The sale of the century
August 13, 2009
US No.8 Dan Lyle was a huge signing for Bath in 1998 © Getty Images
The French Top 14 kicks off on Friday night, with Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon taking on James Haskell and Stade Francais.
Following a summer break punctuated by high-profile transfers, we take a look back at some of rugby's shrewdest and most high-profile buys in our latest Scrum Seven.
From rugby league defections to disenfranchised NFL hopefuls, rugby's professional era has been brimming with interesting switches.
Rob Howley - Cardiff RFC to Wasps - 2002
Wales scrum-half Rob Howley, a two-time Lions tourist, was picked up by Wasps in 2002 following his decision to end his international career.
Always a quick, intelligent operator, Howley slotted in seamlessly to Warren Gatland's Wasps setup. His quick pass and incisive rugby brain helped the London club to Premiership titles in 2003 and 2004. It was in the 2004 Heineken Cup final that Howley stamped his place in Wasps history - chasing his own kick along the touchline and beating a ponderous Clement Poitrenaud to seal the title.
Dan Lyle - Old Mission Beach Athletic Club to Bath - 1996
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, frustrated American footballer Dan Lyle forged a name for himself in rugby as one of the finest No.8s in the world.
Lyle joined Bath in 1996, quickly establishing a place in the first team with his athletic, physical presence and sublime handling skills. Having turned down the Minnesota Vikings NFL side and been selected for the USA on reputation alone, Lyle was duly named as Premiership newcomer of the season in 1997.
He started for the club in the 1998 Heineken Cup final and alongside star performers Jerry Guscott, Ieuan Evans and Jon Callard took home the trophy with a 19-18 win over Brive.
"He combines the skills developed in common American sports--football, basketball and soccer--with a blessed disregard for English stuffiness," wrote Sports Illustrated.
Carl Hayman - Otago to Newcastle - 2007
All Black tight-head Carl Hayman reportedly became the highest-paid player in the world when he signed a deal with Guinness Premiership side Newcastle.
Hayman touched down in the north-east following the 2007 Rugby World Cup, signalling not rugby's 'Trevor Francis' moment but instead exemplifying the gap between the riches available in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Hayman will skipper the Falcons in 2009 - before likely returning to have a crack at the World Cup on home soil in 2011.
Rocky Elsom - New South Wales Waratahs to Leinster - 2008
Short and sweet. Wallabies flanker Rocky Elsom is arguably the most successful overseas acquisition in modern times. He arrived in Dublin after playing all but one of Australia's Tests in 2008, being named Wallaby of the Year in the process.
Elsom settled in to life with Leinster quickly, providing support for younger squad members during the November international break before hitting a red-hot run of form heading in to the closing stages of the Heineken Cup. His performance in the final as Leinster broke their European duck was nothing short of sensational, and it was with a heavy heart that the club released him to re-sign with the Australian Rugby Union in 2009.
"Let's put it this way, we wouldn't have won the Heineken Cup without Rocky Elsom," said legendary Leinster and Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll. "I would say he's the best player I have ever played with and I have played with many good players."
Federico Mendez - Mendoza to Natal Sharks - 1996
Versatile and combative, Federico Mendez enjoyed a long and successful career at international level. His adventures at club level set him apart from his contemporaries however, the prop/hooker testing himself around the globe.
Following the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, Mendez stayed on with Natal Sharks - whom he would rejoin for a second spell in 2002. From South Africa he went north, winning the Heineken Cup with Bath in 1998 and Northampton in 2000. The first man to win Europe's top prize twice, Mendez spent time with Bordeaux, Mendoza and the Sharks before a short spell with Western Province to end his career.
Sonny Bill Williams - Bulldogs to Toulon - 2008
Rugby league star Williams caused a publicity storm when he snuck away from his contract with NRL side Bulldogs to join free-spending French side Toulon.
With the club reportedly paying a £300,000 transfer fee to the Bulldogs, Williams was quickly assimilated in to the first team. His relative success in union has been tempered by the nature of his crossing codes - the bad blood generated showing a dangerous new avenue for a still-developing professional sport.
Scott Gibbs - St.Helens to Swansea - 1996
When Scott Gibbs "went north" to play rugby league for St.Helens in 1994, he already possessed 20 Wales caps and two for the British & Irish Lions.
Gibbs was the latest in a long line of Welsh players to test themselves in the professional surroundings of the 13-man code, winning the Challenge Cup and representing Wales at the Rugby League World Cup in 1995.
His return to union came with the advent of professionalism - and he was a changed player. Quicker and more powerful, professional training had been kind to the man nicknamed 'car-crash'. He won further caps for the Lions in 1997, promptly being named as 'Player of the Series' as they won 2-1 in South Africa.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September