News

Heinz Schenk
6 minute read
28 Jan 2020
1:10 pm

The best and worst overseas players to play for SA teams

Heinz Schenk

Let's just say when our franchises have contracted from overseas it hasn't been an exact science...

Fred Michalak: standard bearer of a decent overseas signing. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

With Nafi Tuitavake (Tonga) and Jamie Roberts (Wales), who join the Bulls and Stormers respectively, South African rugby fans will enjoy a relative feast of overseas signings turning out for local franchises in Super Rugby this year.

Indeed, it’s an arrangement that occurs rarely, but it’s hardly unheard of.

Over the almost 25-year period, South African franchises have chanced their arm with a few foreigners.

ALSO READ: Nafi Tuitavake might just be the everyday hero the Bulls need

Some bore fruit, but the majority proved a waste of time.

THE HITS

Frederic Michalak (France, Sharks 2008 and 2012)

Perceived as a mercurial player, the French flyhalf developed a reputation later in his career for being a highly dependable pivot.

His first stint in Durban was decent, but it was his return four years later that really stood out as he expertly marshalled the Sharks backline in an unexpected run to the final against the Chiefs.

Tony Brown (New Zealand, Sharks 2006)

Tony Brown. Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images

His commitments in Japan meant he didn’t play a full campaign, but the former All Black flyhalf was a brilliant signing for coach Dick Muir.

Armed with an exciting backline of JP Pietersen, Waylon Murray, Brad Barritt and Odwa Ndugane, Muir needed a calm, wise head to provide direction.

He did so to great effect as the Sharks overturned a last-place finish the previous year to missing out on the semis by a point.

Brown was snapped up by Rassie Erasmus’ Stormers in 2008, but he didn’t have the same impact.

Hadeigh Parkes (New Zealand, Southern Kings 2013)

Hadleigh Parkes. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)

One of the Eastern Cape franchise’s more unfashionable overseas signings in their maiden campaign, the center overcame a slow start to provide vigour and some enterprise in the midfield.

He seemed to combine well with the boot of flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, before a broken arm cut his campaign short.

Parkes returned for the ill-fated promotion-relegation showdown with the Lions and proved influential in them almost retaining their spot in the second leg at Ellis Park.

His stint proved a foundation for an eventual international career with Wales.

THE SO-SOS 

Todd Clever (USA, Lions 2009-2010)

Todd Clever. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The USA captain and legend perhaps didn’t quite receive the recognition he deserved because he played in such a haphazard and dubious team.

The corkscrew-haired flanker nonetheless became a bit of cult figure and impressed with his ability to inject pace into a game, particularly as a substitute.

Sireli Naqelevuki (Fiji, Stormers, 2008-2010)

Sireli Naqelevuki. Photo by Carl Fourie / Gallo Images

Given his sevens exploits, it wasn’t surprising that Cape rugby fans were optimistic about the opportunities a hulking winger like Naqelevuki could present.

He had his moments, notably scoring four tries in 2009’s campaign, but he seemed constrained in the Stormers’ pragmatic pattern and suffered from fitness and discipline issues.

Federico Mendez (Argentina, Sharks 1996)

Federico Mendez. Photo Credit:©Tertius Pickard/Gallo Images

Renowned for his ability to play in all three front row positions, Mendez was a valued member of the Sharks squad that made it to the inaugural Super Rugby final against the Blues in 1996.

He still labelled that team as one of the best he was involved in, underestimating some of his value to the cause.

Subsequent returns to Durban and Cape Town didn’t work out.

Manuel Carizza (Argentina, Stormers 2014-2015)

Manuel Carizza. (Photo by Thinus Maritz/Gallo Images)

There was a lot to like about this signing.

Carizza was, after all, a highly accomplished international lock who even turned out for French giant Toulon in their prime.

Yet, even with Eben Etzebeth sidelined for the whole of the 2014 campaign, the South American somehow contrived to make him less than a key player for Allister Coetzee, who, in fact, eventually preferred a flanker in Michael Rhodes to play in the second row.

Things went better the next season as Carizza formed a pretty solid combo with his Bok teammate.

THE MISSES

Carlos Spencer (New Zealand, Lions 2010)

Carlos Spencer. Photo by Dominic Barnardt / Gallo Images

Way too eager to exercise their new financial might under IT billionaire Robert Gumede, the Lions made a misguided decision to recruit the legendary All Black and Blues flyhalf.

He was already 34 at the time and, given his own inconsistent nature as a player, it was risky to have him lead a backline of poor quality and one that was even more poorly coached.

Ironically, he scored a brace of tries against the Blues before being yellow carded in the same game.

Gregor Townsend (Scotland, Sharks 2004)

Gregor Townsend. Photo Credit©Duif du ToitGallo Images

Following his retirement from a very productive international career, the nimble flyhalf looked an interesting acquisition.

But it seemed as if he learned more from his stint  – he admitted Super Rugby improved his decision-making and fitness – than the Sharks did from him.

It didn’t help that Butch James quickly displaced him in one of the finest campaigns of his career.

James Kamana (New Zealand, Lions 2011-2012)

James Kamana. Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

A journeyman recruited by John Mitchell, the utility back broke his leg after five appearances and upon his return looked utterly hapless, struggling under high balls and missing tackles with alarming regularity.

He wasn’t missed despite the Lions’ relegation in his final year.

Clement Poitrenaud (France, Sharks 2017)

Clement Poitrenaud. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

A decorated fullback, the then 34-year-old was expected to play a major mentoring role for the Sharks’ raw, talented backline.

The mentoring didn’t prove a problem, but it didn’t help that he couldn’t provide the rookies with a bit of competition and the arrangement was cut short.

Given that Lukhanyo Am and Curwin Bosch became internationals that year without him anyway, it seemed like money wasted.

Shaun Treeby (New Zealand, Stormers 2017)

Shaun Treeby. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

Coach Robbie Fleck made no secret of the fact that he desperately needed a centre amidst an injury crisis.

Yet the Stormers found that the cupboard was bare and, probably against their better judgment, handed a short-term contract to a thoroughly mediocre midfielder in Treeby.

He played four matches before being cited and suspended for a high tackle … and then ditched.

Honourable mentions: Nicolas Vergallo (Argentina, Southern Kings 2013 – A bit player international scrumhalf); Virgil Lacombe (France, Southern Kings 2013 – A hooker that was victim to the constraints placed on the Kings’ use of foreigners); Tomas Leonardi (Argentina, Southern Kings 2013 – Suffered the same fate as Lacombe before an injury compounded the flanker’s woes).

For more sport your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.