Ranked: The 20 best United Rugby Championship signings of the 2023/24 season

Jared Wright
Planet Rugby ranks the top 20 URC signings of the 2023/24 season.

Planet Rugby ranks the top 20 URC signings of the 2023/24 season.

As the United Rugby Championship (URC) nears the end of the regular season, we recap the best signings each team has made this campaign.

All 16 clubs made some sharp signings ahead of the 2023/24 campaign with several high-profile arrivals to the league.

We’ve undergone the difficult task of narrowing our list down to just 20 standout signings and have selected the best of the lot.

The 20 best URC signings of the 2023/24 season

20 Sean O’Brien – Munster

The defending champions made a few key additions to their squad, some of which feature later in our list, but luring Sean O’Brien back to Ireland was a masterstroke.

While he played mainly in the centres for Connacht and Exeter Chiefs, he has been a breath of fresh air on the wing for Munster, scoring five times for the Irish province while shining in defence.

19 Sebastian de Klerk – Bulls

The Pumas have always had underappreciated stars in their ranks, and Sebastian de Klerk is a fantastic example of this.

Jake White signed the flyer ahead of the new season, adding blistering pace to his ranks, and while he has played second fiddle to the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie for large chunks of the season, he has impressed whenever he has been given the chance.

He was viewed as a signing to improve squad depth but has gone on to play 16 of the Bulls’ 21 matches across the URC and Investec Champions Cup, scoring five tries. A signing that has certainly exceeded expectations.

18 Siya Masuku – Sharks

A signing that has paid more dividends in the Challenge Cup than the URC, but despite a slow start to his time at the Sharks, Siya Masuku is proving to be a stellar addition to the Durban-based side.

He has produced several Player of the Match performances and perhaps could have featured higher on our list had he been backed earlier in the season. The ex-Cheetahs pivot still has a ton of potential to thrive with the Sharks, and down the line, we could look back at this signing as a masterstroke – especially if the Sharks do win the Challenge Cup.

17 James Ratti – Ospreys

Signing on from Welsh rivals Cardiff, James Ratti had already built a strong reputation as an uncompromising forward which he has delivered on this season.

The hard-working forward averages double digits in both carries and tackles in the URC and has been a real force in the Ospreys pack.

16 JJ Hanrahan – Connacht

A player of proven quality, JJ Hanrahan quickly settled back into life in Ireland and has been a solid addition to the Connacht squad this season.

Despite stiff competition from Jack Carty, Hanrahan has started 14 of his 19 appearances since joining Connacht from the Dragons. He has been a regular source of points for Peter Wilkins, kicking at an average of over 85%.

After shining with Munster, it is no surprise that Hanrahan shone with Connacht, with the only blight being his ACL injury suffered against the Dragons – hopefully, he makes a speedy recovery to continue his fine form in the green jersey next season.

15 Andy Uren – Benetton

The former Bristol Bears scrum-half has been in stellar form for his new side, filling the experienced number nine role with Dewaldt Duvenage’s minutes dialled back as his career draws to a close.

Andy Uren has been central to Benetton’s push for a place in the URC play-offs and has missed just two matches for the side since arriving ahead of the new season.

14 Alex Craig – Scarlets

The Scarlets made a sharp signing in Gloucester and Scotland’s workhorse lock Alex Craig, who has played all but two of the Welsh side’s games this season.

He has added a new dimension to their pack, allowing Vaea Fifita to play more regularly in the back-row.

While it has largely been a disappointing season for the Scarlets, Craig has simply powered through his workload, ranking in the top five for tackles and topping the attacking ruck entries.

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13 Henco Venter – Glasgow Warriors

Franco Smith’s Glasgow Warriors have enjoyed an excellent season as they push to finish top of the URC table. Some of their success has to be attributed to their smart recruitment.

Back-row Henco Venter is one of those signings joining from the Sharks ahead of the new season. He has slotted in seamlessly into the Warriors’ style of play, and while he hasn’t been a starter week in and week out, he has been extremely effective on both sides of the ball and has hardly put a foot wrong all season. Simply, a hard-working loose forward.

12 Ewan Ashman – Edinburgh

While Ewan Ashman’s switch from Sale Sharks to Edinburgh was not a cheap one for the club and the Scottish Rugby Union, it was a necessity for both parties going forward and he has already begun to prove his worth.

He has been incredibly accurate in the lineouts, averaging around 90% success rate with his throws, and has weighed in with four tries in the URC.

11 Mpilo Gumede – Bulls

At the Sharks, Mpilo Guemede was tipped for a bright future but struggled to push past the stiff competition and secure regular minutes. However, that has all changed at the Bulls, with head coach White willing to rotate his squad regularly, and Gumede has returned the favour with several standout performances. His form has not gone unnoticed, as he earned an invitation to the Springboks alignment camps.

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10 Ben Loader – Stormers

A somewhat surprising move as the Stormers signed England back Ben Loader following the demise of London Irish but one that has certainly paid dividends for John Dobson’s side.

Loader has softened the blow of Seabelo Senatla’s long-term injury while his ability to play in the centres has also been crucial for the side.

He has quickly settled into life in Cape Town and has crossed for four tries in the URC.

9 Oli Jager – Munster

The only mid-season move to feature on our list, but one that has been hugely beneficial this season and could be even more so going forward.

Oli Jager has been the cornerstone of the Munster scrum since his arrival, providing a fantastic double front-row punch with veteran Stephen Archer and John Ryan.

The former Crusaders forward has also earned his Test debut for Ireland since arriving from New Zealand.

8 Kyle Rowe – Glasgow Warriors

Another ex-London Irish star features on our list after claiming several spots in the top 20 Premiership signings as Kyle Rowe has quickly made an impact at Glasgow Warriors.

The fleet-footed outside back has been a real hit at the Warriors, scoring 10 tries across the URC and Premiership, and has caused all sorts of problems for opposition defences across both competitions.

7 Akker van der Merwe – Bulls

The Bulls front-row needed an injection of experience and quality ahead of the new season, and they certainly got it, particularly in the recruitment of Springbok hooker Akker van der Merwe.

After a largely successful stint with Premiership outfit Sale Sharks, Van der Merwe has continued that form on his return to Gauteng. While he is guilty of the occasional blip at the lineout, he boasts a more than respectable 89% success rate at the set-piece.

He has also grabbed nine tries across the URC and Champions Cup and has done superbly along with form hooker Johan Grobbelaar.

6 Warrick Gelant – Stormers

After a rather underwhelming stint at French club Racing 92, Warrick Gelant has returned to his usually high standards on his return to the Stormers.

The Springbok full-back is back to producing high-quality performances for the Cape Town-based side. He has been creating and scoring tries for the Stormers again this season while filling all the key requirements of a modern-day full-back, too.

5 Tinus de Beer – Cardiff

Into the top five, and there really isn’t much separating the best of the lot, with Cardiff’s superb number 10 Tinus de Beer kicking off the top signings.

Few spectators outside of South Africa will have ever heard of the former Bulls, Griquas and Pumas fly-half but he is now firmly a fan favourite at Cardiff Arms Park.

His influence on the Cardiff side goes beyond his 108 points, bringing a calming presence, an attacking outlet and astute game management to the side.

4 Ben Healy – Edinburgh

Another fly-half claims a top-five spot, and rightly so, as Ben Healy has gone from strength to strength since arriving in the Scottish capital from Munster ahead of the new season.

He has replicated his form at Munster after helping the side clinch the URC title and has kept Edinburgh in the race for a place in the play-offs.

He leads the scoring charts in the URC and has kicked a superb 84% success rate from the tee.

3 Willie le Roux – Bulls

The more he gets written off the more he proves the doubters wrong as Springboks veteran Willie le Roux has impressed yet again since joining the Bulls from Japanese side Toyota Verblitz.

Le Roux has taken the Bulls’ attacking output up a few notches and has linked up superbly with fellow Boks Moodie and Arendse.

2 Wilco Louw – Bulls

White really recruited well in the off-season, and another who has starred for the Pretoria-based side is Bok Wilco Louw who joined the side from Premiership club Harlequins.

Louw, along with Gerhard Steenekamp and Grobbelaar, have been a driving force in the transformed Bulls front-row. Often last season, the Bulls’ scrum flattered to deceive, ranking ninth overall in the URC, but they have flipped the script, ranking third this campaign and have won an impressive 26 penalties at the set-piece.

The tighthead prop has played a massive role in this upswing in the form at the set-piece, and recruiting an experienced and high-quality player such as Louw has had a domino effect on the other front-rower’s performances and growth.

1 Alex Nankivell – Munster

After bidding title-winning centre Malakai Fekitoa farewell at the end of last season, Munster were in the market for their new star midfielder and recruited a star from New Zealand in Alex Nankivell.

Nankivell flew somewhat under the radar for the Chiefs despite earning Maori All Blacks and All Blacks XV caps but has taken his game up a few notches since arriving at the Irish province. He has been incredibly elusive with ball in hand and dynamite defensively.

His recruitment has been a sublime bit of business from Graham Rowntree and his coaching staff.

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