A changing landscape
April 21, 2011
Matt Giteau will join Toulon next season © Getty Images
On Wednesday, Toulouse announced the signings of an All Black, Wallaby and Springbok, to complement their already star-studded squad. Luke McAlister, Luke Burgess and Gurthro Steenkamp are set for a stint in the Top 14, adding to a number of high-profile switches set to take place in the wake of the Rugby World Cup. In Scrum Sevens we've taken a look at those players who will form part of the south's 'exodus' and also what it will mean for their respective national coaches.
Matt Giteau (Brumbies-Toulon)
Giteau endured a difficult 2010, where his lapses from the kicking tee and the emergence of a young, brash brand of playmakers in Wallabies colours put stress on his place in the side for the first time in a number of seasons. A genuine servant to Australian rugby, he will sever his ties after the World Cup to join Mourad Boudjellal's revolution at Toulon. He will bring everything that the wealthy owner expects, class, poise and playmaking nous at either 10 or 12. His international place this season is not secure, but he will continue as a vital member of the squad through to the World Cup, by which time he may be on course for a ton of Test caps. Robbie Deans will not be too scared by his departure, however. In Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and, latterly, Mike Harris, he has genuine strength in depth, and a group of players, NRL contracts aside, that should remain together well into the future. Want to know where the Wallabies have the wood over the All Blacks? At 10.
Fourie du Preez (Bulls-Japan)
The Springbok scrum-half proved his importance by missing last season's Test series to undergo shoulder surgery. Without his tactical acumen and watertight kicking game, the Springboks finished a distant third only 12 months on from their powerful march to the title. Du Preez will up sticks after the World Cup for a contract in Japan, perhaps with a second winner's medal in tow, but what is certain is that he must break out of the current funk engulfing the Bulls. Their Super Rugby fortunes and those of the Springboks rest heavily on his shoulders, and those of Morne Steyn. Boks coach Peter de Villiers has already confirmed that they will not change their gameplan this season, emphasising the point further. After he goes, South Africa may have to look for a more expansive style, chiefly as their other options at No.9 offer far more in terms of a traditional passing/running game than Du Preez. Francois Hougaard and Sarel Pretorius are quick, exciting players included in a 51-man panel for this season's first meeting. A big campaign from either could have some bearing on the future.
Huia Edmonds (Brumbies-Saracens)
This is an interesting one. The front-row has long been a problem for Australia and given their hookers' tendencies to pick up knocks - we're looking at you Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau - adequate cover has been an issue. Edmonds made his Test bow in 2010 and quickly agreed a move to join Saracens, although required shoulder surgery is reportedly endangering the move. Edmonds, along with Saia Faingaa, represents a safe pair of hands in a problem position, and the fact that, with all due respect, his departure could cause problems is a worrying development for the national set-up.
John Afoa (Blues-Ulster)
The All Blacks prop, and his Super Rugby team-mate Jared Payne, will move to Ulster later this year amid a wee storm of controversy. Afoa, capped 30 times but far from a regular, and Payne offer a glimpse at the talent bubbling under in New Zealand, and neither will be sticking around to see if there is a Test future for them. This has angered All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who has also seen the likes of Dan Bowden (London Irish), Rudi Wulf (Toulon) and Sione Lauaki (Clermont) depart from similar standing in the New Zealand game. "It irritates me the guys under the All Black group who have a dream about being an All Black for 25 years and then all of a sudden they get offered $500,000 and bugger off and don't carry on and fulfil the dream," he said.
Brad Thorn (Crusaders- Fukuoka Sanix Blues)
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Thorn, whose service to New Zealand rugby was warmly appreciated by Henry following his decision to end his career in Japan. A dual-code, dual-country international, he's always been something of a free spirit off the field, as much as he remains a gritty presence on it. Thorn's departure opens up a number of possibilities in the All Blacks' engine room. Sam Whitelock and Tom Donnelly were regulars last season and will likely continue to be so, while Anthony Boric, Ali Williams, Isaac Ross and Josh Josh Bekhuis all offer compelling cases, whether it be youth, experience or athleticism.
Bakkies Botha (Bulls-Toulon)
South Africa's premier enforcer will follow the path previously walked by long-time lock partner Victor Matfield when he joins Toulon in a lucrative deal. Botha's move was long predicted and will offer an opening for De Villiers to rejig an area of his side that has been a pillar of strength in recent seasons. Aside from his disciplinary issues, Botha has been almost ever-present in South Africa's recent successes, but below him there is a palpable drop in experience. His Bulls colleague Flip van der Merwe offers power and a brooding menace, but is guilty of coughing up too many penalties. Andries Bekker does not currently tick the boxes in terms of physicality, while the Steenkamps, De Kock and Wilhelm, are relatively untried. Steven Sykes is another to opt for a contract abroad, with his Sharks colleague Alistair Hargreaves capped twice off the bench in 2010. The field is wide open.
Sitiveni Sivivatu (Chiefs-Clermont Auvergne)
One of the All Blacks' most reliable finishers in recent years, a fit and firing Sivivatu was a missing ingredient in their excellent 2010 season. He has not played a Test since their Marseille victory over France in 2009 but even with some indifferent form for the Chiefs, he will be in the selectors' minds this time around. His pace and power are a perfect fit for Clermont, who have lost Fijian giant Napolioni Nalaga. Back home, Rene Ranger, Sean Maitland, Zac Guildford and Lelia Masaga will likely offer to carry his bags to the airport, with the chase on for a back-up berth in a crowded back-three scene.
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