The Super Rugby exodus team
OPINION: Much has been made of the impending exodus from Southern Hemisphere that is set to ensue following this year’s World Cup in Japan.
The riches of British, European and Japanese clubs has made it difficult for some of the best players from across New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina to turn down contracts that would significantly inflate their incomes.
As a result, a big influx of All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas are set to ply their trade in the Northern Hemisphere from 2020 onwards, thus ending their Super Rugby careers in doing so.
While there will inevitably be plenty more players who will announce their departures abroad in the coming weeks and months, here is a XV composed entirely of players making the shift from Super Rugby to either the Premiership in England, Top 14 in France, Pro14 in Europe, or Top League in Japan.
1 – Jeff Toomaga-Allen (Hurricanes to Wasps)
After failing to register himself as a mainstay in Steve Hansen’s national set-up sine making his test debut against Japan six years ago, the one-test All Blacks prop has opted to cash in on his talents and join fellow Kiwis Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa and Jimmy Gopperth at Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
🥁 It is of course… 🥁
— Wasps Rugby (@WaspsRugby) January 17, 2019
2 – Akker van der Merwe (Sharks to Sale)
It’s a travesty that Akker van der Merwe has only three test caps to his name. Given his blockbusting ball-running ability and physicality, one could argue that the man known as ‘The Warthog’ has been the victim of both South Africa’s racial quota system and Malcolm Marx’s exceptional talents, but nevertheless, the 27-year-old will be trading the Sharks of Durban for the Sharks of Sale come the end of the season.
3 – Owen Franks (Crusaders to Northampton)
A 106-test veteran, a two-time World Cup-winner, a dual Super Rugby champion, and with his sights set on adding a third medal from each of those tournaments to his trophy cabinet, nobody can fault Owen Franks for wanting to sign off from rugby with a big pay cheque from the Saints as he rounds off an all-Premiership front row.
4 – Eben Etzebeth (Stormers to Toulon)
One of the most fearsome and bruising forwards in Super Rugby, most players throughout the rest of the competition will be quietly happy that Eben Etzebeth is leaving for Toulon. However, the 75-test Springbok will be missed for all the playing quality and leadership value that he provides the Stormers with, and he will leave a big hole in Robbie Fleck’s squad.
5 – Sam Whitelock (Crusaders to Panasonic Wild Knights)
He may have signed a four-year deal which will keep him in New Zealand until the 2023 World Cup, but Sam Whitelock won’t be playing in Super Rugby next year due to a clause in his new contract which has allowed him to take up a short-term sabbatical with Top League club Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan.
6 – Liam Squire (Highlanders to NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes)
Yet to take to the field for the Highlanders this year due to hip and knee injuries, as well as personal family issues, the chance of Liam Squire featuring in Super Rugby before leaving for Top League side NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes next year appears slim. That has left his World Cup selection hopes with the All Blacks in jeopardy, but the 23-test loose forward should be remembered for his barnstorming runs and brutal defence which has earned him the status of an enforcer for both the Highlanders and All Blacks.
7 – Pablo Matera (Jaguares to Stade Francais)
With 58 tests to his name and captain of his country, the influence that Argentine flank Pablo Matera casts upon both the Jaguares and Pumas cannot be understated. He has impressed time and time again in Super Rugby this season, and he will be vital to Argentina’s chances at this year’s World Cup. Still only 25-years-old, Matera has a lot of rugby left in him, so the prospect of him returning from Stade Français in Paris to Argentina to play club rugby shouldn’t be ruled out. Admittedly a blindside flanker, Matera makes this side as an openside due to both his stature within the southern hemisphere and the presence of Squire at blindside.
8 – Kieran Read (Crusaders to Toyota Verblitz)
As the most experienced player within both the Crusaders and All Blacks, it’s going to take a long time to regather the wisdom attained by Kieran Read since his debut with the franchise in 2007. That task is only going to get harder with the exits of teammates Franks and Whitelock, but with 118 tests, two World Cup titles and three Super Rugby crowns under his belt, the All Blacks captain’s final season in New Zealand before jetting off to Toyota is one that should be savoured.
9 – Nick Phipps (Waratahs to London Irish)
London Irish’s acquisition of Nick Phipps is one of many big name recruits made by the recently-promoted Reading-based club. The 30-year-old halfback will bring with him 71 tests worth of experience with the Wallabies, as well as a Super Rugby title won with the Waratahs in 2014, making him an ideal candidate to help keep The Exiles afloat in the Premiership next season.
10 – Handré Pollard (Bulls to Montpellier)
Years of underwhelming campaigns at the Bulls seems to have finally got the better of Handré Pollard, who has ‘agreed in principle’ to join Montpellier in the Top 14 after the World Cup. The three-time Super Rugby champions haven’t been able to replicate their title-winning form since Pollard debuted for them in 2013, although they are edging their South African rivals at the top of their conference. As for Pollard, he will remain a key cog in the make-up of national side, but Springboks fans must be disappointed that the 25-year-old hasn’t extended his stay in the Republic.
11 – Waisake Naholo (Highlanders to London Irish)
Another one of London Irish’s big signings ahead of their return to the Premiership, the capture of Waisake Naholo is sure to send the home fans at Madejski Stadium into raptures next year. While he has been both severely out of form and injured for the Highlanders this year, he remains the club’s all-time leading try scorer with 40 tries from 57 outings. The pace and power that allows Naholo to possess such lethal finishing has been on display at times throughout his 26 tests for the All Blacks, and London Irish fans will be hoping he can produce those sorts of performances for them in 2020.
12 – Samu Kerevi (Reds to Suntory Sungoliath)
By far the best player for the Reds this season, Samu Kerevi is set to leave a gaping hole in Brad Thorn’s squad next year onwards after signing with Suntory Sungoliath in the Top League. He will join fellow Wallabies Sean McMahon and Matt Giteau at the club, and the trio will hope to combine as Suntory look to secure their sixth national title, and with Kerevi in the midfield, it should be no surprise to anyone if they manage to achieve just that.
13 – Jesse Kriel (Bulls to Canon Eagles)
Following Pollard out the door of the Bulls, Jesse Kriel is set to embark on a new club career with the Canon Eagles in the Top League. While it leaves the Bulls extremely thin on options to call experience upon, the 40-test Springbok midfielder should thrive in Japan alongside new South African teammates Rynier Bernardo, Jan de Klerk, and Fred Zeilinga.
14 – Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes to Toulon)
The star of the 2015 World Cup, Nehe Milner-Skudder has been dogged by a raft of injuries that have prevented him from rekindling the sort of form that won him World Breakthrough Player of the Year. Since scoring eight tries in his first eight tests four years ago, the 28-year-old has only managed five appearances for the All Blacks in the following three seasons, so it’s understandable why he’s cashing in at Toulon before his body gives up on him.
15 – Ben Smith (Highlanders to Pau)
News of Ben Smith signing for Top 14 side Pau was sad to hear for all rugby fans across New Zealand because of his World Cup-winning experience and the value he brings to the All Blacks, but it was particularly painful to hear for Highlanders fans. The 76-test veteran, who turns 33 next week, is the franchise’s most-capped player ever and co-captained his hometown side to their maiden and solitary Super Rugby crown in 2015. While a big payday in France is well-deserved, it will be sad to see Smith leave.
By Alex McLeod, @RugbyPass