Bringeth the Caveman Down Under.
That’s a bold suggestion to New South Wales from former ARU high-performance boss Pat Howard, who nominated France cult hero Sebastien Chabal as top of a foreign player hit-list.
Iain Payten writes for The Daily Telegraph that following the ARU’s announcement this week it will allow foreigners into our provincial sides, NSW have confirmed they will widen their search offshore to replace Australia lock Dan Vickerman and flanker Rocky Elsom.
Although Tahs coach Chris Hickey says few foreign stars will be available next season, Howard threw up a shopping list for NSW to consider.
As a former coach of the Leicester Tigers, Howard is a good judge of British and French talent and believes many players would love a chance to play in the Super 14.
“There is genuine interest, there is a little bit of mystique about the Super 14 for a lot of players,” Howard said.
“I am absolutely sure there will be players jumping at the opportunity to give it a go.”
With Vickerman leaving to study at Cambridge next year, Howard said pursuing the Caveman could be an on- and off-field success.
“If you throw a carrot in front of someone like Chabal … he could turn up and do something amazing. People would flock to see him play because you don’t know what will come of it,” he said.
“The French have some really athletic second-rowers. Or you look at someone like Paul O’Connell, the hard, physical Irish second-rower. If you’re losing Dan Vickerman you chase someone like him.
“In the sixes, there are some very athletic, aggressive guys running around over there. You look at guys like the England flankers Joe Worsley and Lewis Moody, Ryan Jones out of Wales or even a Serge Betsen. There’s no shortage of talent to look at.”
With endless intriguing possibilities, he applauded the ARU’s bold move as “exciting”.
But while also endorsing the new direction, Hickey says NSW won’t rush anything in the coming months as they finalise 2009 recruitment.
With Vickerman, Elsom, David Lyons and Al Kanaar all off the books, the new Tahs coach says the “middle row” is still an area that needs attention.
“Obviously this ruling by the ARU opens the playing field up globally,” Hickey said.
“We feel we have some good young players a year off playing Super 14, and two years off being a starting player.
‘So the opportunity to have a more experienced player to fill some of those positions while you’re developing the next wave of players coming through is a good one, and it has the opportunity to provide a lot of interest from a spectator point of view.
“Some people will wait and see and others will jump in. To have Jonny Wilkinson playing for the Reds or Brian O’Driscoll playing for the Brumbies would generate a lot interest.
“But the reality is anyone who is half-decent is already contracted until June next year, so I think it is more leading into the 2010 season we’ll open up more.”
And what about Chabal as a Waratah? “He’d generate a lot of interest,” smiled Hickey.
The prospect of top Europeans down here at the peak of their powers is certainly tantalising, but probably far-fetched.
Without significant help from the ARU, provinces would likely struggle to match the wages of top Test players in the north. And stars would be away for the Six Nations for February and March.
Therefore, the best chance for Super 14 side to lure stars is to poach fringe Test players — either on the way up or down.
Chabal — who’s now in and out of the French Test side — might be the perfect example.
Hickey says the concept of bringing an older player with Test experience to mentor young players is a good one.
“When you look at any player, you’ll look not only at what they can do on the park, but what they can add to the culture of the team,” he said.Tweet