Premiership's most intriguing signings
OPINION: With Premiership rugby slated to return next month, we face the unusual scenario of seeing a flood of new signings at each of the clubs before the culmination of the 2019/20 season, something which adds an interesting subplot should Covid-19 not derail the current plans for resumption.
Some teams have been bolstered by additions from abroad, others have seen key contributors leave for rivals and a few have been left so desperately short of players that they are currently scrambling for reinforcements in order to finish the season. It’s fair to say that form before the lockdown could count for very little when rugby does finally return next month.
RugbyPass have taken a look at five of the most intriguing signings made by Premiership clubs in 2020 and analyse what they will bring to their new sides over the next few months and into the 2020/21 campaign.
Ratu Naulago (Bristol Bears)
At this point in time, the levels of expectation and excitement for the arrivals of Kyle Sinckler and Semi Radradra at Ashton Gate could not be higher and their signings have understandably hogged the limelight in the south-west. That said, no one should be sleeping on the impact that Naulago could make at Bristol and how well he fits the style that Pat Lam has the Bears playing.
The Fijian, who serves in the British army, has lit up Super League with Hull FC of late, although he also boasts experience in the XV- and Seven-a-side codes. He brings pace and power to the wing and with Bears putting such a premium on their tempo and ability to recycle ball quickly, Naulago is not going to be short of opportunities to test himself in one-on-ones during his stint at the club.
The 29-year-old still has to finish up his commitments in Super League before hopping codes but expect him to make a significant impact once he does arrive in the Premiership.
Josh Hodge (Exeter Chiefs)
If you look at where Exeter have invested their money in recent seasons in terms of giving senior academy contracts to their U18s, it has leant heavily towards bolstering their pack. By snapping up one of English rugby’s brightest young backline talents in Hodge, the club have potentially helped address that imbalance while also maintaining pathways for their own players.
Hodge has been identified by England boss Eddie Jones as a player of particular promise and he already boasts an impressively rounded game in the back three, with counter-attacking, kicking, aerial and defensive skills all present. With Exeter icon Phil Dollman having turned 35 this year and both Stuart Hogg and Jack Nowell frequently away on international duty, Hodge could make a significant impact early in his career at the club.
Whether acting as a playmaker, game manager and second receiving option from full-back, or adding pace and incision to the wing options Exeter can currently call upon, Hodge could swiftly embed himself as a fan favourite in Devon.
Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins)
The old adage goes that forwards win matches and backs decide by how much. Although still largely true, the addition of Esterhuizen should have Quins fans salivating. While Wilco Louw will be crucial to Paul Gustard’s side’s chances of success, he has his hands full simply filling the void left by the departure of British and Irish Lion Sinckler.
Esterhuizen gives Quins that direct, hard-carrying threat outside of Marcus Smith that the young flyhalf has not consistently been able to lean on since his rise to the first XV. The duo of Francis Saili (now at Biarritz) and Paul Lasike had their fair share of injury misfortune since arriving in Surrey and the club will be hoping that Esterhuizen can prove more durable over the coming years.
If the South African centre can provide that ability to get over the gain line and quickly recycle, the likes of Smith, Danny Care and the returning Joe Marchant will find themselves with plenty of favourable match-ups in the subsequent phases.
Nemani Nadolo (Leicester Tigers)
Leicester need something. Heck, Leicester need anything at the moment and the departures of high-calibre players such as Manu Tuilagi and Telusa Veainu, as a result of the club’s pay reduction dispute, does not help the situation. The arrival of Nadolo could be a lightning rod and catalyst for change that new head coach Steve Borthwick needs to galvanise and begin rebuilding the once-famed Tigers.
The versatile 32-year-old was prolific with the ball in hand during his time at Montpellier and with Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond and Noel Reid having all been released, the Tigers midfield is a blank canvas for Borthwick to work with. He will have to decide whether he sees Nadolo as a clinical wing or a centre who is able to get Leicester moving forward.
Having shone internationally for Fiji and domestically in both New Zealand and France, this is Nadolo’s opportunity to leave a permanent mark on English rugby. Helping re-energise Tigers and put them back on a path to the top of the club game is as good a way as any to do it.
Nick Isiekwe (Northampton Saints)
Though just a loan move for Isiekwe, who should return to Saracens in 2021 providing they can secure promotion back to the Premiership at the first time of asking, that doesn’t prevent this from being a particularly exciting addition, with the England forward set to join up with Courtney Lawes and Alex Coles at Franklin’s Gardens.
Alongside those two aerially-gifted lineout forwards and the ballast of David Ribbans and Alex Moon, Saints have perhaps the best stock of locks and blindside flankers to call upon in the Premiership. Let’s hope Chris Boyd is a fan of the Pieter-Steph du Toit mould at six and four because he is now swimming in similar style options at the two positions.
With a combination of Isiekwe, Lawes or Coles set to be playing week in, week out in the East Midlands, no opposition lineout will be safe when they go up against Northampton. Saints have added depth and quality to an area they are already strong, something which looks to have them in a good place to continue their tilt for the title.
Alex Shaw, @RugbyPass