglioni brings gnarly front row experience and versatility to the Zebre’s pack, covering the loosehead and hooker berths. And watch out for South African quartet Kayle van Zyl, Jean Cook, Ulrich Beyers and Johan Meyer all of whom are 24 and under armed with Super Rugby experience. Zebre will however loose a number of talents as Brendon Leonard, Fijian-born battering ram Samuela Vunisa and wing Giovanbattista Venditti. Italian fly-halfs Luciano Orquera and Tommaso Iannone also leave with Mauro Bergamasco retiring after a stellar career.
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