Fly by night
February 3, 2011
Don't be fooled by the smile: Anton Oliver during his time with Toulon © Getty Images
Olly Barkley Rupeni Caucaunibuca Christian Cullen Jonah Lomu Anton Oliver Mikaela Pesamino Andre Pretorius
Well, that didn't work out quite as planned. Gavin Henson has left Saracens, almost as abruptly as he arrived, and joined Toulon as he seeks a recall to the Wales squad prior to the Rugby World Cup. Detractors may scoff, but the centre has plenty of company in the pantheon of transfers that didn't stay the course. We've compiled some notable breakdowns in our latest Scrum Seven.
Anton Oliver - Toulon
The thinking man's rugby player, Oliver took a lucrative deal with second division Toulon in 2007 in the wake of New Zealand's crushing exit from the Rugby World Cup at the hands of France. Having used vivid First World War imagery in his account of the pervading feeling in the All Blacks' dressing room after the game it was little surprise that life in the south of France did not appeal to the former Otago hooker, who described his final All Black game as the end of his rugby life. "I knew that night my life as a rugby player was finished," he said in an interview with The Times. "Full stop. Leaving the All Blacks is a bit like leaving the Mafia. When you leave, you leave. You're gone. You're not coming back, mate. Football boots removed, concrete boots go on. That's it. No more." With money the only reason to extend his stay - a reported €250,000 offer for a season in the Top 14 - Oliver retired from rugby and took up a place at Oxford to study an MSc in biodiversity, conservation and management, playing opposite Wallabies lock Dan Vickerman in the 2008 Varsity Match.
Jonah Lomu - Cardiff Blues
The legendary All Black became a crowd favourite at the Arms Park during his short spell with the Blues and delighted the home faithful with a debut try against Newport-Gwent Dragons in a festive derby in 2005. It was soon apparent however that the great man was a shadow of his former self following a kidney transplant and the view from the stands quickly became one of hope rather than expectation when the ball found its way to his wing. Lomu was unfortunate to suffer a broken ankle in a league game against the now defunct Borders, ending his time in Wales early and also, as it turned out, his career at the sharp end.
Christian Cullen - Munster
One of the game's most electrifying runners and a good shout as the greatest fullback of all time, Cullen's career fizzled out at Munster rather than reaching a crescendo. The All Black headed to Limerick in 2003, having fallen out with All Blacks boss John Mitchell, but his time there was wrecked by injury. A serious shoulder problem, coupled with knee and ankle complaints, limited his involvement from the off and he became a frustrating figure for sections of the home support. Cullen eventually called it quits after signing for a fourth year at Thomond Park and returned to New Zealand, where his legacy remains intact. "I have loved every minute of my time in Ireland - apart from the injuries," he said. "The club and supporters have been terrific to me but I can't help feeling that I have let them down. When I signed in 2003 I felt like I could reproduce the type of performances I was able to put on for the All Blacks but three shoulder operations put paid to that."
Olly Barkley - Gloucester
Barkley's one-year stint with Gloucester proved that, for some, there's no place like home. Having made his bow for Bath in 2001, the move to their west country rivals was a surprising one and also left a serious dent in their attacking arsenal. During his time at The Rec, Barkley had amassed 1538 points in 164 appearances, but failed to hit his straps after decking out in Cherry and White. A frustrating first season at Kingsholm resulted in 19 league appearances and over 100 points, but the feeling was not the same for the England international and he quickly swung into a u-turn and returned to his former stomping ground. "I have come to realise over this past season that Bath is really where my heart is and I feel that while I gave it my best shot at Gloucester, it is right, for me personally, to return to Bath," he said.
Andre Pretorius - Western Force
The unluckiest man on this list, Pretorius' move from the Lions to Western Force in 2010 never got off the ground. A member of South Africa' Rugby World Cup-winning squad in 2007, the fly-half was signed by the Perth franchise as a marquee overseas player, with the intention of filling the gap left by the Brumbies-bound Matt Giteau. Unfortunately for them, Pretorius didn't get the chance to play a minute of competitive rugby for the franchise after he tore his left hamstring from the bone in training weeks before the start of the Super 14 season. He was ruled out for the entire campaign following surgery, leaving the Force to muddle along with a combination of Mark Batholomeusz, James O'Connor and veteran Kiwi David Hill at No.10.
Rupeni Caucaunibuca - Agen
Across two spells with French side Agen, 'Caucau' proved equally adept at creating chaos off the field as on it. The club missed their star player, on his day one of the game's great entertainers, for large parts of his time there, with tropical viruses, lost passports and a ban for testing positive for cannabis all playing their part. He was released in 2008 but subsequently re-signed to help the side into the Top 14 in 2009-10. He failed to appear for pre-season training - having turned out for Fiji against Australia over the summer - and was finally shown the door by the management, who could no longer 'trust' him. The winger was later picked up by European champions Toulouse as a 'medical joker'.
Mikaele Pesamino - Sale Sharks
Compared to Pesamino, Henson's stay at Sarries may as well have traversed an ice age. Former Sharks head coach Mike Brewer announced the signing of the IRB Sevens Player of the Year in July 2010 but as yet he has failed to arrive at the club, due to a combination of visa issues and a reported failure to sit a mandatory English exam. With Brewer having now been shown the door at Edgeley Park, it appears doubtful that the flyer will ever lace up a pair of boots for the club. "The situation with Mikaele is that it was left with Mike Brewer to deal with the player's agents," head coach Pete Anglesea told the Manchester Evening News. "It's one of those situations where it has been on, then it's been off, then it's been on and then off again. To be honest, I never really knew what the stumbling block with it was but if it's a case of him having any doubts then he shouldn't come."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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