Premiership New Zealand XV: the backs

Premiership New Zealand XV
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Following the selection of a Pacific Island XV of the best-imported players into the Premiership, James Barker now selects a Premiership New Zealand XV; the best Kiwis to have played in England.

Premiership New Zealand XV

15. Charles Piutau – Wasps, Bristol Bears

A fairly simple decision to begin with. The most highly paid player in Premiership history has lived up to that tag for both Wasps and Bristol. His one year stay in Coventry en route to Ulster resulted in a player of the season nomination and a Champions Cup semi-final appearance.

Piutau has had various injuries whilst at Bristol but is still proving value for money by helping Bristol compete for the play-offs.

14. Tom Marshall – Gloucester

Tom Marshall’s time at Gloucester has been blighted by injury but his performances in 2019/20 have confirmed his quality to all. Adept at both fullback and wing, Marshall was on top try-scoring form at the start of this season, scoring more already than he has in any other season with Gloucester.

There was some speculation that he would be returning to New Zealand, but he signed a new contract in February to keep him in the Premiership for a few years to come.

13. Daryl Gibson – Bristol, Leicester Tigers

Gibson won 19 All Black-caps and four Super Rugby titles before moving to England. After a season with Bristol, he joined Leicester at the height of their dominance. However during his time at Welford Road, only one Premiership title was won, and unfortunately, Gibson only played in two Twickenham defeats.

He was a dependable inside centre and 90 appearances in four years under multiple coaches was testament to his value. Gibson went into coaching after retiring and was Head Coach of the Waratahs for three years.

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12. Jimmy Gopperth – Newcastle Falcons, Wasps

It was no coincidence that when Gopperth returned to the Wasps lineup at the start of 2020 they started climbing up the table. Even at 36, his value to the team is clearly obvious. Deployed more often at 12 these days, Gopperth’s role as the second playmaker and distributor is a major factor in Wasps’ free-scoring style.

The Kiwi has been the Premiership’s top points scorer in three seasons, including twice for Newcastle as he did his best to help them avoid relegation in 2013.

Gopperth has certainly become used to pressure; he replaced Johnny Wilkinson at Newcastle, then Johnny Sexton at Leinster. Capping it all, he was named Premiership Player of the season in 2016/17.

11. Bruce Reihana – Northampton Saints

Bruce Reihana joined Northampton in 2002 after earning three New Zealand caps and winning two gold medals for sevens in the Commonwealth Games. He often played at fullback but was equally adept on the wing or at centre.

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Reihana became Saints captain following being named Players’ Player of the Season in 2004, having this responsibility until 2009. He made over 200 appearances and scored over 1000 points in a total of nine years with Northampton.

Since retiring Reihana has returned to England as Bristol’s Skills and Performance Coach.

10. Nick Evans – Harlequins

One of the best overseas players to play in the Premiership, let alone one of the best New Zealanders. Evans didn’t have the X Factor of Carlos Spencer but he arrived at the Twickenham Stoop in 2008 and became a Harlequins legend.

Quins fans will recall several memorable kicks from Evans, such as the winning drop goal against Stade Francais, or the touchline conversion to tie the first Big Game against Leicester.

Evans remained first-choice fly-half for Harlequins for nearly a decade until retiring in 2017. He is now the attack coach at the club he played 208 times for.

9. Justin Marshall – Leeds Tykes, Saracens

Marshall, like his cousin Daryl Gibson, enjoyed Super Rugby success with the Crusaders before heading to England. He spent an eventful year with Leeds Tykes, winning the Powergen Cup but also being relegated. The Cup success was the first trophy Leeds ever won and the highest point of their time in the Premiership; a long way off from their current plight of relegation to the third division.

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After spells with the Ospreys and Montpellier, Marshall returned to England with Saracens. He played his final season here in 2009/10 before retiring from all rugby. He played a total of 84 matches in the Premiership, with 81 All Black-caps to his name.

The above list have each earned a place through achievement and contributions to the club/s they represented. They sit just above a long list of others, that have each underlined the quality of Premiership New Zealand XV players.

Premiership NZ XV: replacements –

  • Sam Tuitupou – Sale Sharks
  • Rico Gear – Worcester Warriors
  • Carlos Spencer – Northampton Saints, Gloucester
  • Mark Mayerhofler – Newcastle Falcons
  • Aaron Mauger – Leicester Tigers
  • Scott Hamilton – Leicester Tigers
  • Bryce Heem – Worcester Warriors
  • Jason Woodward – Bristol, Gloucester
  • Glen Jackson – Saracens

Any imported player can find life outside of the ‘bubble’ of New Zealand rugby to be difficult. Playing in the UK and Europe requires adaptation. And each of the men who occupy this Premiership New Zealand XV has shown those attributes. Has made a mark, and should be proud of their contribution to their adopted club.


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