Foreigners set to impact on Premiership

Controversial South African flanker Luke Watson is amongst an impressive cast list of southern hemisphere big names who are set to have an impact on the English Premiership season which starts on Friday.


Steve Kefu, Schalk Brits, Carlos Spencer, Carl Hayman, Nick Evans, Rico Gear, Greg Somerville, Butch James, and Sisaro Koyamaibole are among around 70 southern hemisphere internationals registered with Guinness Premiership clubs for the upcoming campaign.


England coach Martin Johnson has seen several Test players opt to play their club rugby in France, but it is far from one-way traffic as the English game welcomes a host of imports.


Watson, capped ten times by his country, will join Bath in November from Western Province, having admitted further Test honours are on the back burner for the time being.


The back rower’s career has been mired in controversy since he was forced into the national side by the South Africa Rugby Union in 2007, against the wishes of then-coach Jake White, and Watson says he is still not happy with the rugby environment in his homeland.


But fellow South African, and Bath captain Michael Claassens, is welcoming Watson to the Recreation Ground with open arms.


“I think he is going to be a big boost for the club,” Claasens said.


“He is not only a class player but he is a great leader on and off the field. He leads by example and what he said was taken out of proportion.”


Bath have had an eventful pre-season, with four players leaving the club over lurid drugs allegations. But the episodes could not dissuade the 25-year-old Watson from decamping to England.


“I’m a very clean-living guy,” Watson insisted.

 

“I don’t touch alcohol or anything and I think that helped with Bath’s decision. It was part of the reason I was asked to go there.”

Fijian back-rower Koyamaibole, who has joined Sale Sharks, could be one of the signings after two disappointing years at French club Toulon.


The 29-year-old has been on a strict conditioning regime to shed weight but Sale boss Kingsley Jones is convinced he is the man to replace Frenchman Sebastien Chabal, who has returned home.


“This guy has got the lot,” Jones said. “He is the person we are missing to go forward in the back row. He can do everything Chabal did – he just needs to get his fitness right.


“He is a guy who has run 100 metres in under 11 seconds and who weighed 139 kilos. He is now down to under 127 kilos – his target is 119. Once he gets his pace he can bring a lot to the team and the Premiership.”


Add in London Irish’s Samoan three-quarters Sailosi Tagicakibau and Seilala Mapusa, who caused havoc last term along with Gloucester flanker Akapusi Qera, and it is clear the imports will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the English season.


Brits, a 28-year-old hooker, arrives from the Stormers to join Saracens where he will link-up with a fellow Springbok in fly-half Derick Hougaard, the former Bull, who had a stint at Leicester.


Director of rugby Brendan Venter said: “Schalk is a world-class player right in his prime, he has the ‘X’ factor that can turn the game in an instant.”


With scrum-half Neil de Kock already at the club along with back row forward Wikus Van Heerden, and prop Frik Venter and second row Mouritz Botha joining the north London outfit, fans were worried Saracens were being turned into a South African outpost.


But Venter tried to allay their fears by saying: “We speak English at Saracens. We don’t speak Afrikaans or Italian or Fijian.”

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