Halfway through the European season, certain recruits have stood out above the rest in the Premiership, PRO12 and Top 14.
Here are ten of the best signings from September to January.
Jaco Taute (Munster): Some foreign siagnings just don’t fit with Munster. Joining the famous province is about more than simply tying up your boots on match day and Taute seems to have clocked that notion. It helps that the Stormers back has been a revelation in midfield, pairing up to great effect alongside rising star Rory Scannell and scoring five tries in his 11 appearances so far. Initially signed as injury cover for Francis Saili and Sam Arnold, he is now staying until the end of the season. He’s only been there a few months, but you would think he was raised in Limerick.
Jason Woodward (Bristol): Bristol fans might well wonder if their season would have been dead in the water had it not been for the arrival of Woodward from New Zealand. He starred for Wellington in the Mitre 10 Cup and before that was impressive for Australian side the Rebels in Super Rugby so Bristol knew they were getting a consistent, goal-kicking full-back into their squad. He hasn’t disappointed with superb attacking showings giving a new lease of life to players like Tom Varndell. Two straight wins as Woodward gives Bristol hope of survival.
Rémi Lamerat (Clermont): How about this for a rarity – a talented Frenchman in his 20s moving from one big club (Castres) to another in the Top 14 and becoming an instant hit. Lamerat has made for more of an impact in only a few months than his predecessor, Jonathan Davies, gelling quickly to form a potent axis across 10-12-13 with Camille Lopez and Wesley Fofana. Powerful at 105kg, the subtle passing between Lamerat and Fofana are why Clermont lead the Top 14, and France looked sharper during November too. Very good business.
Schalk Burger (Saracens): Speaking of new leases of life, Burger appears to be relishing his Saracens adventure with a mixture of abrasive performances that also ooze class, with delicate offloads offering a great deal to their attack. While Burger is pulling his weight on the field, it’s hard to measure what he’s bringing to Saracens off the pitch as his wealth of knowledge from a glittering international career will no doubt be brilliant for the club’s youngsters. With injuries to Billy Vunipola and Will Fraser, his form has been vital for Sarries.
Charles Piutau (Ulster): Having torn up the Premiership the All Black was always expected to become a superstar in Belfast, adding to the lineage of foreign players who have left their mark including Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar. So far, so very good. Piutau is an outstanding attacking threat both scoring himself – four tries in 12 games this season – or through the work he does is in supplying tries for his team-mates. Ulster fans will already wish he was staying for long than two years.
Tommy Taylor (Wasps): When this signing was made it seemed like another crucial missing piece to the Wasps jigsaw was found. Still young at 25, Taylor was a consistent stand-out performer for Sale last season and they were understandably disappointed he chose to move on. England honours have already found Taylor as his work-rate and fitness, along with a solid set-piece have helped Wasps move to the top of the table in both the Premiership and their Champions Cup pool. With Carlo Festuccia and Edd Shervington departing Taylor has slotted in brilliantly.
Matt Scott (Gloucester): Three tries in his first two games saw Scott hit the ground running. Arriving from Edinburgh in the off-season the Scotland international was superb early on as his hard running and support lines saw him amongst the scores. If he can form a strong double act with Billy Twelvetrees – which they have every chance to do as both are seemingly not in the picture at Test level – then Gloucester’s fans will be a happy bunch. They need that to bear fruit soon though as two wins in their last nine Premiership games is not good enough.
Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets): A move out of nowhere that has been one of the season’s quiet success stories. Beirne signed for the Scarlets from Leinster this season and has formed an excellent second partnership with Wales lock Jake Ball. In the upset win over Toulon last month in the Champions Cup, he was the star of the show. Beirne isn’t the biggest lock at 198cm but his athleticism has made quite the impression this season so far. Described by the Scarlets as a “brave move” when announced, it has paid off.
Louis Picamoles (Northampton): Saints supporters might want to scratch the whole month of December from their memory but at least the form of Louis Picamoles has given them hope for the future after his first few months in the Premiership. Picamoles more often than not has dominated matches, sitting in the top ten for stats so far this season including carries, defenders beaten and metres made. Also, no other player in the Premiership has made more offloads.
Liam Gill (Toulon): Unfortunately stuck behind David Pocock and Michael Hooper for so long in Australia, now in France the former Reds openside has been given a chance to impress in Toulon’s back row and continues to deliver week in and week out. Gill has settled into life on the other side of the world quickly and continues to make impressive turnover after impressive turnover, filling the void left by Steffon Armitage’s move to Pau. Frighteningly he is still just 24. Plenty of time to eventually get a real chance with Australia.