Silly Season Starts Early

Tom Marshall Chiefs Super Rugby HarlequinsDid it ever really stop? A look at a number of recent transfer announcements, for this season and next, and their implications for both club and country.

TEBALDI MOVES TO HARLEQUINS

Tito Tebaldi has got an early Christmas present. After being essentially squeezed out when the Ospreys signed Martin Roberts, the Italian scrumhalf has seen his spot in the Azzurri dissipate along with his playing time. With no home-based openings on the horizon, Tebaldi has been thrown a lifeline by Conor O’Shea, in need of an experienced halfback with the sudden departure of Sam Stuart and Danny Care all but certain to return to England duties for the Six Nations. There probably isn’t time for Tebaldi to return himself for that tournament, but he should have plenty of chances to stake a claim for a spot in the World Cup.

BRAID SIGNS FOR SCOTTISH

Sadly Connor Braid’s hopes of earning a full-time contract with Glasgow appear to have been dashed, at least for now, but on the plus he has been picked up by RFU Championship club London Scottish for the rest of the season. The utility back has already spent time with the club on loan, so the signing isn’t a big surprise, and the most positive sign is that he has been picked as a flyhalf to face Bristol this weekend. Canada is in desperate need of someone to earn the no10 jersey for the long haul, and if Braid can make shirt his own at Scottish, it will go a long way towards wearing it in England in 10 months time.

MORE KIWIS HEAD NORTH

A raft of New Zealanders are on their way north, the sort of news that is becoming all too common in recent years. Aucklanders Jack Whetton and Hadleigh Parkes are on their way to Leicester and Scarlets, respectively, effective immediately. Former national u20 flanker Hugh Blake is set to be announced as Edinburgh’s latest signing, with John Hardie likely to join him at the conclusion of his Super Rugby season with the Highlanders. Both have Scottish ancestry. English-qualified Tom Marshall is headed to Gloucester next season from the Chiefs.

For a country like Scotland with a relatively limited player pool to draw from it’s understandable that they look elsewhere to bolster their options, but given that their depth in the back row is arguably the strongest of any position, it seems hard to justify assigning contracts to players other than young Scottish prospects. The same can be applied to most of these signings. Of course top class players, the Dan Carters of the world, will always be in demand, but bringing in unproven or mid-level talent from overseas at the expense of taking a risk with younger domestic players sends the wrong message, and undermines the future of international rugby.

The problem isn’t simple, nor is the solution. Legally there is no way to restrict professional players from exploring opportunities overseas, nor should a young player not be given a chance to explore other parts of the globe in the limited lifespan of his career. Putting strict limits on overseas players effectively kills off opportunities for Tier 2 players to win contracts at big clubs, so that doesn’t seem a good option either. One would hope salary caps and the market itself would make big overseas signings a bad investment, but with more and more heavy hitters entering the game perfectly happy to run their prizes at a loss, it’s pretty clear that things are going to get worse before they get better.

KIRSTEN CALLS IT QUITS

While it wasn’t unexpected, Frik Kirsten’s retirement due to a neck injury is another blow to Heyneke Meyer’s long-term plans. The big Bulls tighthead hadn’t quite cracked the Springboks but there was a lot of optimism that he would sooner rather than later. While a number of players have put their name forward to replace the rapidly declining Jannie du Plessis, none have proved entirely convincing as of yet. Thankfully for Kirsten he has an education and an impeding career in accounting to fall back on. Fancy a job in Samoa, Frik?

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