There have been a glut of big name signings for the 2017-18 season across all three domestic leagues and RW pulls out the moves that will make a huge difference next season
By Alex Shaw
The announcement of new signings for the 2017-18 season is an almost daily occurrence in the northern hemisphere at the moment, as clubs, regions and provinces all look to build squads which will help them reach their ambitions next season.
Before the Six Nations takes a hold of all of us again this weekend, we run through some of the most impactful signings confirmed so far and project how the players will benefit their new employers.
It’s not too difficult to guess where will be starting and that’s the blockbuster fly-half switch that will see George Ford head back to Welford Road for a second spell with Leicester Tigers and Freddie Burns move home to don the blue, black and white of Bath.
George Ford to Leicester Tigers, Freddie Burns to Bath
On paper, this seems to be a win-win deal for both teams involved.
George Ford gives Leicester that extra bit of quality to help move them back to the Aviva Premiership’s top table, while Burns gives Bath’s back line a stability that they struggle for when the Test windows and international call-ups roll around.
Tigers will hope to combine Ford with Manu Tuilagi – a player Ford knows well from their time together in Leicester’s academy – and the versatile Matt Toomua in a midfield that could, if they click, be as dangerous as any in world rugby, let alone the Premiership.
As for Burns, he will, in theory, give Todd Blackadder the consistency the Kiwi wants at fly-half, something which he has struggled to get in his debut season at Bath, due to Ford’s duties with England and constant injuries to the back line.
Both teams will feel their goals are more achievable as a result of these signings.
Aaron Cruden to Montpellier
This doesn’t need too much explaining. With Vern Cotter on his way to Montpellier and presumably keen for the club to play with a higher tempo and more of an attacking frisson than it has under Jake White, All Black Cruden gives Cotter a playmaker capable of delivering just that. Threats abound in the Montpellier back line, most notably Nemani Nadolo and Joe Tomane, so bringing a fly-half on board that can unleash them makes a lot of sense.
Huw Jones to Glasgow Warriors, Mark Bennett to Edinburgh
The impact Jones has made for Scotland since tying himself to thistle last year made him an obvious target for either of the two Scottish clubs. Similarly, when Glasgow made their move for Jones, Bennett became an obvious casualty in their back line and a move to Edinburgh makes all the sense in the world.
Both players are capable of lighting up a game from the outside centre berth and should make their respective teams more potent as a result.
Scotland are now in the fortuitous position of having two such skilful outside centres fully-available to them in the build-up to and during Test windows.
Steven Luatua and Alapati Leiua to Bristol
These two signings could be seriously mitigated by the fact they may be playing in the Greene King IPA Championship next season.
Luatua, on his day, is a handful for any defence to deal with and his versatility to pack down in the engine room, at blindside or at No 8 just adds to the value that he will bring to Bristol.
As for Leiua, he is a Test-calibre talent who has had the worst luck with injuries since he moved to Wasps. If he can stay fit at Bristol, he can be the X factor back that they need, either in the centres or on the wing.
Charlie Faumuina, Antoine Dupont and Cheslin Kolbe to Toulouse
Toulouse have themselves quite the haul so far. All Black Faumuina replaces the departing Census Johnston, Dupont is one of the brightest prospects emerging in French rugby and Kolbe is an electric player with ball in hand and all three signings speak of a desire to play a more expansive game at the Stade Ernest-Wallon. Dupont may not have the global profile that Faumuina or Kolbe have, but if he can win the starting scrum-half jersey, he could be the driving force behind a new era of Toulouse rugby.
Cory Allen to Ospreys
In addition to bringing in former fan favourite James Hook, the Ospreys have also confirmed the arrival of Allen from Cardiff Blues, who will join Owen Watkin, Kieron Fonotia and Ashley Beck in a midfield battle. Allen has slipped out of the reckoning at the Blues, with Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo preferred and Leicester centre Jack Roberts signed for next season, but he is a powerful ball-carrier who can help the Ospreys, especially outside of the creative Sam Davies at fly-half.
Christopher Tolofua, Calum Clark and Liam Williams to Saracens
Liam Williams draws the attention here, with the Welsh back three wizard acting both as a direct replacement for Chris Ashton on the wing, as well as competition for Alex Goode at full-back. On Saracens’ artificial surface, Williams’ footwork and speed should be able to shine.
French international Tolofua comes into the club’s hooker pecking order, providing cover for Jamie George when he is with England and easing the burden on Schalk Brits, who will be 36 years of age next season if he doesn’t opt to hang up his boots in the summer. As for Clark, he is an abrasive back-rower built in the mould of player that Saracens prize in their defensive structures and in terms of skill set, he would seem to be the perfect addition to the club’s back-row pool.
With a number of veteran players set to move on from the club this summer, the North Londoners are doing a good job of retooling ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Facundo Isa and Chris Ashton to Toulon
Speaking of veterans moving on from Saracens, Chris Ashton is chief amongst those who will be missed at Allianz Park next season.He will bring a work rate and natural finishing ability that will be needed at Toulon, especially with concerns over the ability of the players currently at the club to play with width and tempo. Ashton’s proclivity for looking for work in the midfield and tracking the ball should help negate the lack of genuine ball-players in Toulon’s back line.
The sky is the limit for Isa and it will be interesting to see how his move to Toulon affects his development, not to mention where he packs down, with Duane Vermeulen the current incumbent at No 8.
There is no doubt the addition of Isa improves Toulon as a team, but will it improve Isa as a player? Let’s hope he loses none of the pace or dynamism in the loose that makes him such a powerful threat with ball in hand.
Chris Farrell to Munster
This move has snuck in a little under the radar, with JJ Hanrahan’s return to Munster drawing more column inches, but the bruising centre has been at the heart of some of Grenoble’s best play over the past three years.
At just 23 years of age, Farrell has his best years ahead of him and could be quite the complement to Rory Scannell or Sam Arnold in the Munster midfield next season.
Munster are finding plenty of varied ways to win games and Farrell is a different type of weapon to add to their arsenal.
Sam Underhill to Bath, Carl Fearns to Gloucester, Matt Kvesic to Exeter Chiefs
The back-row merry-go-round is going at full speed in the western reaches of the Premiership and it started a couple of years ago, when Sam Burgess displaced Fearns at Bath and sent the flanker on a two-year sojourn to Lyon. He proceeded to be the driving force behind Lyon’s promotion to the Top 14, continued to excel following that promotion and now has the opportunity to put his name in the England mix, having secured a move to Gloucester.
He will bring a no compromising attitude to the Cherry and Whites’ back-row and help make up for the departure of Kvesic to West Country rivals, Exeter. Kvesic’s England ambitions have been unfulfilled at both Worcester and Gloucester and he will hope that a move to high-flying Exeter helps propel him into Eddie Jones’ plans.
Lastly we come to Underhill, a player certainly in Jones’ immediate plans and the former Gloucester academy player, who has been at the Ospreys more recently, becomes eligible for England this summer when he returns to the Premiership with Bath. Exeter have missed the fetching ability of the injured Julian Salvi this season and the arrival of Kvesic gives them an extra option in that department, whilst the same can be said of Bath and Underhill, with Francois Louw, David Denton and Taulupe Faletau all also missing time with injuries over the last six months.
Fearns won’t provide Gloucester with the same fetching threat that Kvesic or Underhill do at their clubs but the physical presence he will bring alongside Ross Moriarty and Ben Morgan will undoubtedly create fireworks next season.
Lolagi Visinia to Grenoble
Visinia and Gio Aplon in the same back three? That’s another recipe for fireworks. The New Zealander has fallen out of favour in Auckland, where the Blues have assembled a pretty stellar array of back three options, but that should not detract from Visinia’s talents. Bernard Jackman’s side are not afraid to try and run the opposition off their feet and with a player as dangerous as Visinia added to the group, they may become even more adept at doing so next season.