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The game's biggest transfer flops

OPINION: Two-time World Cup-winning Springbok RG Snyman was branded the worst signing ever, following Munster’s Champions Cup exit at the hands of Northampton Saints last weekend.


His long list of injuries since his arrival in Limerick in 2020 and looming departure to Leinster contributed to the suggestion that he did not return on the investment by the Irish province.

This article is by no means just a critique of the players listed: rugby transfers don’t always yield the expected outcomes for various reasons, including internal politics, injuries and clashing personalities.

With that said, here are 14 transfers that RugbyPassNeil Fissler believes will be remembered fondly by fans.

Sam Burgess – South Sydney Rabbitohs to Bath 2014
Earmarked as England’s answer to Sonny Bill Williams when the RFU financed a £500,000 move from the NRL ahead of England hosting the 2015 World Cup. But less than a month after crashing out of the Pool Stages, he was back at the Rabbitohs as the highest-paid league player of all time.

Dan Carter – Crusaders to Perpignan (loan) 2008
The greatest player in the modern era got the rock star treatment when he arrived in the Languedoc-Roussillon to take up a €700,000 six-month deal, but it didn’t work as intended after Carter played just five games before partially tearing his Achilles tendon in a draw with Stade Francais.

Willie Mason – Free agent to Toulon 2011
Big Willie enjoyed an illustrious career as an NRL enforcer but was released by Hull KR after just six games into a three-year contract. That didn’t stop Toulon from splashing the cash, but after playing just 74 minutes, he was shown the door with Toulon fans describing him as a “Brad Thorn wannabe” in the club’s history.


RG Snyman – Bulls – Munster 2020
The giant South African might have picked up two World Cup winners medals but his time at Munster has been nothing short of a disaster. He has spent more time on the surgeon’s operating table than the pitch-playing, just 432 minutes in four years. Bath really has dodged a bullet.

Chris Jack – Crusaders – Saracens 2007
The All Blacks lock branded Northern Hemisphere rugby as “easy” after he was released from his expensive contract a year early. But the truth was that despite his arrogance, Jack, who was a world-class player, struggled to make a major impact and his time at Vicarage Road with much fondness.

Justin Marshall – Crusaders to Leeds Tykes 2005
Leeds, who had always been prudent with spending, decided to open the chequebook after winning the last-ever Powergen Cup Final.  But the scrum-half didn’t see eye to eye with coach Phil Davies, and the club got relegated at the end of his only season and Marshall joined the Ospreys.

marshall phillips
Justin Marshall during his time with Ospreys. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Mathieu Bastareaud – Toulon to Rugby United New York 2020
The transfer of Bastareaud was supposed to be a massive coup for the MLR, but instead, it turned out to be a massive flop. The centre-turned No. 8 was visibly overweight and looked slow and cumbersome, struggling to keep on with the pace of the game.

Chiliboy Ralepelle – Bulls to Toulouse 2013
The Springbok hooker joined an exodus of players from South Africa when he moved to Toulouse. But it turned into a disaster after just nine games when he damaged knee ligaments, and then in March 2014, he failed an out-of-competition drugs test for the anabolic steroid drostanolone and was banned for two years.


Nico Matawalu – Bath to Exeter Chiefs 2016
The Fijian scrum-half left The Rec in search of more game time after being restricted to just 13 appearances because of injury. Sadly, within a month of arriving at Sandy Park, he was arrested and charged with sexual assault, and even though he was cleared was released without playing a game.

Niko Matawalu scores a try for Glasgow Warriors against Lyon (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Waisake Naholo – Highlanders to London Irish 2019
The All Blacks World Cup-winning winger was one of several expensive big-name signings costing around £4m made by the Exiles when they won promotion back to the Premiership. But a persistent knee injury restricted him to just four appearances in his two years in the capital.

Christian Cullen – Hurricanes to Munster 2003
The All Black icon will feature on almost every list of the best full-backs to have played the game. But his spell in Ireland after John Mitchell dropped him was blighted by injury problems, and, by his admission, not being able to fulfil his potential remains a regret.

Marika Vunibaka – Fiji to Leicester Tigers 1997
The Fijian sevens winger was a world-class player who would have carved up the Premiership after scoring a hat-trick against Loughborough Students in a friendly when he was on trial. But a permanent move to Welford Road fell through when he was turned down for a work permit.

Henson Saracens
(Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images)

Gavin Henson – Ospreys to Saracens 2010
One of the best generational talents had been on 18 months unpaid leave from the Ospreys when it was announced he would join Saracens after completing his commitments with the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. He only made four appearances before being released from his contract and joining Toulon.

Chris Ashton – Harlequins to Worcester Warriors 2021
The former England winger won’t want to remember 2021 with any great fondness. After exiting Quins mid-season after only making two appearances, he joined Worcester. But his stay at Sixways only lasted four games. He was sent off against Northampton Saints before picking up knee and calf injuries.

Jason Jones-Hughes –  Newport to Munster 2003
Wales won a tug-of-war with Australia for the highly-rated centre, but he suffered from injuries. After failing to win a contract with any of the Welsh regions, he tried his luck across the Irish Sea. But a lower back injury forced him to retire a year later, aged 27.

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