Over the past few seasons, a large number of South African rugby players have moved abroad to ply their trade. As a result, Sharksworld decided to have a look at some of the ex-Sharks now plying their trade in Europe, have a closer inspection of their new clubs & see how they are doing!
We first cast our attention to the Emerald Isle, & the local players representing the 4 Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup & Celtic League.
Founded in 1879, Munster are famously known for their amazing fan support and game day atmosphere (the noise during play and complete silence during an attempt to kick a goal). Their most famous victory occurred in 1978 when they defeated the All Blacks. They remain the only Irish side to have ever done so. After 2 losing appearances in the Heineken Cup final, they finally won the premier European competition in the 2005/2006 season, defeating Biarritz in the final – the winning try coming from former Shark Trevor Halstead! Munster’s 2007/2008 season was meant to start without their 2 Sharks Old Boys. Centre Trevor Halstead had just called it a day, at the relatively young age of 30, & the veteran Westville winger Shaun Payne had finally hung up his boots at the ripe old age of 35 to take over as Munster team manager. However the retirement of Christian Cullen & injuries to fullbacks Denis Hurley and Mossy Lawlor, meant that Payne was persuaded to come out of retirement as the only specialist fullback. For those too young to recall, Shaun Payne wore the black & white jumper over 80 times between 1995 and 1999 – 21 of these caps coming in the Super 12. He played in 2 Currie Cup finals, was a Super 10 losing finalist beaten by Queensland in King’s Park and was in the Sharks squad that travelled to Auckland for the 1996 Super 12 final. In 1999 he moved to Wales to play for Swansea. After 4 seasons with Swansea, the club went into administration & Payne was left clubless. However, a call from the then Munster coach, Alan Gaffney (now with Saracens) persuaded Payne to move across the St George’s channel to Thomond Park (Munster HQ). Back in 2005, Payne was also called up to the Irish squad for their tour to South Africa, although he was unable to usurp Girvan Dempsey & Geordan Murphy from the match-day 22. Playing at either fullback/wing, Payne finally reached 100 caps for Munster in November 2007, celebrating the occasion with a try against Clermont Auvergne. In his swansong season, Payne has started 13 of Munster’s 15 games thus far – scoring 2 tries & linking up nicely with Brian Carney to put the latter over the tryline a number of times. Solid under the high ball, he has also made a number of try saving tackles – no more evident than against Wasps in their final must-win Heineken Cup pool game. Munster topped their deadly Heineken Cup pool, seeing off Clermont Auvergne & London Wasps, to qualify for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the 10th season in a row. They now play Gloucester for a semi-final spot. They also currently lie in 5th position in the Celtic League – 8 points behind league leaders Leinster, but with a game in hand. You can expect them to be strongly challenging their arch-rivals Leinster for pole position come the season end. Let’s hope than Shaun Payne, who didn’t always get the recognition he deserved at the Sharks, is finally able to seal off his professional career with either a Celtic League or Heineken Cup title with Munster!
Moving towards Dublin, we turn our attention to Leinster. Leinster RFU was founded in 1875 & play their rugby in Donnybrook, South Dublin. Leinster reached the Heineken Cup semi-final in 1995/96, 2002/03 and 2005/06. They were the inaugural Celtic League Champions (01/02) beating rivals Munster in the Final in Lansdowne Road.Amongst their new signings for the 2007/2008 season was the veteran hamburger-loving prop, Ollie le Roux, who joined from the Free State Cheetahs. Ollie made his debut for the Cheetahs back in 1993, representing them 58 times between 1993-1995, and 2005-2007. He was also a King’s Park favourite between 1996-2004, turning out for the Sharks on 101 occasions & scoring 20 tries, in addition to lending his vocals to the Sharks CD in 1995. At 21, Ollie was the youngest ever prop selected for the Boks & finished with 54 Springbok test caps to his name.Known as a bench warmer in his last seasons for the Cheetahs, Le Roux has started in 9 of Leinster’s 16 games this season thus far. He missed the opening 3 games of the Celtic League, but appeared to galvanise the Leinster scrum on his debut against Ulster. Ollie was brought into the Leinster squad to cover both hooker & prop in place of the outgoing ex-Bull Harry Vermaas, although all his appearances have been at prop to date. Competition is tough, & Ollie has been competing with Argentine Juan Gomez, Cian Healy, Stan Wright & ex-UCT boy Stephen Knoop for a starting position. After beginning his Leinster career “in commanding form”, Le Roux was injured against Ulster on Boxing Day & missed out on Leinster’s final 2 Heineken Cup appearances. Unfortunately Leinster went on to be knocked out of the Heineken Cup this season. However they find themselves in a more favourable position in the Celtic League, leading at the halfway stage. Ollie was initially signed for the season but has been coy on whether he will extend his stay, only saying the following:“I still love playing the game. Rugby is there to be played and there’s no greater challenge than playing. Personally, my form to date has been so-so. I would like to carry a bit more of the ball and improve my defensive work. Ultimately I would like to become a more integral part of the squad.”
West of Dublin, across Ireland lies Connacht RFU (founded 1885). The team is sometimes called “The Devil’s Own” due to their fierce determination. Connacht has a much smaller base of rugby union players to choose from than the other three Irish provinces due in part to its small population and the relative popularity of Gaelic sports such as hurling and Gaelic football. In fact, Connacht has only 7% of the total number of registered Irish rugby union players currently!Ryan Strudwick, the ex-Sharks lock finally called it a day after a swansong season with Connacht last year. Strudwick made his Currie Cup debut for the Sharks back in 1996 & Super 12 debut in 1997, before leaving Natal for London Harlequins at the end of 1998. He also went on to represent London Irish & the Valke, before signing for Connacht.Connacht do however have a South African representative this season in the form of ex-UCT prop Brett Wilkinson, who was recommended to the club by Alan Solomans. Wilkinson played against the Boks in their World Cup warm-up game vs Connacht, & is a regular starter.
Up north in Belfast, we find Ravenshill Park, home of Ulster RFU (founded 1879). In the 1998/99 season Ulster became the first Irish province to win the Heineken Cup. From 2001-04 the Ulster team was coached by Alan Solomons. It was during this period that Ulster rugby fully embraced the professional era. Alan Solomons coached Ulster to a three year unbeaten home record in the Heineken Cup and in the 2003/04 season Ulster finished second in the Celtic League, only overtaken by Llanelli on the final day of the campaignAlthough lock Carlo Del Fava never represented the senior Sharks side, he was a Sharks under 21 & Wildebeest representative in 2001/2002. Del Fava left the Sharks in 2003 to play for Parma in Italy. It was during this time that Del Fava was first capped by Italy in the 2004 6 Nations. After 2 seasons at Parma, Del Fava moved to France to play for Bourgoin during the 2005/2006 season, before moving to Ulster at the start of the 2007 season. Del Fava missed the start of the season to recover from a niggling injury he carried through the World Cup. Since then he has featured in 13 of Ulster’s 15 games this season, alternating at lock with ex-Wallaby Justin Harrison & Ryan Caldwell. He scored a magnificent try against Connacht, & was rewarded with the Ulster captaincy in their Heineken Cup fixture against Bourgoin (in the absence of regular captain Rory Best). Ulster were knocked out of the Heineken Cup by Gloucester & currently languish in the wooden spoon position in the Celtic League.Tweet