The Gallagher Premiership transfers keep coming thick and fast, with the season drawing ever closer. Last time out it was the incoming players that were the focus. However, this time Last Word on Rugby are looking at the 10 biggest Gallagher Premiership exits.
Many players have moved onto new and greener pastures this season. Contract negotiations are a key part of professional sport. However, focusing on those that are going to have the biggest impacts on the clubs that they are leaving, is the focal point. Some of these are retirees but their absence will be felt over the coming season, especially with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner.
10 biggest Gallagher Premiership exits
Kahn Fotuali’I – Bath to Montpellier
Bath do have quality scrum-half options in the form of Chris Cook and Will Chudley. However, the absence of the Premiership stalwart, Fotuali’i, will be sorely felt. His controlled kicking and game-management are going to be hard to match. Passionate and commanding, the import has made Bath home for three years, with 61 appearances.
It is a shame to see the Samoan’s talents move to France as he has been a staple of the Premiership for a number of years now. However, Bath will feel that by letting him go they will be able to maintain more consistency, in their other two scrum-halves development.
George Smith – retired from Bristol Bears
Smith has finally hung up his boots which is a sad day for rugby as a whole. The Australian commanded a large salary at Bristol which does give the club now more room to invest elsewhere. With respect to the ex-Wallabies status, Smith’s impact off the field, as well as his impressive work on it, he will be difficult to replace.
Replacing over 100 caps in any Premiership squad is never easy but head coach Pat Lam has gone part of the way by investing in Nathan Hughes. Bristol themselves probably won’t feel the hit of losing Smith but, the Premiership as a whole certainly will.
Santiago Cordero – Exeter to Bordeaux
The flying Argentinian was arguably Exeter’s best player last year so his exit came as a big shock to fans. Yet with the arrival of Stuart Hogg to the Gallagher Premiership, the Chiefs simply couldn’t find the room in their salary cap for the winger.
Hogg and Nowell are unlikely to be available for the first part of the season [due to World Cup commitments] thus making this transfer all the more impactful on the Chiefs’ squad. Still, Cordero is a wonderful player; worthy of his nomination for ‘Player of the Year’.
The nominees for @theRPA Players' Player of the Year have been announced…
🍒 Danny Cipriani
⚫️ Santiago Cordero
🦈 Faf de Klerk
😇 Cobus Reinach
⚫️ Henry Slade
Five worthy candidates!
Check out some of the skills that saw them earn that nomination in the thread below 👇 pic.twitter.com/qsYpwsRfds
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) May 1, 2019
It remains to be seen whether the South West side can deal with his departure and calming influence in the Gallaher Premiership 2019/20 but, most fans will assume that Rob Baxter is likely to have ‘a plan up his sleeve’.
Matt Toomua – Leicester Tigers to Melbourne Rebels
Although Leicester struggled this season there were still some shining lights in their backline. In patches, Toomua demonstrated why he is thought of so highly in the southern hemisphere. If he had been given more front-foot ball Tigers could have been a real force.
Tigers have opted not to replace Toomua directly but instead, have replenished across the backline. Noel Reid and Jaco Taute come in but there still appears to be a gap in the playmaker role given the impending departure of George Ford on World Cup duty.
James Horwill – retired from Harlequins
Another individual whose presence off the field will be missed as much as on it. The former Australian captain quickly became a fan favourite at the Stoop, and as a result, there is a void to fill in the engine room.
Harlequins' James Horwill, the former Australia captain, is retiring from rugby union at the age of 34.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) April 15, 2019
Harlequins have invested heavily in their pack with the likes of Botta, Scott Baldwin, and Tom Lawday all coming in. However, they are yet to find a direct replacement for Horwill so his absence could have a big impact on the West London side.
Luther Burrell – Northampton Saints to Warrington Wolves (Rugby League)
Burrell was almost part of the furniture by 2018/19 at the Saints. However, with his England chances diminished he decided the time was right to make the switch over to Rugby League.
This was a big move for Burrell (see main picture) but an exciting one nonetheless. Time will tell whether he made the right move but the Super League is gaining a very explosive runner.
Saints had a stellar season last time out, squeezing into the playoffs. However, along with Burrell they are losing a lot of experience in the form of James Haskell and Dom Barrow and Ken Pisi.
On the plus side, Chris Boyd is keen to champion the academy and has promoted a number of young players. It is a bold move which could pay off big in the coming season.
James O’Connor – Sale Sharks to Queensland Reds
O’Connor struggled with injury whilst in Manchester but when he was fit he brought a new dimension to the Sale backline. His pace and power will be missed at the AJ Bell as Sale embark on Champions Cup Rugby next season.
O’Connor has opted to return home to make a bid for a world cup squad. This is an exciting move for the former international. However, Sale will aim to fill the void with the incoming Simon Hammersley. Steve Diamond will also look to the likes of Cam Redpath and Luke James to step up next season.
Willie le Roux – Wasps to Toyota Verblitz
This season Le Roux never quite hit the heights that his potential demanded it should. Wasps struggled at times this season and their big-name players never quite stood up at key times. This, coupled with extended absences for international duty, has led to the player and club parting ways.
Le Roux departs for Japan after a World Cup campaign with South Africa. Wasps instead will be looking to Matteo Minozzi to fill the void. The promising Italian could be a great signing for Wasps but any side will miss Le Roux. It will be interesting to see how Wasps cope with such a big name departure.
Josh Adams/Bryce Heem – Worcester Warriors to Cardiff Blues and Toulon
Much was made about the quality of the Worcester back line last season. Adams broke out into a start international during the six nations. Whilst Heem continued to improve on his great form from the previous season.
However such performances has meant that Adams has returned to Wales to continue his international career. On the other hand, Heem has decided to make the move to France and the bright lights of Toulon.
Worcester have managed to procure two replacements in the shape of Melani Nanai from the Auckland Blues, and Ed Fidow from second division Rugby in France.
Nanai comes with an excellent CV in New Zealand and should be a great replacement. Fidow is slightly less well known but he has impressed on the Rugby Sevens circuit for Samoa, so it will be exciting to see how he adapts to Premiership Rugby.
Concluding thoughts on player Exits
Incomings and departures are a fact of life in professional sport. All the names on this list are going to be big losses for their sides. However, the tests are to see how teams can adapt, and replace.
Worcester and Wasps have opted to direct replacements to their star men. This could put a lot of pressure on the incoming individuals but, offers more security to the club in question.
Domestically, the likes of Sale and Northampton are aiming to promote from within to fill the void. This shows great faith but could take more time, to bear fruit.
In the overall context of players exiting Premiership Rugby, reinvesting locally may be the best plan of action, in a market where the ‘instant fix’ of signing big names is not always the best return on your investment.
“Main photo credit”
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