Tigers have had another busy summer in the transfer department with 8 players joining the club and 15 moving on to pastures new.
After last season’s disappointing season Richard Cockerill has decided to splash out to capture 7 internationals. With an extra £500,000 of salary cap money to spend Cockerill took advantage of internal strife at Treviso to prize 4 top class internationals from the Italian’s mitts, whilst also replacing playmakers Toby Flood and Dan Bowden with international options.
Tigers headline signing is England fly half Freddie Burns who joins from perennial rivals Gloucester. Burns had a disappointing season, being kept out by Ryan Mills at Gloucester, but his performance in England’s first test with New Zealand has reassured many that Burns is a quality operator.
Burns is a Bath native but left his home town club for Gloucester at age 18; breaking into the Cherry ‘n’ Whites First XV in 2009 he made 98 starts in 5 seasons. Burns is a running threat at fly half with his chip kick a particular favourite, but will have to prove his reliability under pressure; question marks have been raised over his temperament and equilibrium.
Taking second billing is 67 cap Italian international hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini who joins from Treviso. The Italian started his career at Petrarca in his birthplace of Padova; in 2005 he joined Calvisano who he captained to the 2008 Italian Championship. After the untimely demise of the Lombardy club he moved to Treviso where he added a second Scudetto before the Benetton boys joined the Pro12 in 2010.
Ghiraldini comes to provide competition to Tom Youngs as first choice hooker, replacing Rob Hawkins in the squad. The Italian has a similar reputation to Youngs: a tough carrying, ball of energy with some fans questioning his throwing at the highest levels.
Treviso provides three other recruits this term: outside back Christian Loamanu, number 8 Robert Barbieri and prop Michele Rizzo.
Most exotic is Christian Loamanu, a Tongan born Japanese winger; he has drawn comparison to Alesana Tuilagi with his bullocking style. He has also been subject to notable controversy, such as a nightclub brawl with a female professional wrestler and being banned for life from Rugby in Japan for taking Marijuana “and other chemical substances” whatever they might be.
His comparatively banal European career has seen him spend 3 seasons in the Top 14 with Toulon before 2 seasons splitting time between centre, wing and the backrow for Treviso in the Pro12.
Keeping up in the confusing nationality stakes is Robert Barbieri. Know as Bob he was born and raised in Toronto before being spotted by Italian scouts on a Canada Under 19s tour to Europe. Barbieri has been Treviso’s regular number 8 in recent seasons but is more than comfortable on the flank gaining 30 of his 37 Italy caps there thanks to the presence of a certain Sergio Parisse.
Last but not least amongst the Treviso joiners is prop Michele Rizzo. 31 year old Rizzo is perhaps best known for getting red carded in this year’s Six nations encounter after punching Stade Francais’s Rabah Slimani. Rizzo, like compatriot Ghiraldini, is from the Italian rugby heartland of Veneto. Starting out with Petrarca, where he was captain, he joined Treviso in 2009. Rizzo takes Boris Stankovich’s place in the squad as experienced cover for Marcos Ayerza.
Dan Bowden’s departure to Japan is offset by the arrival of wily veteran Seremaia Bai, the 35 year old Fijian Fly half-cum-inside centre has won 57 international caps. Tigers will be Bai’s 8th club in 7 countries after a well travelled career that has seen him play for Cross Keys in Wales, Eastern Suburbs in Australia, Tailevu Knights in Fiji, Southland in New Zealand and Secom Ruggets in Japan.
Bai joins from Castres in France. Last year he played the full 80 minutes in their upset victory against Toulon; this year he came off the bench to take Castres back to the final with a beautifully struck drop goal in extra time to break Montpellier’s hearts.
Tigers’ summer business is completed with two rough diamonds. Laurence Pearce is a 6”3’ 20 stones wrecking ball No.8 signed from Rotherham; originally from Kesteven he tried his hand at league with Hull F.C. before switching back to Rugby. Aniseko Sio is a Samoan loosehead prop who signs from Samoan club Vaimoso. Both will aim to impress in the Extras and force their way into the First XV like Steve Mafi, Logo Mulipola and Ed Slater before them.
In: Freddie Burns (Gloucester), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Christian Loamanu (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Seremaia Bai (Castres), Laurence Pearce (Rotherham), Aniseko Sio (Vaimoso)
Out: Toby Flood (Toulouse), Thomas Waldrom (Exeter), Dan Bowden (Yamaha Jubilo then Auckland Blues), Boris Stankovich (Newport), Rob Hawkins (Newcastle), George Chuter (Retirement), Scott Steele (London Irish), Ryan Bower (Worcester), Joe Cain (Retirement), Michael Noone (Unknown), Jerome Schuster (Tarbes), Pasqualle Dunn (Unknown), Lucas Guillaume (Unknown), Henry Purdy (Gloucester), Harry Rudkin (Unknown)