The 10 Most In-Demand Rugby Players on the Planet

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMay 16, 2014

The 10 Most In-Demand Rugby Players on the Planet

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    It's a sad truth in rugby that the transfer market and contract situations of the world's superstars are increasingly topical subjects in the sport, catching up to football's dreaded standards in money exchanges and interchanging loyalties.

    However, while it may be a development of the trade that won't please everyone, it's hard to debate the fact that the increasingly common player-hopping makes for intriguing entertainment.

    Looking ahead to the next year, we've compiled a list of some of those players who existing speculation determines are most likely to be on the move.

    For the sake of relevance, those players who may be on the move sooner rather than later have been given precedence, and the stars whose fates are already close to being decided or would seem likely to remain in their current surroundings have been omitted.

    Naturally, this list will only include a small sample of those players potentially up for grabs either over the summer or in early 2015, so make sure to leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

1. Ben Mowen

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    Having only made his Wallabies debut at the age of 28, Ben Mowen's decision to not only step down from international duty but also quit the Australian setup as captain has been a shocking revelation this year.

    The Guardian's Will Macpherson quotes the Brumbies' utility as revealing that he intends to leave Super Rugby in order to spend more time with his family, as the tours to South Africa and New Zealand have become too much of a strain:

    These ideas had been building for a while but there was a moment that I just knew I had to go through with it. It came at the end of a long, arduous spring tour. I went to visit my friend Dean Mumm and watch him captain Exeter against Toulon. I had a conversation with [Toulon’s former All Black lock] Ali Williams, which changed everything.

    He said that Toulon had flown in the day before the game, spent one night in Exeter, played and would be home that evening. And this was at the post-game function! I just couldn’t believe it, he was delighted about the fact that he’d be back at home with his daughter and would only have spent one night away. This was the norm. Playing in Australia, with Super Rugby tours to South Africa and New Zealand and the Wallabies travelling to Africa, Europe and South America, it’s just completely different. I knew then that something had to give. A few weeks later it had.

    As is mentioned in Macpherson's report, Mowen's most likely destination at this point seems to be France, but there may yet be another European outfit that makes him an offer of better potential.

    At the age of 29, Mowen is still in the prime of his playing career as one of the most respected row figures in the Southern Hemisphere, and any club which manages to take full advantage of his bizarre situation could bag some once-in-a-lifetime value for their troubles.

2. Luke Charteris

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    Perpignan's relegation to the French Pro D2 means that it's only inevitable some of the outfit's biggest stars will seek new pastures this summer.

    One of those likely to head for the exit is Wales lock Luke Charteris, who BBC Sport says is eyeing up the possibility of a return to Wales.

    In the report, Charteris' agent Christian Abt gives more details on the matter, saying, "We are looking at options in France and possibly Wales," adding that his client is "likely to leave Perpignan if we can secure a club in Top 14 or back in Wales."

    With those words, it would seem the chances of seeing the 31-year-old following in the footsteps of compatriot George North with a move to the Aviva Premiership are slim.

    The former Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons star has dealt with his share of injury issues in France's top flight but like Mowen could be a useful lock acquisition at just about any level, with a wealth of international experience to his name.

3. Gareth Anscombe

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    Gareth Anscombe's proposed move away from Super Rugby would seem all the more assured after the Chiefs utility was left out of Steve Hansen's 35-man training squad for this summer's series against England.

    The omission from that New Zealand cast would appear to suggest that Hansen isn't looking to give Anscombe an All Black career in time for next year's Rugby World Cup, meaning he could take his talents somewhere they'll be more appreciated.

    Enter Warren Gatland, who may yet shape the player into his first-choice No. 10, with Anscombe qualifying for Wales through his mother.

    According to Wales Online's Delme Parfitt, the Wales coach is still interested in getting the fly-half-cum-fullback to a Welsh province—most likely Cardiff Blues—but is there a chance that any other outfit will make their move late on?

4. Johan Goosen

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    Having caused some serious waves in his native South Africa of late, Johan Goosen is reportedly ready to drop Super Rugby commitments in favour of a move to Europe this summer.

    According to SuperSport's Brenden Nel, Racing Metro are on the brink of bringing the fly-half to Paris, which would appear to leave some doubt over what the club's plans are for Jonny Sexton.

    Irrespective of that potential No. 10 head-to-head, Goosen is a 21-year-old commodity the likes of which any Northern Hemisphere club should be champing at the bit to acquire—if he is available as he seems.

    At just 21 years of age, the maestro has quickly surged into the spotlight with the Cheetahs, standing out as one of the bright lights in an otherwise gloomy season.

5. Joe Launchbury

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    This year's Six Nations saw Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes establish themselves as a truly fearsome lock partnership the likes of which could go on to lead England's pack for years to come.

    And it's the younger part of that pairing, Launchbury, who could find himself departing London Wasps unless the club are able to offer him a higher standard of rugby—and fast.

    The Independent's Hugh Godwin quotes Wasps director of rugby David Young in acknowledging just how talented his second row is and appreciating that it will be hard to keep him at the club:

    It's not a surprise to me that Saracens would be interested in Joe. Every club would be. The reality is that he has one year left on his contract and no matter what king's ransom we'd been offered, we'd never release him.

    But it's up to us next season to prove to Joe that we're the club he should be staying at. People want to be in successful teams that are moving forward. If we can prove that to Joe, I am confident he'd want to stay.

    For now, Launchbury remains tied to the Adams Park outfit, and it's wholly likely that he'll line up as part of their squad in 2014-15. However, fail to deliver on bigger and better horizons being drawn their way, and the Premiership big guns are bound to come calling.

6. Brad Thorn

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    For a lot of players at the elite level, making it to the age of 32 and still playing at the top of your game is good going, and to do so at 35 is extremely fortunate.

    So whatever is driving ex-New Zealand prop Brad Thorn on at the age of 39 seems a mystery, but a marvellous one at that.

    Fairfax Media (h/t Nathan Burdon of reported earlier this year that Thorn intends to retire at the age of 40, giving the Highlanders veteran just one more go at the big time:

    I love my footy and the team still want me. It's a ridiculous age, 39, to still be playing footy, I know, [but] I feel pretty good, I still feel like I can mix it and I'll just see how it goes.

    I turn 40 in February and that's been my goal, to play top level at 40 and then I'm out, I'm finished. That will either be here or in Europe, I'd suggest. It's a great challenge, but it may not happen. If I feel like I've had enough at the end of this year, then I'll call it a day this year, but that's where I'm heading.

    It's supposed that Japan or Europe may offer the second row a route out of Super Rugby and a final payday to ease him into retirement at such a ripe old age.

    Ancient by normal playing standards, perhaps, but Thorn has conditioned his body tremendously down the years, and having a brain such as that in one's dressing room wouldn't be any bad thing either.

7. Sam Warburton

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    Sam Warburton's current state of limbo is an odd one: Having become the first player to sign a central contract with the WRU just prior to this year's Six Nations, all seemed to be going so well for the flanker.

    However, four months down the line, BBC Sport says that Cardiff Blues are still reluctant to play Warburton next season due to their policy on centrally contracted players.

    Warburton is carrying on with his training as per usual, however:

    I'm just going to carry on as normal with the Blues. I have great faith that things will be sorted out. I've already sat down with the coaches and planned out what the plan will be for next season and I anticipate to carry on like normal.

    I have to think that way otherwise it would be a bit of a mess around my mind really not knowing what's going to happen.

    In all honesty, it's likely that some agreement will be reached between the Blues and Warburton which allows him to once again take up playing with his boyhood club, but there may be a couple of other regions eyeing up his potential acquisition.

8. James Hook

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    Warburton's international countryman James Hook is another man likely to find himself playing in new colours next season, having gone down with the Perpignan ship alongside the aforementioned Charteris.

    Andy Howell of Wales Online claims that the versatile back could do a straight relegation/promotion swap by joining Top 14 new boys Lyon this summer, but it's likely that Hook will have more than one offer on his table.

    Such was the sentiment expressed by Rugby World's Paul Williams, who bets "there's a list of elite clubs" looking to acquire the playmaker's talents.

9. James O'Connor

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    Life has been a transfer roller coaster for the always controversial James O'Connor, and not long after joining London Irish earlier in the 2013-14 season was it announced that a move to Toulon was next on the agenda.

    The Australian exile hasn't even moved to his Top 14 headquarters yet and already attentions are turning to where the player will next line up in 2015, with ABC News' Luke Pentony writing that there could be a future for him on the Queensland Reds' wing.

    The ex-Melbourne Rebels starlet has let attitude problems obstruct his career trajectory in the past, but if O'Connor can manage to curtail that aspect of his personality, an enigmatic and vastly talented individual lies underneath.

    Some of Australia's other outfits may look to squeeze some value out of the utility before the 2015 World Cup, with a fourth club in the space of two years looking possible.

10. Jano Vermaak

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    It's not the news that every Toulouse fan will have wanted to hear, but Jano Vermaak is already on his way back out of the Top 14 door he entered only last summer.

    So says SuperSport's Brenden Nel, with a Springbok recall in time for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the scrum-half's sights.

    In order to do just that, a move back to Super Rugby would be the most logical step, and Vermaak's talents are alleged by Nel to be attracting the Stormers.

    As things stand, Vermaak stands a good chance of coming back in at half-back for Heyneke Meyer's side based on talent alone. He merely needs to impress the right people south of the equator, and the Stormers may find they aren't the only ones interested.