United Rugby Championship: 13 new signings to watch including new Leinster centre Charlie Ngatai and Eben Etzebeth at the Sharks

Dylan Coetzee

Ahead of the start of the 2022/23 United Rugby Championship season, we take a look at some of the big name additions in the cross-hemisphere tournament.

Taulupe Faletau (Bath to Cardiff)

Alongside Thomas Young, Liam Williams and Lopeti Timani, Faletau’s signature is the icing on the cake for Cardiff fans as they have done well in the off-season to secure several established stars. Faletau in particular will be the name that jumps out though as he’s a player who brings at least 8 out of 10s every match.

His time at Bath was not as successful from a personal and team perspective as hoped when he joined in that high-profile move from the Dragons in 2016, but one feels that being back on home soil and on the faster ground of Cardiff Arms Park might be the injection Faletau, 31, needs as he approaches his final seasons.

Charlie Ngatai (Lyon to Leinster)

A centre who oozes class, Leinster have got themselves a wonderful acquisition as they look to bounce back from last year’s semi-final defeat. Ngatai will be with the province all season while the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are on international duty, which is such a fillip for Leo Cullen’s charges.

There was a time when rugby followers feared for Ngatai’s career due to concussion problems but, after moving from the Chiefs to Lyon, he appears to have put those concerns to bed, with Leinster supporters getting a bright, powerful and hard-working player for 2022/23. Expect the New Zealander to be a massive hit.

Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs to Edinburgh)

The Scotland international will be in the full glare of the country this season after his switch from Exeter Chiefs to Edinburgh. Born in Exeter, he qualified for Scotland through his father and more than made an impression on his Test debut in November 2018, against Fiji, as he picked up the man-of-the-match award.

His ability to play in both the second and back-row adds another string to the bow of a powerful ball carrier who’s also solid at the set-piece, so expect him to bring a great deal to this Edinburgh pack this season. Conversely, Exeter will sorely miss his presence and we expect Skinner to be a wonderful signing in a move that will no doubt delight the Scotland coaching team. At 27 years of age, he is in the prime of his career and Edinburgh are set to get his best seasons.

Sbu Nkosi (Bulls to Sharks)

As one of the highest profile transfers in South Africa this year, Nkosi’s move to the Bulls is mutually beneficial. The Bulls look to fill the hole left by the departure of star wing Madosh Tambwe whilst the former Shark is eager to revive his career after stagnating, particularly on the Test scene after the rise of Cheslin Kolbe.

Nevertheless, the wing has immense talent and, under the tutelage of Jake White, could explode and take his game to a new level. With the Springboks stretched on depth at right wing due to injury, a rise in form could open the door for Nkosi to play a role in their World Cup defence in France next year.

Adam Byrne (Leinster to Connacht)

At one time a hugely promising young wing who impressed us every time he featured for Leinster. However, his career had stalled somewhat at the Irish province which meant a move was inevitable. A switch to Connacht should do him the power of good as their exciting and expansive brand of rugby will suit him very well.

The likes of Mack Hansen, Alex Wootton and John Porch are excellent examples of success stories in Connacht’s back three and we hope the smooth running Byrne enjoys similar joy in the green shirt. A strong campaign and who knows, he might even force his way back into the international set-up, adding to his one cap.

Eben Etzebeth (Toulon to Sharks)

A massive signing for the Durban-based side. Etzebeth returning to South Africa was a big statement for the Sharks and relief for the rugby ecosystem that has been dealing with a player drain for a significant period.

As shown on the Test scene this year, Etzebeth plays brilliant rugby and would positively impact any team he represents. The second-row also adds to the leadership group consisting of Springbok team-mates Lukhanyo Am, Siya Kolisi and Thomas du Toit. Could he be the final piece of the jigsaw?

Etzebeth is not the Sharks’ only big signing as robust centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg returns to South Africa. The prospect of the hard running 12 pairing up with silky Am is frightening indeed. The Sharks are a team to watch.

Malakai Fekitoa (Wasps to Munster)

The departure of Damian de Allende left a hole in the Munster midfield and they have acted in impressive style by bringing in both Fekitoa and Antoine Frisch. Frisch is highly rated after his exploits for Bristol Bears last season while this move to Ireland should revitalise former All Blacks centre Fekitoa’s career.

He never quite recaptured his Highlanders form at Wasps but has already been impressed with what he has seen at Munster, which bodes well as he looks to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Rua Tipoki, Doug Howlett and Lifeimi Mafi and become a Thomond Park favourite. The 30-year-old is sure to get the crowd on its feet with his customary big tackles and powerful carries and we are excited to see how both Fekitoa and Frisch add to what is already a strong group of centres.

Joseph Dweba (Bordeaux to Stormers)

Despite recent criticism after a poor performance against the All Blacks, Dweba remains a key signing for the Stormers. They struggled with injury at hooker during their title-winning campaign, having to field their third and fourth-choice hookers in the final.

Dweba is a strong ball carrier and incredibly powerful in broken play. However, his set-piece accuracy remains in question. Consistent game time at the Stormers will go a long way in mitigating his shortcomings. The Springbok has the potential to be a real threat.

Huw Jones (Harlequins to Glasgow Warriors)

The Scottish centre returns to Glasgow after a season in the Premiership. He was used across the backline for Harlequins but will likely return to the centres where he has played the best of his rugby.

Jones has been unable to hold a consistent spot in the Scotland squad over the last couple of years, and a return to his old club could spark a return of form. The 28-year-old still has a lot to offer but could do with improved consistency on the defensive front. With ball in hand, the Scot is often a joy to watch with his hard-running and playmaking abilities.

His experience playing for the Stormers will be useful for his side touring South Africa as many northern hemisphere teams struggled in the Rainbow Nation.

Wes Goosen (Hurricanes to Edinburgh)

The former New Zealand U20 star is a fascinating signing for the Scottish side. Goosen represented the Hurricanes 71 times, scoring 31 tries to underline his prolific nature.

He has a broad skill set, but his pure running ability is his key attribute as he can slice defences open to score himself or play others in. It will be his first stint outside of New Zealand, so there will be a period of adaptation. Still, the prospect of Goosen, Emiliano Boffelli and Darcy Graham slugging it out in a back three is intriguing for Edinburgh.

Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Wasps to Ulster)

The Irish giants have added a world-class All Black front-rower to their already robust pack. Toomaga-Allen is a brilliant scrummager and holds his own in open play thanks to an impressive skill-set for a front-row.

The New Zealander is vastly experienced, with over a century of games for the Hurricanes before representing Wasps 61 times. Toomaga-Allen will be a positive addition to Dan McFarland’s forward pack as they look to compound some of the set-piece dominance they experienced during the inaugural URC season.

Andries Coetzee (Benneton to Lions)

The full-back was part of one of the most impressive Lions teams in their history. They made back-to-back Super Rugby finals under coach Johan Ackermann so a return will be welcomed by the club, which has seen an exodus of players during the off-season.

Coetzee returns to the Lions with vast experience, which will be crucial for the young squad in Johannesburg. At 32 years of age, his peak performance is behind him, but his influence on the team will be massive as the Lions also have to deal with competing in the Challenge Cup alongside the URC.

Kobus van Wyk (Leicester Tigers to Zebre Parma)

The South African wing is well-travelled, having played in New Zealand, France and England, providing very useful experience to Zebre, who struggled in the 2021/22 URC season.

Van Wyk is a physical wing with a solid all-around skill set. However, in some ways, his nomadic style has prevented the speedster from putting down roots to build from. Perhaps Zebre could be that opportunity where he can have a bigger influence on the team and put in a consistent run of games to showcase his true potential. Exciting times for Zebre, who look to pull themselves off the foot of the table.

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