Aviva Premiership enlivened by great signings
September 19, 2012
Vereniki Goneva has bedded into life at the Leicester Tigers seemlessly © Getty Images
Richard Cockerill was telling a story this week about how he did his best to dissuade Vereniki Goneva from joining the Leicester Tigers. This revelation came after we asked him about the art if that's the right word - of integrating new players into settled squads. How do you best blend the new with the old? How do you give a fresh face his opportunity without souring a more established one? What he had to say made it apparent it's not as simple as it might first seem.
While Chris Ashton's been quick to make himself at home with Saracens, Ken Pisi's hinted he will be a more than adequate replacement at Franklin's Gardens and Stephen Jones hasn't wasted any time finding his Wasps kicking boots, will any of that stellar trio prove to be the pre-season's most prescient bit of business?
Over the course of the first three weeks of the season, ESPN's cameras have already zoomed in on nine different clubs at four different venues and at almost every one of them a newbie was getting us excited.
Last Saturday at Sixways we saw just what Ben Morgan might add to Gloucester's back row with a performance overflowing with power and purpose. Playing for the other team, Dean Schofield appears to be a shrewd choice of skipper, unburdened as he is by the baggage of previous relegation campaigns.
The night before, one of the summer's more unheralded arrivals Luther Burrell continued his turbo-charged start for Northampton. While it seems odd to talk of a Saints midfield these days without James Downey and Jon Clark, the early work of Burrell and Dominic Waldouck suggests there's an equally effective blend brewing.
And then there is Goneva. When it became clear Leicester were losing their battle to keep Alesana Tuilagi out of the gold-plated airline seat to Japan, they saw Worcester's Miles Benjamin as a worthy replacement. As it happens, Benjamin's injury has given Fijian Goneva the chance to make the biggest of statements. We get to see him in the flesh for the first time on ESPN this weekend against the champions at Welford Road.
Cockerill's rightly thrilled with the early impact of one of his new charges, especially after going out of his way to put the South Sea flyer off. The director of rugby painted the bleakest of bleak pictures of life as a rugby player at Leicester - cold days on an unforgiving training pitch in a squad where competition would be cut-throat. When Goneva said that sounded like his kind of club, Cockerill knew he had his man.
What Leicester's top try scorer has got going for him so far in the 'new boy stakes' are three key things according to his new boss - he is here, he is fit and he is being picked. There are more than a few who haven't been so lucky so far.
Gloucester's Jimmy Cowan, Exeter's Dean Mumm, Bath's Horacio Agulla and London Irish's Setaimata Sa are still waiting to say hello to their new team-mates. London Welsh's Gavin Henson, Irish's Ian Humphreys and Leicester's Dan Bowden have been held up by injury. While Sale's Richie Gray, Wasps' Andrea Masi and Harlequins' Ben Botica have yet to state their full cases.
Only when the season's fully operational and every one of the Premiership's new arrivals have had the chance to do their thing, will we start to really work out who's done the canniest bit of shopping this summer.
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Nick Mullins is lead commentator for live Aviva Premiership Rugby on ESPN