The greatest imports ever?
May 22, 2013
Xavier Rush shows off some silverware he won at the Blues © Getty Images
Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 final will see New Zealand-born winger Isa Nacewa run out in Leinster colours for the last time. The Fijian international has decided to retire from professional rugby and bring the curtain down on a success-laden five-year spell at the RDS that has included three Heineken Cup titles.
With this in mind, this week's Scrum Sevens celebrates some of those imports who have made a major impact on the game in the British Isles.
The Celtic League has benefitted from the presence of various All Blacks in the past - Justin Marshall, Jerry Collins and Marty Holah spring to mind - but arguably the best-performing Kiwi to have trotted out in the competition is Xavier Rush. The strong-running No.8 arrived at the Cardiff Blues with 'just' eight caps to his name but soon established himself as the darling of the Arms Park. He never shirked physical confrontation and led from the front.
Come 2010 and Rush announced he would leave the Blues for Ulster, but to the delight of those with a Cardiff-persuasion, he back-tracked on this decision and opted to stay a Blue. He retired in 2012, with 153 appearances for the Blues to his name, and can now be found masterminding their defensive strategy. Another Kiwi is worthy of a mention, but just misses out on our illustrious list, and that is former Scarlets centre Regan King, a man whose deft sidesteps would have even confounded Sherlock Holmes.
When Evans eventually calls time on his stint at Harlequins, expect the postcode of TW2 to go into mourning. The finest fly-half the Premiership has seen, Evans has scooped an array of personal awards and also helped guide Quins to domestic success.
There was no shortage of suitors for Evans when his contract was set to run out at the end of this current season, but Quins managed to hold on their man and he will continue to run out at The Stoop next season, looking to add to his 1426-point total. Similar to the Celtic League, the Premiership has benefited from some Kiwis opting to play in England with the likes of Aaron Mauger, Joe Maddock and Carl Hayman all up there.
Felipe Contepomi enjoys Leinster's 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Munster © Getty Images
One of Argentina's greatest players, Contepomi will hang up his boots at the end of the season. He excelled for Leinster alongside ex-Wallaby Chris Whitaker between 2003 and 2009, playing 116 games and helping them achieve their long-time goal of winning the Heineken Cup in his final season with the club.
Leinster are no strangers to bringing in the odd foreign star with Nacewa and Contepomi just a couple of their stellar names. Fans at the RDS have also enjoyed seeing Rocky Elsom and Brad Thorn run out for their side while Cook Islands prop Stanley Wright also had a faithful following.
The Italian international prop is a household name at Welford Road. Complete with glorious flowing locks, Castrogiovanni's friendly demeanour is a sharp contrast to his ferocious playing style. The tight-head has delivered for both club and country and also scooped the Premiership Player of the Year award in 2007.
He has experienced huge success at the Tigers and his stock has risen each year since his 2006 move from Calvisano to Welford Road. He will bid an emotional farewell to the Tigers at the end of the season as he starts a new chapter in his career with Toulon his expected destination. And the Argentinean-born front-rower's compatriots have also impressed for the Tigers over the past few years with Horacio Agulla, now at Bath, and Marcos Ayerza both top performers.
Martin Castrogiovanni sheds a tear in his final match at Welford Road for the Tigers © Getty Images
New Zealand's all-time record try-scorer will hang up his boots at the end of the season but he can look back on a stunning career. With 49 tries to his name for the All Blacks, Howlett also wrote his name into Munster's history books as the province's record scorer. The immensely talented winger joined the Irishmen in 2007 and immediately established himself as a cult hero at Thomond Park.
Alongside Howlett, Munster have also benefited from the introduction of other Kiwis with Rua Tipoki starting in their 2008 Heineken Cup-winning side and Christian Cullen anchoring their side at fullback for a number of years. Australian Jim Williams wrote his name into Munster's history books as their first foreign captain while South Africans Shaun Payne and Trevor Halstead are other famous imports for the men in red.
The South African international hooker arrived at Saracens in 2009 and made an immediate impact on the field. His mazy runs for the Barbarians in their annual match against England whetted the Fez-heads' appetite and he did not disappoint in his maiden season where he ended up scooping the RPA Player of the Year award.
Schalk Brits makes a break for Saracens © Getty Images
Equally adept at openside, more recently Brits has kept World Cup-winning captain John Smit out of the side and was called up for Springboks duty at the turn of the year. One of rugby's good guys, Brits always plays the game to its limits and is one of the Premiership's box office stars. At Saracens, he is one of a multitude of African born players with Jacques Burger, Ernst Joubert, Matt Stevens, Justin Melck, Neil de Kock and Brad Barritt also hailing from the continent. But for us, Brits is one of the best bits of business the hard to love, but easy to admire, club has made.
Freddie, Andy, Henry, Alesana and Manu Tuilagi
Rugby's favourite Samoan family, the quintet have all run out for the Tigers and lifted numerous different bits of silverware. The family hail from Apia and it was Freddie who started the ball rolling for the Tuilagi clan when he ran out for the Tigers in 2000. Henry took his bow in 2003 and then opted for a move to Perpignan in 2007 while Andy played just a handful of games for the Tigers before switching to Leeds.
And then there was Alesana. the giant bulldozing winger linked up with the Tigers in 2004 and by the end of his time with Leicester, he had managed to score 63 tries for the club. Manu is still running out at Welford Road and has established a reputation as one of the Premiership's most formidable centres. And further greatness potentially lies in wait as he could become the first Tuilagi to win a British & Irish Lions Test cap this summer.
© Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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