We are now just days away from the return of the URC. The debut season of the new league was a roaring success and the new season, kicking off on Friday evening as Benetton host Glasgow, will surely even be more exciting.
And so with jut days to go, there is only one thing that remains: my look at all the players who have moved clubs this summer and selection of 7 players who I think we should be keeping an eye on this season. And as usual, we have a nice blend of domestic transfers and new arrivals to the league…
Not my original pick of Benetton’s new signings as I was going to look at Alessandro Garbisi, however with the announcement that Monty Ioane has been released from his contract, the acquisition of Marcus Watson suddenly goes from being a great signing to a crucial signing. The former England 7s star and Olympic silver medallist has impressed in the 15s game for years with Newcastle and Wasps, and I can only assume that he was one of the many casualties of the reduced salary cap in the Premiership, but I expect him to thrive in the URC. He may have lost a little pace from his prime but is still more than fast enough, while his years of top flight experience will be vital as Benetton push for a Champions Cup spot.
It’s a new name for Dragons RFC and (hopefully) a new and more successful start. Well the signing of Sio Tomkinson from the Highlanders certainly feels like a step in the right direction. Tomkinson is a highly physical centre who, at 26, should be in his prime years. The former New Zealand U20 will have a key role to play in a team that has not qualified for the top tier of European Cup competition since the 2010/11 season, helping to set and organise the defence, while using his hard running to create space out wide for the wings.
Tomkinson isn’t the only former Highlanders centre joining the league this year as Malakai Fekitoa makes the journey from Coventry to Limerick. With Damian de Allende leaving, there wouldn’t have been many replacements of the same quality available but Munster managed to find one as they look to rebuild under Graham Rowntree. A solid and dependable all-rounder, the former All Black and now Tongan international will be looking to provide an X-factor that will help the province compete with Leinster.
The second former All Black to leave Wasps for the URC this summer, Fifita is one of many who tried and failed to secure the All Blacks 6 shirt since Jerome Kaino left New Zealand, but that does not mean that he is not a talented player. Has transitioned from blindside flanker to lock over the years, creating a dynamic option in the Scarlets tight five with solid handling skills. New World Rugby eligibility laws could make this signing interesting, as he is now eligible for Tonga, so have the Scarlets signed someone who will be an ever-present, or someone who will be absent during international windows?
Considering the Sharks have also signed Eben Etzebeth and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, this may seem like an odd pick, but such is the potential of Tshituka. One of the few players to stand out for the Lions against the British & Irish Lions, Tshituka is a hard-hitting, dynamic loose forward and one of the new generation of impressive loose forwards coming through in South African rugby. With the Bulls and Stormers facing off in last season’s final, Tshituke is the kind of player who can help the Sharks be even more dangerous this season, while also giving them a true talent to build around in the future.
It’s been all change at Zebre Parma this summer, with 21 players leaving and 22 arriving. One of the most recent of the 22 is my pick here, Melbourne-born Italian international lock Josh Furno., who returns to the club he played for in the 2016-2017. A journeyman whose list of former clubs includes Newcastle, Biarritz, Otago, San Diego Legion and most recently Union Sportive Bressane (Bourg-en-Bresse), Furno brings years of experience, including 37 caps for the Azzurri. With such a turnover of playing staff, such experience will be crucial to help the suad gel quickly and effectively in a competitive league.
This time last year, Irish-qualified Australian Mack Hansen was preparing to make his competitive debut for Connacht after a summer move from the Brumbies, and we all know how well the last 12 months have turned out for him. Well Connacht will be hoping that lightning strikes twice as this summer sees 22-year-old Irish-qualified Australian wing Byron Ralston arrive from Western Force. A real speedster whose chance came when COVID saw the return of the Force to top-flight competition in Super Rugby AU, which led to a place in Super Rugby Pacific. While a repeat of Hansen’s first season feels unlikely given the depth Ireland have on the wing, don’t be shocked to see Ralston become a regular starter at The Sportsground.
Which new signings are you most looking forward to watching?
Thanks for reading!