IMPORT XV: The good, bad and ugly of Super Rugby’s fling with the foreign legion

Tue, 20/04/2021, 03:30 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Domingo Miotti celebrates after slotting the winning penalty for the Western Force. Photo: Getty Images

The international flavour to the Western Force has thrown a fresh spotlight on Australian rugby’s curious relationship with imports during the Super Rugby era.

There were many upbeat takeaways from the Force’s stirring 31-30 win over the NSW Waratahs in Perth last weekend.

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As poignant as any was the throng of players, arm in arm, belting out the Robbie Williams’ hit Angels in the dressing room post-match.

All Black Richard Kahui was in full voice. He was linked between Tevita Kuridrani and Jack McGregor as if they’d all been born in South Perth.

Across the room, Ireland’s 95-Test fullback Rob Kearney was in civvies latched onto Force stalwart Ian Prior. Their volume was even higher.

Perhaps, it was the lyrics that engaged the evergreen Kahui and Kearney, both 35...”The places where we go when we’re old and grey...salvation.” 

Argentinian halves Domingo Miotti and Tomas Cubelli were all smiles and tonsils too.

Full credit to coach Tim Sampson, elder Prior and the buy-in they’ve got from a group that has represented seven countries at Test or Under-20 level.

As 23-Test USA Eagles back Marcel Brache roared to end the earlier rendition of the team song: “...we’re West Australians.”

It was a totally united scene with that magic potion called “winning” splashed about.  

The Angels rendition is a borrowed idea from watching video of a semi-pro English football team, Chorley FC, belt out a selected song post-win in their dressing room, Brache explains.

Adele’s classic hit Someone Like You and John Farnham’s You’re The Voice had already got the Force treatment after earlier wins this season.

One can only guess at the choice from the song book if the Force upset the Queensland Reds at HBF Park on Friday night.

Anyway, it got us busy thinking about an Imports All-Star XV from across 25 years of Australia’s involvement since Super Rugby turned professional in 1996.

There have been brilliant signings like Kahui and former All Blacks halfback Alby Mathewson at the Force or South Africa’s physical weapon Jacques Potgieter, who was such a factor in the NSW Waratahs’ Super Rugby title in 2014.

Equally, there have been misfires, misfortunes and wild stabs in the dark.

Springbok flyhalf Andre Pretorius will always be the biggest name import never to play a game for the Force.

He tore his hamstring in pre-season training and never played in the 2010 season.

Like a thief in the night!

History will harshly judge the lack of impact from Ayumu Goromaru when Japan’s 2015 Rugby World Cup star played for Queensland in 2016.

Whatever scale you use, there will only ever be one Hendrik “Dud” Roodt.

The deliciously nicknamed Roodt is the benchmark for Australia’s worst import in Super Rugby.

He was the young 121kg South African lock who played a single nondescript game for the Waratahs in 2010 before learning his trade elsewhere and playing more than 150 games in French rugby.

Here goes. It’s not a best XV but an eclectic mix of the imports who have graced Australia’s teams in Super Rugby.

IMPORT XV

15 Ayuma Goromaru (Japan)

“Goro Fever” was full-on and fun off the field but the results on it were lukewarm. A poorly-performing Queensland Reds team sold Goromaru jerseys galore, fan day had a 60m queue for his autograph and a posse of Japanese journalists doubled the media turnout at each of his games.

His lack of speed was telling but the Reds never used his best attribute as a field-position kicker either in his eight games.

14 Frank Lomani (Fiji)

Normally, Australian sides introduce Fijian, Tongan and Samoan players to their squads before they play Test rugby. Lomani had already played for Fiji before joining the Melbourne Rebels in 2018. He’s a Test halfback but proved a revelation on the wing with two stepping breaks at first receiver against the Reds in early April.

13 Richard Kahui (New Zealand)

Quality all the way. Does the hard yards with the timing of his full-throttle runs, his defence and his constant encouragement. A terrific signing and a Kiwi World Cup- winner who has really added to the Force.

12 Tamati Ellison (New Zealand)

A terrific centre for the Melbourne Rebels for three seasons (2014-16) with his strong-running class and off-loading knack as an All Black shining through. 

11 Marcel Brache (USA)

Born in Los Angeles and raised in South Africa, winger Brache has found a home in Perth. He's springboarded off his high-energy input at the Force into a tidy 23-Test career with the USA Eagles.

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10 Danny Cipriani (England)

The first signing by the Melbourne Rebels for their 2011 debut season was a chameleon. He was magnetic viewing at times a la the dance moves that followed his finish to a 90m try against the Force in 2012. Off the field, the flyhalf had his issues but life was never dull in 2011-12 with the England international.

9 Alby Mathewson (New Zealand)

Outstanding recruit for the Force between 2013-16. The former All Blacks scrumhalf was regularly the best Force player on the field with his speed and spark.

8 Andre Vos (South Africa)

The young South African with the Christian upbringing had his eyes opened hanging around Garrick Morgan and his Queensland teammates in 1998. Vos played 11 times at flanker and would go on to captain the Springboks and win renown as a No.8.

7 Daniel Braid (New Zealand)

Had an excellent 2009 season with the Queensland Reds as a quality openside flanker of All Blacks pedigree.

6 Jacques Potgieter (South Africa)

A towering presence in every sense. Mostly played at lock for the Waratahs but his physical edge and go-forward were perfect assets for coach Michael Cheika in the run to the 2014 Super Rugby title.

5 Hendrik Roodt (South Africa)

He had all the dimensions at 121kg and 1.98m but was too raw to make any mark on 2010 for the Waratahs who quickly bypassed him. A flop.

4 Jeremy Thrush (New Zealand)

The moustache game is strong and so has been his impact on the Force comeback in 2020-21. A former All Blacks lock who keeps showing his high standards.

Miotti clinches it for the Force after the siren.

3 Peter Clohessy (Ireland)

One of the first imports to Super Rugby in the professional era. “The Claw” played five games for Queensland to open 1997. The heat and injury got to the burly Irish Test prop, who loved a smoke and picture books.   

2 Shota Horie (Japan)

In the vanguard when Japanese stars were first snapped up as imports worldwide. The Japanese Test hooker had a cult following when playing for the Melbourne Rebels in 2013-14. 

1 Greg Somerville (New Zealand)

The stout Kiwi prop had played 66 Tests for the All Blacks before a final single-season stint for the new Melbourne Rebels in 2011.

Reserves:

16 Anaru Rangi (New Zealand)

Not an “import” in the true sense but one of the many Kiwi players who head to Australia seeking a break. He landed in Perth and his busy, bustling style at hooker gained attention in Perth Spirit’s 2016 NRC triumph. A long-haired asset at the Force and Rebels. 

17 Patricio Noriega (Argentina)

A recruit for the Brumbies for their maiden season in 1996. He spoke no English but the door-sized prop was all power.

He played two World Cups for Argentina during the amateur era but cruelly missed the Wallabies’ winning 1999 World Cup because of a shoulder injury.  

18 Toby Smith (New Zealand)

The Kiwi prop won two Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs but his Australian birthright always intrigued. The Rebels signed him and Smith rode his tweak of nationality all the way to six Tests and the 2015 World Cup for the Wallabies.

19 Geoff Parling (England)

A fairly tame 2018 season for the Melbourne Rebels as a mid-30s lock who had already seen his best days as a fine lock for England. Coaching is now his bag. 

20 Adam Thomson (New Zealand)

The rare import with stints at two Australian clubs, the Reds (2015) and Rebels (2016). The former All Blacks backrower was a versatile asset at his best. 

21 Amanaki Mafi (Japan)

Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2017. On that vote alone, he has to be one of the most influential imports Australian rugby has seen. The Tongan-born powerhouse was already a star for Japan and his big ball-carting runs were huge for the Rebels. He avoided a conviction for attacking a teammate but it was still a distasteful finish at the club.  

22 Tomas Cubelli (Argentina)

A world-class halfback with strong showings for the Brumbies (2016-17) and Force (2021).

23 Rob Kearney (Ireland)

We’ve seen a few of the scything, swerving runs that netted 16 Test tries for Ireland but his class for the Force this season has always been evident with his kicking, safety under the high ball and excellent communication in defence. He’s managed to find a Guinness on tap in Perth as well.

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