The 2021/2022 season is now starting to draw to a close, with the English Premiership in the final rounds and teams fighting for a place in the play-offs, hoping that this will be their year to lift the trophy. However, every team has already been securing transfers ahead of next season, looking to give themselves the best possible chance of competing at the highest level in 2022/2023. This tactical analysis will pick out three players that will be moving (or moving back) to the Premiership from abroad ahead of the new campaign, providing a quick player profile on each and seeing how they could fit into their new teams’ tactics.
CURRENT CLUB: Benetton
MOVING TO: Northampton Saints
NATIONALITY: English (played internationally for Italy)
The former Gloucester scrum-half is a dynamic player who makes good runs into spaces and creates promising situations for his team. At breakdown situations, he constantly scans the area ahead to see where the best pass is, which makes him an unpredictable opponent, and he will match Northampton’s current style of play which sees them get on the front foot and limit their opponents’ options.
In recent years, he has been the primary understudy to Gloucester’s Stephen Varney for the Italian national team and stepped in to form a strong partnership with Montpellier fly-half Paolo Garbisi during this year’s Six Nations, after Varney picked up a tournament-ending injury. He will therefore have no problem fighting for his place at Franklin’s Gardens, which will be essential when we consider that the Saints also have Alex Mitchell and Tom James as options in that position.
Braley’s ability to make darting runs and launch attacks himself means that he is not too different from Mitchell, who has generally been Northampton’s first choice at nine. However, his threat in and around the try line means that he is a little like former Saints and current Montpellier scrum-half Cobus Reinach, with the South Africa international one of the best at scoring solo tries and making phases of play look effortless. Therefore, he is one to look out for next season.
CURRENT CLUB: Tel Aviv Heat
MOVING TO: Bristol Bears
Gabriel Ibitoye is not a new face in the English game, having spent five years at Harlequins before leaving for France in 2020. However, whilst his five years in London were largely successful, the last couple of been less so, with Agen and Montpellier both letting him go after short spells. As a result, he is now to be found in Israel, having joined their first professional club, Tel Aviv Heat, which competes in the Rugby Europe Super Cup.
Despite a turbulent couple of campaigns, his talent has never been in doubt, and that is why Bristol have moved for him as part of an attempt to put a disappointing season of their own behind them. He is a direct and agile runner, capable of breaking through defences, changing direction well and providing an end-product, and this is something that the Bears have been missing at times this season.
Ibitoye is much like current Bears player Charles Piutau, in that he is creative in possession and looks to get on the front foot well. However, whilst Piutau perhaps looks to set up tries for others rather than scoring them himself, Ibitoye will always look to run towards the line if given half a chance. Bristol have already agreed a deal with USA fly-half AJ MacGinty, who will join from Sale Sharks this summer, and have needed to add someone who can match his creativity with pace and an ability to spot gaps, and Ibitoye, who has the power of Radradra and the grace and skill of Piutau, looks to be that player.
CURRENT CLUB: Montpellier
MOVING TO: Leicester Tigers
NATIONALITY: South African
Not many will have failed to notice how commanding Pollard is during games, directing play and constantly being at the heart of his team’s positive attacking moments. This makes him the perfect addition for Leicester next season because their style of play revolves around getting up the pitch when out of possession and limiting the spaces that their opponents can operate in, much like Northampton’s (as mentioned earlier in the analysis).
However, Pollard is also a dangerous kicker, capable of scoring penalties from all around the field and making plenty of drop goals, which is something we don’t see a lot of anymore. During the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, he was key to the Springboks reaching the last two and then becoming world champions, with 22 of their 32 points in the final against England being attributed to him. Therefore, if he is given an inch of space next season, the Tigers will have a reliable and consistent source of points and always pose a threat.
In defence, he is strong and not afraid of making tackles, and we have seen his teamwork on show plenty of times for club and country, which is another important characteristic of his game and something else that will help Leicester, given their defensive improvements during the current campaign.
The most obvious likeness in terms of kicking ability is to current Tigers fly-half George Ford, in that both are dangerous in front of the posts and the focal points of their teams. However, his creative ability and natural tendency to look for spaces is much more like an old Bristol and Wales fly-half Callum Sheedy, who earnt his first Wales call-ups on the back of plenty of intelligent kicks and a wide range of passing to open up spaces for other attackers to move into, and he was one of the reasons that Bristol were consistent title challengers before 2021/2022.