Planet Rugby recaps some of the biggest transfer news, rumours and movements in the world of rugby union over the past week.
Chris Ashton to retire: Ashton announced that the 2022/23 season would be his last. He has scored 101 tries in the Premiership since switching from rugby league to union in 2007. He also set the record for the most scored in a single Top 14 season.
One-club man retires: Newcastle Falcons skipper Will Welch confirmed that he would retire from rugby at the end of the current season. The 33-year-old sits joint-second on the club’s all-time appearance list, having done battle on 275 occasions.
Kriel calls time on his career: Former Springboks flanker Jaco Kriel will play his final game this weekend for the Lions. The former skipper of the Johannesburg outfit was part of the squad that reached three consecutive Super Rugby finals between 2016 and 2018. He also had stints in Japan and at Gloucester but has unfortunately been riddled with injuries throughout his career.
Rieko Ioane, Samisoni Taukei’aho
Ioane re-signs: Blues and All Blacks back Ioane has signed a four-year contract extension until 2027 with New Zealand Rugby. The 59-Test All Black has also re-signed with the Blues in Super Rugby Pacific and remains aligned with Auckland in the NPC. The former World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year is the second player to commit until the next Rugby World Cup.
Taukei’aho extends: 25-year-old hooker Taukei’aho became the first player to sign through to 2027 with New Zealand Rugby. He has been a revelation since debuting for the All Blacks in 2021 and has already racked up 21 Test appearances in the black jersey.
Jacques Nienaber, Scott Fardy, Nick Evans
Nienaber to join Leinster: Springboks head coach Nienaber announced that he would be leaving the national side after the Rugby World Cup to join Leinster. The Boks head coach cited personal reasons for the decision adding, “it’s with a heavy heart that I’m finishing up my time with the Springboks.”
Fardy joins Connacht: Former Wallabies, Brumbies and Leinster forward Fardy will join Connacht as the club’s new defence coach on a two-year deal, the side confirmed. After a glittering playing career, Fardy has gained coaching experience in Japan with NEC Green Rockets before moving back to Australia to work with his former Shute Shield club Warringah.
Harlequins refuse to release Evans: The Telegraph reported that Quins would not stand in Evans’ way should he be offered a permanent role with England. However, Felix Jones’ appointment after the Rugby World Cup has seemingly put pay to that. Evans was England’s attack coach for the recent Six Nations, but the Londoners would not be willing to let him go just for the World Cup, where he could be away for up to four months.
Clayton McMillan, Brad Thorn, Billy Pollard
McMillan re-signs: Chiefs head coach McMillan has extended his contract with the Chiefs through to 2026. He took over the reins from Warren Gatland in 2021 and inherited a young side that made it to the Super Rugby Aotearoa final in his first season and the semi-finals of Super Rugby Pacific in 2022.
Thorn to step down: The Reds confirmed coach Thorn will step down at the end of the season. Thorn took over as coach at the end of the 2017 season, but a slump in the past 18 months meant he was not offered a contract extension.
🗣️ "We will conduct a thorough process to appoint a new coach for next season which will be communicated at the appropriate time." #SuperRugbyPacific
🔴 Brad Thorn set to leave the Reds after six-year stint as coach. 👇https://t.co/BNphG3ZvMB
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 18, 2023
Cheslin Kolbe, Tomas Lavanini, Francis Saili, Davit Zirakashvili
Kolbe rumours re-emerge: The rumours linking Kolbe to a move to Japan are persisting. L’Equipe and Midi Olympique reported this week that Suntory Sungoliath are looking to swoop in and exploit the exit clause in his contract for the end of this season. Toulon president Bernard Lemaitre responded to these rumours, telling Midi Olympique: “We are in discussion with Cheslin Kolbe… his departure would free up the payroll, yes, but the sportsman prevails. We won’t sell off Cheslin Kolbe. His first desire is to stay with us, even if there are huge requests from Japan.”
Lavanini re-signs: Los Pumas lock Lavanini has finally ended speculation over his future, penning a new deal with Clermont ahead of next season. The 30-year-old, who has played 79 times for Argentina, has signed a one-year extension with Clermont with the option of an additional season.
𝑺𝑬 𝑸𝑼𝑬𝑫𝑨 !💛💙#OFFICIEL Tomas Lavanini reste en Auvergne (1+1)
Le seconde ligne des @lospumas portera les couleurs du club la saison prochaine (option 2025).#YellowArmy
Plus d'infos ⤵️https://t.co/kVHZ7Yh97O pic.twitter.com/EpkZqGHpx6
— ASM Rugby (@ASMOfficiel) April 17, 2023
Saili stays: Former All Blacks centre Saili is set to remain at Racing 92 next season, according to Midi Olympique. He joined the side as cover for Virimi Vakatawa, who was forced into early retirement due to a heart condition. Saili has reportedly signed a one-year extension at the club.
Zirakashvili leaves ASM: Clermont legend Zirakashvili has decided to step down from his position as the Top 14 club’s scrum coach. The Georgian played 332 matches during his 16-year-long professional career with the side before moving into the coaching box in 2021, taking control of the scrums. He has decided to focus on his business ventures.
Manu Tuilagi, Charlie Ewels, Ruben de Haas
Tuilagi’s contract at Sale Sharks: Alex Sanderson gave an update on the England centre’s contract situation, saying: “It is not signed, not sealed, but it has been delivered. There were other moving parts with regards to the salary cap, which slotted into place today. I’ve been there before when the rug gets pulled from under your feet, and a French or Japanese team come in with £1 million. I am never going to stand in his way if that’s what is right for him and his family. It’s right for him to stay with us for all the reasons.”
Ewels heads to Pretoria: England and Bath lock Ewels has signed a short-term deal with the Bulls until the end of the season. The 27-year-old has not played for the Premiership side this season due to injury and will return to Bath next season. He joins the Bulls in an attempt to prove his fitness for the Rugby World Cup.
🟥 Unwanted record.
🐂 The Bok legend he admires.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 13, 2023
USA international returns to South Africa: Scrum-half De Haas will leave Saracens at the end of the season to rejoin the Cheetahs, signing a two-year contract with the Free State-based side.
Rhys Webb, Teddy Williams, Ryan Elias, Sam Davies
Webb set for French return: Ospreys and Wales scrum-half Webb could return to France next season, with The Rugby Paper reporting that his CV is doing the rounds at the clubs. Midi Olympique adds that Pro D2 outfit, Biarritz, are also interested in his services, with Barnabé Couilloud, younger brother of Baptiste, set to depart the side.
Williams turns down Exeter Chiefs: According to a report by Wales Online, Exeter Chiefs have failed in their attempt to sign Williams ahead of next season. The report states that the second-row ‘has had a change of heart’ and looks set to remain at Cardiff.
Elias turns down overseas interest: Wales and Scarlets hooker Elias has rejected overseas interest to re-sign with the Welsh side. He had been linked with several Top 14 clubs and Premiership clubs but has signed a two-year extension.
Davies to depart: Dragons fly-half Davies is set to leave the Dragons at the end of the season, with French club Grenoble leading the chase for his signature. WalesOnline reports that Grenoble are the frontrunner for his signature but faces competition for his signature.
WP Nel, Sam Matavesi, Nicky Smith
Edinburgh legend extends: Tighthead prop Nel has signed a one-year deal with Edinburgh in what could be his final season as a professional. The 37-year-old made his Scotland debut in 2015 once he had qualified via a three-year residence and is now closing in on the 200-appearances landmark with his club and has won 54 caps for his adoptive country.
Matavesi stays with Saints: Northampton Saints confirmed that Fiji hooker Matavesi has signed a contract extension to remain at Franklin’s Gardens. The 31-year-old hooker has made over 60 appearances since arriving in Northampton from Cornish Pirates in December 2019.
Saracens lead Smith race: Ospreys and Wales prop Smith has been linked to several clubs ahead of next season, with The Rugby Paper now reporting that Saracens are in pole position to land his services.
Ulster, Connacht, Leinster and Irish Rugby Football Union
Ulster promote the Academy: Ulster announced that Harry Sheridan, Conor McKee, James McCormick, Reuben Crothers and Ben Carson would continue their development at the side. They did, however, announce the departure of Rob Lyttle.
Connacht re-signings and departures: Liam McNamara and Tiernan O’Halloran all re-signed with Connacht, while the province confirmed the departures of Adam Byrne, Leva Fifita, Conor Fitzgerald, Seán Masterson and Ciaran Booth, adding to the previously announced exits of Kieran Marmion, Shane Delahunt and Alex Wootton.
Leinster and IRFU deals: James Lowe, Ronan Kelleher and Liam Turner all signed contract extensions with Leinster this week, while the IRFU announced the extensions of James Ryan and Josh van der Flier. Ryan has signed until 2025, and Van der Flier until 2026.
Black Fern contracts
The 2023 Black Ferns: New Zealand Rugby announced the 34 players contracted players locked in for the Black Ferns as they set their sights on building toward the 2025 Rugby World Cup. Grace Gago, Katelyn Vahaakolo, Layla Sae, Lucy Jenkins, Mererangi Paul and Rosie Kelly secured their first full-time Black Ferns contracts.
The crew is locked in for 2023! 🤩
— Black Ferns (@BlackFerns) April 17, 2023