And still it continues. It is only four days since Harlequins confirmed the signing of the All Black outside-half Nick Evans – news met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth down Auckland way – yet the focus has already shifted to potential targets for the Guinness Premiership’s next raid on the southern hemisphere. Frans Steyn for Bath? If that happens, the rest of the world may as well give up on their domestic rugby and go surfing instead.
Chirs Hewitt reports for The Independent.
Steyn is not yet 21. He is an unbelievable talent – last autumn, he was first pick for the Springboks as they won their second world title in a dozen years – and as such, he can command Jonny Wilkinson-style wages. He has had a rough time of it in Super 14 this season, what with the Durban-based Sharks’ apparent determination to play him everywhere except in his optimum position of inside centre and the daft experimental rules foisted upon the competition by the International Rugby Board.
If he looks north and sees the likes of Butch James, John Smit and Victor Matfield earning themselves a mint while playing real union, why wouldn’t he be tempted?
But there has to be a limit, surely, on the number of South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians pouring into the English club game. Argentinians and Pacific Islanders are in a different category, because they have no meaningful professional competitions to call their own, but the “Big Three” boast proper teams and proper infrastructures. If they really cannot compete with the British Isles and France, the 15-man code could ultimately contract to the size of the 13-man one.
Of course, season’s end is the perfect time for transfer rumour, and it is perfectly possible that Steyn will stay home. But his name is being bandied around Recreation Ground with considerable gusto, as is that of the All Black flanker Jerry Collins, and it is not difficult to see why. Olly Barkley, a goal-kicking centre in the form of his life, is in the last throes of his career at Bath before heading up the M5 to Gloucester, and Olly Barkleys do not grow on trees. If, as is widely expected, the England midfielder Toby Flood joins Leicester, the West Countrymen will have to look elsewhere to replace their most influential back.
One southern hemisphere signing was confirmed yesterday: Craig Newby, capped by New Zealand in 2004 and 2006, will join Leicester next season for a second stint in the Premiership, having spent time with Newcastle a couple of years back. He is currently playing Super 14 rugby with the Otago-based Highlanders.
Meanwhile, Bristol completed their signings for the 2008-09 campaign by dipping into National League One and signing two young half-backs, Sam Alford from Launceston and Chris Ashwin from Newbury. And there’s the rub.
Bristol are not among the wealthy of the Premiership: while the salary cap is being raised to £4m plus, they will not go close to spending that amount next season. They have a brilliant coach in Richard Hill, but it takes an awful lot of back-room brilliance to bridge the gap between a World Cup-winner from South Africa and a lad from the shires.
Paul Gustard, the 32-year-old Saracens loose forward, will join his fellow back-rower Richard Hill in retiring from professional rugby at the end of the season. The club also announced that two more senior forwards, the prop Kevin Yates and the lock Iain Fullarton, would be leaving the club following this weekend’s final Premiership match with Bristol at Milton Keynes.Tweet