5 Most Exciting Newcomers to the RaboDirect Pro12
With just a fortnight left until Ireland, Scotland and Wales begin their domestic campaigns, eyes inevitably turn to who will impress most in the coming season.
Ranking among the most enigmatic of the Pro12’s talents are those players to have agreed to deals moving them to the Celtic nations.
Stars from the southern hemisphere are proving to be a particularly popular extravagance for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, with some players from north of the equator also making their way to the British Isles.
Whether for their maiden test in the RaboDirect Pro12 or as part of a return to firmer stomping grounds, read on to find some of the most exciting players to have arrived in the league this summer.
1. Gerhard Van Den Heever
Following the completion of his Currie Cup campaign, Gerhard van den Heever will join up with Munster this November, as the club’s official website announced by back in July.
Linking up with former Blue Bulls teammate CJ Stander, Van den Heever brings a wealth of Super Rugby experience to Munster's back line with its deficiencies this season.
Able to play on the wing as well as at centre and fullback, the 24-year-old provides good cover for Rob Penney’s squad, not to mention a potential to emerge as a standout star for the Red Army.
This season, the Red Army will be looking to stage a resurgence to dominance across the Pro12 as well as the Heineken Cup instead of just the one of them, a pursuit in which squad depth will be absolutely critical.
Van den Heever has been an impressive asset for the Stormers these last few seasons and brings a useful touch of pace to Penney’s outfit.
2. Craig Clarke
Something of a coup for Connacht, the ascending Irish province have managed to lure former Chiefs captain, Craig Clarke, to the west of Ireland, bringing an end to the 30-year-old’s eight-season New Zealand career.
The lock has experience playing with Crusaders and the Hurricanes, although his real break at the franchise level didn't come until he joined up with the Chiefs.
Speaking on the signing via BBC Sport, Connacht chiefs executive Tom Sears stated:
This is something we have been working towards for some time now and the fact that a player of Craig's calibre has chosen to commit to Connacht is a clear sign of the progress we have made and our intent going forward.
Our coaching staff are delighted to have Craig on board, he has all of the qualities we are looking for on and off the field and we have no doubt that he will be a major influence for Connacht in the seasons to come.
Having won two Super Rugby titles in the last two years, Clarke will be looking to replicate the success of recent seasons during his three-year Galway stay.
3. Zane Kirchner
For almost five months now, Leinster fans will have known that Bulls fullback and South African international, Zane Kirchner, is on his way to the RDS Arena.
The latest in a lengthy list of southern hemisphere veterans to make their way to the club in recent seasons, the 29-year-old will now hope for similar success as the likes of Ica Nacewa, Heinke van der Merwe, Rocky Elsom, Felipe Contepomi and Brad Thorn.
A mountain of a man, Kirchner will step right into the position vacated by Nacewa following the Fijian’s retirement from the game, meaning he’s got considerable boots to fill in Leinster.
According to BBC Sport, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt described Kirchner as “a quality international player [who] will add genuine value to the Leinster squad over the next few years.”
4. Gethin Jenkins
Returning for his second voyage of Pro12 shores, Gethin Jenkins has actually defied the current trend of French players jumping ship to France by moving in the opposite direction.
The 32-year-old spent eight years with Cardiff Blues before earning the attention of Toulon last summer, but now comes back to his native Wales having apparently satisfied any needs to see other shores.
Now slightly older and further in his development, the British and Irish Lion won’t be the same talent he was when he left perhaps, but is still an invaluable asset and changing room presence as much as anything else.
On his best days, Jenkins can still be one of the best scrummagers around and his ability to carry into contact should make for some decent entertainment once more.
5. Kris Burton
One of the more impressive talents to come through Italian channels in recent years, Kris Burton now comes to Newport and Gwent Dragons hoping to see off the remaining years of his club career at as high a standard as possible.
The retired Italian international is reliable from the boot and provides your more conventional fly-half presence, not the more modern embodiment focused on taking the ball up themselves.
For a few seasons now, Burton has stuck out as a player who’s settling with life at Treviso, making it of little wonder that he’s opting for a move at the age of 33.
The Dragons may not be lighting up the European stage anytime soon but certainly have a shot at getting that touch closer with Burton wearing the No.10 shirt.