Transfers. It’s that time of year again when everyman and his dog seems to be up for moving between incredibly similar sides for a packet of Monster Munch and an extra tenner a week. Tigers are no different so what business do we look like doing?
Well two pieces have been confirmed so far. George Ford will leave, probably for Bath but we’re not sure, and Sebastian de Chaves will arrive. De Chaves is a 23 year old South African lock-cum-flanker currently playing for Mont du Marsan, qualified for England through his mother and Portugal through his father. De Chaves’s signing seems a bit of a surprising one to me; we have no real room at lock for him with Deacon, Parling, Kitchener and Slater all signed up and Tom Price, Joe Cain and Harry Wells coming through from the academy. At flanker there might be room for him as we have Croft and Mafi secured but behind them Brett Deacon, Michael Noone and Wessel Jooste are all out of contract; Brett Deacon is a quality back up option and Michael Noone has impressed in his appearances, Jooste has yet to feature so I can’t really comment on him.
Two more deals are looking like done deals and both disappoint me in all honesty. Martin Castrogiovanni is on his way to Toulon if a transfer fee between the sides can be agreed and Jamie Gibson seems to be on his way from London Irish. Obviously the Castro deal disappoints me because he is a world class player and a club legend. I’m having none of this “He’s second choice now” or “He’s a waning force”, he’s still one of the best tightheads in Europe and his performances against Treviso and Toulouse proved that. We need to have the impact off the bench and the quality to split time with Dan Cole and push him for his best form. Cole might be ahead now but by the end of the Six Nations Castro could be in pole position for the Heineken Cup Quarter Final in Toulon.
The Gibson deal doesn’t disappoint me because he’s a bad player, on the contrary he’s a very good player, but because we’re well covered for lanky blindside flankers already with Croft, Mafi and apparently de Chaves too. With Brett Deacon and also academy players like Harry Wells how many blindside flankers do we need? And wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere in the squad? I’ve heard Cockerill compare him to Craig Newby but that is ridiculous. Newby played test matches for the All Blacks at openside, Gibson is on London Irish’s bench and only plays at 7 because they never replaced Steffon Armitage. Good player that he is Craig Newby he isn’t.
Beyond those deals we move into the wilder speculation. With Ford moving on we’re in the market for a fly half and have been linked with some big names; Andy Goode, Sam Vesty, Stephen Myler and Nicky Robinson have all been mentioned in dispatches. Goode is thought to be on north of £250k a year at Worcester so will surely be out of our price range but they aren’t looking to offer him a new deal so that value could half in a buyers’ market. Of the four Goode would be my first choice but either Vesty or Myler would be quality options, it’s worth remembering that both of those players have led teams to Heineken Cup finals.
At scrum half Sam Harrison and Micky Young both have contracts up for renewal with Harrison looking likely to stay and Micky Young thought to be joining George Ford in Bath. Coming the other way is thought to be Perpignan’s David Melee. I’m sad to see Micky Young go, if that is the case, as he has looked like a constant threat in attack and hasn’t really had a chance to press his claims due to injury more than anything else. It is worth remembering Young started the season ahead of Harrison until he broke his leg half an hour into the first game of the season. If he has to go then Melee looks a canny replacement. A typical goal kicking French scrum half he would provide an experienced squad option and possibly more; after all the last French scrum half to come here made their Test side within the year!
With the salary cap due to rise we are getting linked with some big names again. Steffon Armitage is apparently keen on a return to England in an attempt to force his way into Stuart Lancaster’s England squad in time for the 2015 World Cup, Tigers are known to be looking for a 7 to compete with Julian Salvi and have also been linked with Matt Kvesic, Tom Johnson, James Scaysbrook, Andy Saul, John Barclay and Adam Thompson. Thompson and Armitage are the real quality players on that list and could easily fit in the same back row, but probably not within the salary cap given our other resources. Armitage could be a goer as Lancaster has shown no indications of picking French based players and if he were to come back to England he’d surely want to continue to play in a winning side as he has become accustomed to in Toulon.
The other mouth watering name we have been linked with is Leigh Halfpenny. The Cardiff Blue is rumoured to be joining the exodus across Offa’s Dyke and is interesting a number of clubs including Bath (again) and Wasps. Scott Hamilton is out of contract and reported to be moving to Japan whilst Geordan Murphy is apparently going to retire. So the cash for Halfpenny will be there if we can convince him to join. I’d love Murphy to stay on another year but signing Halfpenny would be a fairly good way of softening the blow!
Props Kieran Brookes and Boris Stankovich are both out of contract, Brookes is thought to be leaving but with Castro’s likely departure the odds on Stankovich staying have shortened. We’ve not really been linked to any other props so hopefully we’ll look to academy players like Jonny Harris, Fraser Balmain and Ryan Bower to fill the gaps.
Tigers could be in for a very good summer of business, but so far the likely deals coming in have left me scratching my head whilst the likely departures look like major losses. One of these days the relentless weakening of our squad will come back to bite us in the arse.