Foreign Legion Players in Premiership Rugby

As the Aviva Premiership is kicking into full gear, from a distance you notice the International player roster. It appears that every side has key players helping them achieve their goals of 2016/2017. Recognizing the importance of those players in Premiership Rugby, Last Word On Sports examines the best of the ‘Foreign Legion’.

With input from UK based rugby writers, the view of this article is to determine both the quantity, and quality. To fairly do that, LWOS will compile a breakdown of the leading players, the ones who add real value, the solid player signings and end on the ‘MVP’ foreign-born player.

Official match ball used in the 2016/2017 Premiership
Courtesy of AVIVA Premiership website.

Note: restrictions are in place, to restrict import players and promote local talent. That is commendable, and not in question. In 2015/2016 the numbers were proven to support those active controls.

“We are delighted to confirm the number of England-qualified players in Aviva Premiership rugby has passed 70 per cent for the first time, and we want to drive the numbers even higher” Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said.

International players in Premiership Rugby

Senior Editor Molly Smith and writer James Barker have contributed their expertise, to build a player register. This is from foreign contracted players, and also includes players now qualified to play for England Rugby. That is due to World Rugby eligibility criteria, but was born from that player being imported into that rugby competition–and then becoming eligible to play for that host union.

That would include the likes of New Zealand-born Thomas Waldrom, ex-pat South African Brad Barritt and Fijian born Nathan Hughes. Many other examples include Gareth Anscombe, Jared Payne and Tongan born Toby Faletau to name just a few.

The integration of these men into firstly, the local competition: Premiership, Principality Premiership [Wales] Guinness Pro12 [Ireland] and the Top 14 [France]. Initially all are signed for there exploits overseas, which for some is on par to, or better than the local competition. Signing them involves negotiation and meeting market-value.

Senior International players bring added value

Some of the recent signings have established careers. Schalk Burger is a Rugby World Cup winning flanker. Joining Saracens will add value to that group–at a premium no doubt. The experienced player could add two or more seasons in the United Kingdom, so Saracens will ultimately benefit.

Schalk Burger
Owen Farrell (L) talks to team mate Schalk Burger during the Saracens training session held on August 30, 2016. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Owen Farrell, a world-class player himself can learn from imports like Burger. Add to that Alistair Hargreaves, Schalk BritzJuan Figallo and Marcelo Bosch [Argentina], Sean Maitland [Scotland] and Barrit. The International stars will bolster the Saracen group and add colour to the team culture as well.

The same applies to Jeremy Thrush. The former-All Black joined Gloucester where his enthusiasm and experience will surely add to the sides quality. Alongside new signing James Marshall, they will link-up with Josh Hoeneck and John Afoa in a kiwi quartet. They will be lead around by Greg Laidlaw and Richard Hibbard to reinforce the International flavour of the ‘Glaws’ team.

Solid International player signings across the board

A number of sides have reached out to the International player market. Leicester for one, have made several signings. Coached by Aaron Mauger, they are looking to secure another title. To assist them, and other teams, the below list is only a glimpse on the investment in player stocks. An insight on the variety, quality and varying stages of career. Both young stars picked from their local competition and senior men, choosing to finish their careers in brighter-pastures.

  • JP Pietersen  –  Leicester
  • Julian Salvi  –  Exeter Chiefs
  • Marcos Ayerza  –  Leicester
  • Louis Picamoles  –  Northampton
  • Peter Betham  –  Leicester
  • Ben Te’o  –  Worcester
  • Dave Dennis  –  Exeter
  • Dan Bowden  –  Bath
  • Thretton Palamo  –  Bristol

These, along with other signings like Jason Woodward, can all develop their game within the European competition. They add to the Welsh, Irish and European players who make the Premiership their home.

New Zealand players impact on the English game

The focus of this item is to highlight to added value gained by players in Premiership Rugby. Many of those are from New Zealand, and many have become household names. Men like Kahn Fotulai’i, Corey Flynn and Jimmy Gopperth. Former All Blacks often show their class, and that includes one of the strongest candidates for MVP–Nick Evans.

Playing for Harlequins, the former Otago/Highlanders and North Harbour/Blues pivot has been outstanding in the English rugby system. It suited his game and he has taken away multiple awards and commendations over the years for his impact, and his input. Not only one of the premium signings in the last ten years, but a player who (many feel) could have had a successful International career.

He chose not to use his years to qualify for selection to the England Rugby team. A personal choice, but it has not stopped him from being one of the most classy first-five’s playing in Europe.

If the candidate could include Pro12 players, Charles Piutau would have taken the MVP prize easily. His impact with Ulster was unanimous. A real game-changer. He made the choice to leave New Zealand early, just on the cusp of securing an All Blacks spot. That form translated into European rugby success at Wasps and now with Ulster. Piutau is destined for superstardom.

Foreign Legion MVP–Brendon O’Connor

Leicester Tigers have a big roster of International names. O’Connor (main picture) was signed in 2015/2016 and marked his debut with a breakaway try in the European Cup win over Stade Francais at Welford Road in November 2015.

Brendon O'Connor
LEICESTER, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 13: Brendon O’Connor of Leicester charges upfield during the Eurpean Rugby Champions Cup match between Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais at Welford Road on November 13, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

A talented flanker who had already been a member of the triumphant New Zealand Under 20 World Championship team, and looked certain for higher honours. Deciding to take his ‘trade’ to England, his first 18 months have proved a success. Deserving a much focus, he earns the MVP vote not only for his untapped potential, but also for his tradesman-like work habits.

Similar to Evans and others like Carl Hayman, he will work for the team primarily. The Tigers were 2012/2013 Champions and a player like O’Connor is one who that side can build a season on. His star is on the rise, and if he chose to return to New Zealand, would challenge the incumbent All Blacks for possible squad selection.

“Main photo credit”

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