In the third of our series looking at the best overseas players to have appeared in England, James Barker compiles the Australia Premiership Rugby XV. This team, starting with the forward pack, features the Wallabies who’ve made the biggest impact in England.
Australia Premiership Rugby XV: the forwards
Julian Salvi – Bath, Leicester Tigers, Exeter Chiefs
Surprisingly never capped by Australia at senior level, Julian Salvi’s reputation was built largely in England. First he joined Bath in 2009 and was named their Forward of the Year. Generally a flanker and at one time seen as a replacement for George Smith, Salvi returned to the Brumbies to push for a World Cup place for 2011.
After this was eventually unsuccessful, Leicester Tigers snapped him up and he was a key part of their back-row, starting in their 2013 Premiership final victory. Salvi was nominated for Premiership Player of the Year twice in his four years at Welford Road, before moving to Exeter in 2015.
He racked up another 50 appearances for the Chiefs before returning and becoming their defence coach.
George Smith – Wasps, Bristol Bears
Despite making only 26 starts in English rugby, George Smith made a huge impact for both Wasps and Bristol and is unrivalled for the seven shirt. He arrived at Wasps in 2015 from Lyon, after winning 111 caps for the Wallabies. Such was his impact in England, Smith was named Wasps and the Premiership Players’ Player of the Year in 2015/16.
Smith departed England after just one season but was tempted back to join Pat Lam’s newly-promoted Bristol in 2018. Initially on a six month contract, the flanker eventually committed to the full season before retiring age 38.
Will Skelton – Saracens
Such is the strength of Australian second rows to have played in England, Will Skelton must move to the flank in this XV. The giant forward, who was actually born in New Zealand, may have already played his last game for Saracens as he’s due to join La Rochelle for next season.
Skelton originally joined Saracens on loan and impressed enough to earn a permanent contract. Since then he lost a significant amount of weight to add mobility and dynamism to his already powerful game. His dedication to improvement was recognised by his teammates and was awarded the Players’ Player of the Year award in 2019.
James Horwill – Harlequins
After almost 10 years with the Reds in Super Rugby, James Horwill joined Harlequins in 2014. The former Wallabies captain slotted into the Quins pack with ease and quickly became an important leader for his new team.
Despite missing out on the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Horwill maintained consistent performance levels for Harlequins even with the club’s relative decline in the league table. He retired as co-captain in 2019, but came out of retirement to play for Cambridge University in the Varsity fixture at Twickenham.
Dean Mumm – Exeter Chiefs
Another Super Rugby great who translated their form into Premiership form was Dean Mumm. One of Exeter’s first major overseas signings, Mumm was an important part of their development into a top Premiership team. Like Skelton he was born in New Zealand but grew up in Australia.
After coming through the Waratahs academy and into the Super Rugby team, he left for Exeter in 2012. This was the Chiefs’ first season in the Champions Cup and Mumm helped them to a second successive top six finish. He was named captain in his second season and his ongoing performances led to a World Cup call-up in 2015.
Mumm left Exeter a big fans’ favourite in 2015 and returned to the Waratahs. He retired in 2017 and now works for an insurance company in Sydney.
Salesi Ma’afu – Northampton Saints, Gloucester
A player that may divide opinion on this list but nonetheless a Premiership winning tighthead. Ma’afu was Northampton’s first choice when they won the Premiership in 2013/14. He played in the final against Saracens, despite receiving a red card in the semi-final.
Unfortunately Ma’afu won’t be so readily remembered for his short spell at Gloucester as injury cover. But with top Australian props a premium, he rightly takes the number three shirt here.
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau – Leicester Tigers
Tatafu Polota-Nau joined the Tigers in 2017 and has provided stiff competition to club captain Tom Youngs for the number two shirt. He arrived in England with 82 caps and a World Cup final appearance on his CV. It may not have been the most successful of times for Leicester but Polota-Nau brings a huge amount of experience and know-how to a team in transition.
Greg Holmes – Exeter Chiefs
Normally a tighthead but capable of playing both sides, Greg Holmes moves to loosehead to complete the Australia Premiership XV pack. Another Wallaby to set up home in Exeter, Holmes won 27 caps for Australia whilst playing for the Reds.
Holmes has only featured in one of Exeter’s three most recent Twickenham finals but has been a dependable player in Rob Baxter’s forward-orientated team. He started in the 2018 Anglo-Welsh Cup Final victory and started early on when he arrived that he intended to see out his career with Exeter.
- Kieran Longbottom – Saracens, Sale Sharks
- James Hanson – Gloucester
- Dave Dennis – Exeter Chiefs
- Mark Connors – Northampton Saints
- Adam Coleman – London Irish
- Drew Hickey – Worcester Warriors
- Leroy Houston – Bath
Australia Premiership Rugby XV: the backs
The second half of this team will be published soon. Who are you expecting to see in the backline? Let us know at @LWOSRugby or @LWOS_Premrugby.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images