Following some big name losses for Leinster and Munster over the summer, Daniel Keenan looks at the new arrivals brought in to fill the gaps.
After the success of Leinster and Munster on various stages last year, it goes without saying that management and players alike need to ensure that their position is consolidated and Irish rugby can continue to progress. With the signing of Eoin Reddan, Jean de Villiers and Nathan Hines, Ireland’s club rugby stalwarts seem to have ably replaced the likes of Elsom, Tipoki and Whitaker, whilst strengthening at the same time.
Former Wasps scrum half Eoin Reddan will be hoping to put his less-than-adequate performances in last year’s Guinness Premiership behind him with this move. Tipped to be the Lions scrum-half during the 2008 Six Nations Championship, he has since fallen behind Tomás O’Leary and Peter Stringer in the Ireland team.
Much like Stringer, he is a commanding scrum half who keeps the forwards on their toes. His slow ball release at the breakdown can be frustrating, but he does like to feed it out to the backs, rather than going for the box-kick. He’s not afraid to run when the opportunity arises, and his piercing passes are the reason he wore the Number 9 shirt during the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Six Nations.
The announcement of the signing of Reddan coincided with that of Scottish forward Nathan Hines, brought in to fill the void left by Rocky Elsom, and to provide cover for the ageing Malcolm O’Kelly. Hines is a natural second row player, though he has shown capability of playing blindside flanker, and will probably do so regularly with Elsom having returned to Australia in search of a recall to the Wallabies.
Hines certainly seems to be settling in well with the Heineken Cup Champions. A sturdy lineout has been a feature of Leinster’s play early this season, and Hines is certainly part of that. His commitment can never be questioned, as is shown in his aggression at the breakdown. To his discredit, however, he has a tendency to pick up yellow cards – and the occasional red – for his over zealous attempts to retrieve or keep the ball.
Not to be out-manoeuvred by Leinster, Munster matched their rivals with the coup of South African centre Jean de Villiers. After coming off the bench to make his debut at the weekend, de Villiers looks like he will fit in perfectly to the Munster set up. The centre has developed a world-class reputation with South Africa, after scoring 18 tries in 54 appearances for the Springboks and being an integral part of Tri Nations winning teams.
Like the retired Rua Tipoki, de Villiers has an eye for the killer pass, as well as the skill and power to grab a few tries. He was solid – though not all together impressive – during the Lions tour in June, but played well during the Springboks victory in the Tri Nations.
South Africa’s policy of not picking anyone playing rugby overseas will probably mean de Villiers won’t be around for long. He’s signed a one-year contract, and Munster will hope that he won’t follow in the footsteps of Leinster’s Rocky Elsom, and return home after only one season. He is sure to return to South Africa before the 2011 World Cup, where he could captain the Springboks in place of John Smit and Victor Matfield, both of whom are expected to retire before then.
It would have to be said that Leinster’s most high-profile exit was that of charismatic fly half Felipe Contepomi. His departure to Toulon will be a big hit to the province’s title and cup aspirations. His replacement, Shaun Berne, from Bath has put in some good displays in the early part of the year, but there are questions whether he has the nerves to cope with the pressure that Contepomi thrived under.