Sunday, 16 August 2015

Meet the New Guys 2015

Peter Betham
D.o.B.: 6/1/89 (26)
Position: Wing
Experience: 61 games (Melbourne Rebels 7, New South Wales Waratahs 33, Tasman 11, Sydney University 7, Sydney Stars 1, Australia 2)

Betham joins Tigers after a Super Rugby season with the New South Wales Waratahs where he scored 4 tries in 11 games, 6 of those starts.  Betham played the final 6 minutes of the 2014 Super Rugby Grand Final as the Waratahs beat Mauger’s Crusaders by a single point.

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Betham is of Samoan descent and moved to Australia before the age of ten, in secondary school he was a contemporary of Kurtley Beale at the Alma Mata of Jake Howard, Wallaby prop and father of a certain centre named Pat.

New coach Aaron Mauger says Betham is in consideration for wing, full back and centre but it seems most likely that he will feature opposite Goneva as a powerful winger.  Along with O’Conner he comes straight into the hypothetical First XV.

Opeti Fonua
D.o.B.: 26/5/86 (29)
Position: No 8
Experience: 209 Games (145 Agen, 12 Auch, 31 Bayonne, 16 London Welsh, 5 Tonga)

Fonua moved to France straight from his school in Tonga and made his Top 14 debut for Agen away to Clermont (or Montferrand as they were then) at the tender age of 19.  Worth remembering that for the next time someone bleats about this “new” trend of French clubs trawling the world for the best young talents.

Simply put he is enormous.  Almost 6 foot 6 inches high and reportedly 23 stone.  Evidence from his time at London Welsh is that he can shift too.

An explosive runner he has been compared to Henry Tuilagi in style and should put severe pressure on Jordan Crane to be first choice no 8.

Brendan O’Conner
D.o.B.: 11/9/89 (25)
Position: Openside Flanker
Experience: 69 games (Canterbury 6, Canterbury Crusaders 2, Auckland Blues 41, Hawkes Bay 20)

Given a big press in the Mercury and described variously as beating Salvi on every metric they have and having it all the expectations are high.  I was never in Salvi’s fan club but it is a massive vote of confidence and a gamble by the coaches to replace the known quality of Salvi with a new man.

O’Conner is a more traditional openside, who looks to link play in the mould of Neil Back or perhaps Shane Jennings, rather than Julian Salvi’s more limited attacking play.  When Mauger talks of being “able to play in midfield” I presume he means in broken field rather than a Craig Newby style conversion to centre.

Voted Auckland Blues’ player of the season he will come straight in as first choice 7, when he eventually arrives.  Tigers have failed to secure his release and he is playing in the ITM Cup for Hawkes Bay until the middle of October.

Mike Fitzgerald
D.o.B.: 18/2/87 (28)
Position: Lock
Experience: 113 Games (Manawatu 55 games, Waikato Chiefs 58)

Fitzgerald is a double Super Rugby champion with the Waikato Chiefs, coming off the bench in both their 2012 & 2013 title wins.  Since then Fitzgerald has established himself in the Chiefs side starting 24 of 31 matches in the last two years. 

Primarily a lock it is encouraging that Chiefs have started him twice in the backrow, if he has the gas to play Super Rugby in the backrow he should have it to play in the Premiership.

Coming into the prime of his career he will have to prove himself to get past Slater, Kitchener or Croft but he will surely become a fixture in match day 23.

Mike Williams
D.o.B.: 4/11/91 (23)
Position: Blindside Flanker/Lock
Experience: 54 games (3 Blue Bulls, 51 Worcester)

Williams is a Zimbabwean who came through the Blue Bulls system before forging a reputation as a no nonsense player in 2 seasons for Worcester where he has spent his time switching between back and second row.  This season I’d imagine Tigers are looking at him as a blindside flanker who can cover lock. 

Has had problems with giving away penalties but is a big tackler and heavy duty ball carrier.  Terrific work rate around the field.  Williams will not shift a fit and on form Tom Croft from the starting line-up, but is Croft fit or on top form?

Dom Barrow
D.o.B.: 19/3/93 (22)
Position: Lock
Experience:  87 games (Otley 12, Leeds 26, Wharfedale 4, Newcastle 36, England U-20s 9)

Now this is a signing I like.  Big and strong, with plenty of experience behind him to knock some of the rougher edges off his play.  From Sheffield originally he’s northern but from a pretty traditional Tigers hunting ground.

Barrow is the most out and out lock of the three signed.  He has played a handful of games at flanker for Newcastle but the vast majority of his games have been in the engine room.

Currently recuperating from a serious knee injury Barrow will likely miss the Kings of the North games and look to use the A League to make his case to get into the First XV.  After leaving Newcastle to improve his career Barrow will likely be targeting a starting spot and a place on England’s tour to Australia by the end of the season.

Greg Bateman
D.o.B.: 20/6/89 (26)
Position: Hooker
Experience: 69 Games (Rosslyn Park 1, Dorking 5, London Welsh 46, Exeter 17)

A slightly odd signing in my book.  Impressed against us in the LV Cup semi-final for Exeter but managed only 2 starts in 2 years in Devon.  A total man mountain, his arms are as wide as my thighs and his chest is the size of Rutland.

For London Welsh’s season in the Championship he was a regular presence at tighthead and during the 2012/13 season he started their visit to Welford Road at prop, but at Exeter he was viewed exclusively as a hooker.  The official web site has name checked both positions but in interviews he has stated his ambition to be our starting hooker.

A poor man’s Jon Smit perhaps?

Lachlan McCaffrey
D.o.B.: 17/3/90 (25)
Position: Flanker
Experience: 46 Games (New South Wales Waratahs 1, Western Force 7, Eastwood 13, ACT Brumbies 8, London Welsh 17)

McCaffrey joins the club from relegated London Welsh.  The pacey back rower caught the eye in Welsh’s sole point gaining performance away to Bath; unfortunately it was for an atrocious pass inside his own half that was intercepted and returned for a Bath try.

Physically he has it.  Tactically he was far too loose last year losing possession regularly.  We will see how he plays here, because it won’t be like that.

Normally a number 8 there has been lots of talk in the Mercury that we are considering him as a 7.  They said the same thing about Judas Gibson before he came so forgive me for not believing a word of it.  To be frank from what I’ve seen of him I’d have rather not signed him at all and given Milne, Owen and Beckett greater opportunities in the First XV.

Jono Kitto
D.o.B.: 30/3/92 (23)
Position: Scrum Half
Experience: 9 Games (9 Bay of Plenty)

Kitto will not be arriving until October after Tigers failed to secure his release from Bay of Plenty’s ITM Cup squad.  Kitto is a young scrum half originally from Canterbury who will be looking to gain experience and push Sam Harrison as Tigers 2nd choice scrum half.

A straight replacement for David Mele, who has joined Toulouse, he is well known to Tigers two new coaches Scott Hansen and Aaron Mauger.

Matt Parr
D.o.B.: 29/9/82 (32)
Position: Prop
Experience: 208 Games (Sale 1, Macclesfield 1, Orrell 5, Scottish Borders 4, Nottingham 151, Saracens 5, London Irish 41)

Unconfirmed by the club but confirmed by the player on his twitter and linkedin profiles.  Matt Parr is an experienced loosehead prop with Tigers being his 8th club, or possibly 9th as he apparently featured for Harwick in the Scottish Premiership but such is the vast interest in rugby in Scotland that I can get reliable stats for Macclesfield in England’s 5th tier but none exist for Scotland’s top division.  He has also had two previous spells at the club without featuring for the First XV.

Parr has mainly been recruited as a strength and conditioning coach but will presumably provide cover whilst Ayerza, Mulipola and Rizzo are away at the World Cup.