Five rugby rumours and transfers: Akker van der Merwe, Marcus Smith, Six Nations and much more

Jared Wright
rugby rumours and transfers Sale Sharks' Akker van der Merwe, Harlequin's Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell

Akker van der Merwe, Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell

It’s been another busy week with rugby rumours and transfers, and Planet Rugby brings you five of the top stories ahead of the weekend.

Bulls bulk up their squad

Jake White’s charges have been busy announcing their new signings ahead of the 2023/24 season.

With Springbok flyer Sbu Nkosi departing the side by mutual consent, the Bulls have locked in Stravino Jacobs for another season and added ex-Stormers winger Sergeal Petersen and Pumas speedster Sebastian de Klerk.

They have also secured a double scoop from the Durban-based Sharks in prop Khutha Mchunu and loose forward Mpilo Guemede.

However, their biggest news are signings from abroad, with Jaco van der Walt (fly-half) returning to South Africa from Edinburgh and Akker van der Merwe (hooker) signing from Sale Sharks.

Van der Walt spent six years at Edinburgh after starting his career at the Lions. After becoming eligible through residency, he earned a Test debut for Scotland in 2020 and picked up four caps in total for his adopted country.

Meanwhile, Van der Merwe joins his former Lions team-mate at the Bulls next season. The Springbok has signed as a replacement for the retired Bismarck du Plessis and arrives in Pretoria a season ahead of schedule.

He was granted an early release by Sale to return to South Africa for personal reasons. The 32-year-old played 70 times for Sale and scored 31 tries since joining from the Durban-based Sharks in 2019.

Finally, the Bulls have reportedly beaten the Stormers to the signing of Springboks full-back Willie le Roux.

Racing 92 give up on Marcus Smith and announce re-signings

According to a report in L’Equipe, Racing 92 have abandoned their attempts to lure Marcus Smith away from Harlequins after the Rugby World Cup.

The French club have reportedly grown frustrated by the length of negotiations between the three parties despite seemingly agreeing terms with Smith, who is said to have even contacted his potential new teammates.

Smith was seen as a replacement for Bath-bound Finn Russell whose exit had freed up some of their budget, along with the departures of Regan Grace and Warrick Gelant.

Meanwhile, the Parisian club announced seven re-signings ahead of the new season. Flanker Wenceslas Lauret will remain at the club for the duration of the Rugby World Cup before hanging up his boots.

Winger Donovan Taofifenua has committed his services to Racing until 2025, while loosehead prop Thomas Moukoro has signed his first professional contract.

Centres Francis Saili and club stalwart Olivier Klemenczak have both penned one-year extensions with the side as has former England flyer Christian Wade. Finally, lock Boris Palu has signed a two-year extension.

Sale add new hookers

With Van der Merwe leaving Sale, Alex Sanderson’s side have announced two new front-row signings to compensate for his departure.

Los Pumas veteran Agustin Creevy will continue his career beyond the Rugby World Cup and remain in the Premiership after London Irish’s relegation.

The 97-Test cap international will celebrate his 39th birthday in March next year and is starting to prepare for his future on the sidelines. It is understood that his role with Sale will also include some coaching and mentoring of the club’s young front-rows.

Joining Creevy in Manchester is England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, who was omitted from Steve Borthwick’s Rugby World Cup training squad through injury. The hooker failed a medical in France ahead of his move to Montpellier but is set to continue his career at Sale after 13 years at Exeter Chiefs.

Sale are set to confirm the signing of Cowan-Dickie in due course.

Six Nations to be shortened by a week

According to a report by The Times, the Six Nations will be cut by a week by 2026 as administrators iron out the details for a new global calendar.

The report states that there is general support from country and club administrators for the Six Nations to lose one of its fallow weekends.

This means the tournament will reduce its length from seven weeks to six. Players would still get the necessary rest, with clubs being unable to select those who played in the final weekend of the Six Nations’ ‘Super Saturday’ the following week.

Final French influx

The Top 14 clubs are wrapping up their business ahead of the 2023/24 season with a few late deals being confirmed.

Most notably, Castres announced the signing of All Blacks and Crusaders star Jack Goodhue, who will join the side after the Rugby World Cup.

Meanwhile, Brive continue to recruit well despite their relegation and announced the signing of Georgian international Vakhtang Abdaladze on a two-year deal. The 27-year-old played 27 games for Leinster and was granted an early release to link up with the Pro D2-bound side, who have also recently signed Sitaleki Timani, Rahoni Warren-Vosayaco, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Sam Johnson and Asaeli Tuivuaka.

Henry Arundell is still in talks with Racing 92, according to multiple reports, while it is also believed that the side could still add a fly-half to their ranks with potential targets in England and Wales.

L’Equipe reports that Ben White has signed for Toulon, with the club still yet to provide the official word.

Meanwhile, the Stormers are set to land the signings of Ben Loader and Gelant but could lose Marvin Orie to Perpignan.

READ MORE: England announce official Rugby World Cup training squad with Zach Mercer omitted