If there is a gloom hanging over New Zealand after confirmation that Nick Evans is to become the eighth World Cup All Black to defect to Europe, the northern hemisphere is bubbling at the prospect. What’s more, whispers swirling around The Rec are growing louder that Jerry Collins could also be ready to take flight and sign with Bath.
Jenni Rutherford writes from London for RugbyHeaven NZ that British newspapers and websites were awash with the news of Evans’ two and a-half year deal with Harlequins. The English Premiership begins its last week of the regular season with Evans’ new club right in the mix to grab one of the hotly contested playoff places. Quins are fourth with league heavyweights London Wasps and a struggling Leicester breathing down their necks.
Qualification in the top four would result in a semifinal spot which is no mean feat after just two seasons back in the top flight. The clubs are also playing for a top six place (should 11th-placed Worcester not claim one as the winners of the European Challenge Cup later this month) which would guarantee Heineken Cup rugby next season.
Leicester, the Premiership champions, are unaccustomed to having to fight for top-of-the-table places and have never failed to qualified for the Heineken Cup. The East Midlands club, that Aaron Mauger joined in November, is the subject of much speculation here that the new head coach Marcelo Loffreda, who took Argentina to third at the World Cup, will be out of a job at the end of the season because of relatively poor results (failure to make the knockout stages in Europe and under threat of a premature end to their league season).
The club, however, has some good news and are about to sign England-grown talent by doing a deal with Toby Flood instead of entering the race to sign Dan Carter.
Leicester had been prepared to match the £750,000 ($1.9 million) that is being offered for the All Black first five, but pulled out of the bidding once Flood, the England and Newcastle centre, became available.
Evans no doubt will be excited about his choice to live in one of the world’s more fashionable cities while Tom Willis, who played even less than Evans in the All Black jersey, appears as delighted that he is moving to Newport.
The Waikato captain, with five caps for New Zealand, told the South Wales Argus that he cannot wait to join the Dragons in July on a two-year contract. The 29-year-old is expected to play a major part at the Celtic League club who want to utilise his leadership qualities.
“I was attracted to join the Dragons because of the opportunity and the challenge of helping the team to move forward,” he said. “I also think that rugby is on a bit of a high in Wales at the moment and the future is bright, which makes it a good scene to be a part of. Other facts included a chance to live abroad, experience a new culture and see other parts of both the UK and Europe as a player.
“The picture that Paul Turner [Dragons head coach] presented to me was that he has a young and talented side with an abundance of ability, but they need a wider branch of experienced players to support the senior players in helping to win close games.
“Paul also wants me to provide leadership both on and off the field and I feel I fit that bill.
“Paul strikes me as a very enthusiastic, progressive and ambitious coach who really wants to move the club forward so I am looking forward to working with him.”
Willis’ former flat-mate and Highlanders No 8 Grant Webb is expected to follow him to Rodney Parade, while the Dragons are also chasing Otago’s first five Daniel Bowden and a top-class lock. Willis will join James Arlidge, who was a team-mate in Otago, in Wales.
“I’m going to Newport to help the team win games that might have slipped in the past and to contribute to a dynamic and exciting brand of rugby,” he added.
Willis hopes that his paperwork goes through smoothly to be in Wales in early July. “I am currently sorting out my visa, so as soon as that’s sorted it’ll be all go.”
Simon Maling has also been lured to Wales, a country on a high after winning the Six Nations earlier this year, by joining Llanelli Scarletts in July.
“Simon is just the type of player we are looking for to bolster our pack,” Scarlets chief executive Stuart Gallacher said. “He is an excellent lineout specialist and brings a wealth of experience with him into the squad.”
The former All Black lock has been playing rugby in Japan but jumped at the chance to return to Britain after spending time with Harlequins in 2004.
“I am really looking forward to joining the Llanelli Scarlets. It is great to be joining a traditionally strong region which has such a proud history,” he said. “As a New Zealander I am looking forward to being back in a country where rugby is the No 1 sport.”
Isa Nacewa will have his work cut out for him when he joins newly-crowned Celtic League champions Leinster next season. The league has one round remaining but a the Dublin-based side have done enough after their 41-8 defeat of Newport Gwent Dragons.
Lome Fa’atau, the former Taranaki and Hurricanes wing, scored for Glasgow in a 35-24 victory, while Ben Blair, with two penalties and two conversions, and Xavier Rush, with a try, were again at the forefront in a comfortable victory for Cardiff Blues.Tweet