Top 5: Premiership Transfers That Didn't 'Click'

Squad development and the strategies behind it are an underestimated quantity that many sports fans can't quite grasp. Although we all, myself included, love to hypothesise about excellent signings who can make an instant impact and propel our clubs into trophy-laden eras, sometimes it's more important to find a player who will leave your club a better place than when they joined it. It can be as simple as that, and we've seen clubs die a sad, lonely death from over-complicated, over-blown transfers, just look at that London Welsh contingent from a couple years ago. Now we all love to hear about the horror stories of signings who went AWOL or actively hurt our opposition sides, but what about those signings that looked great on paper and showed glimpses of form previously, but could never quite 'click' in that new jersey... Let's take a look at some of those popular, or potentially not-so-popular, examples!

5. Lima Sopoaga (Wasps)

This list has basically been created off of the back of Sopoaga's announcement that he would be leaving Wasps at the end of the season to join Top 14 outfit Lyon. Sopoaga is an 18-time capped All Black with a Super 14 highlight reel that can rival the best in his position. On paper, this signing was an absolute coup for Wasps. Departing with Cipriani for a second time was heart breaking, but at three years Sopoaga's senior and with Lozowski also heading out the door, we needed someone at their peak between the ages of Gopperth and Umaga... It just so happened we found one of the most in form Fly Halves on the planet! He started impressively scoring 18 points in a solo winning effort against the Tigers and scoring a try and conversion in a losing substitute performance against a rampant Exeter side. However, his form just seemed to crumble out of nowhere and he was often highlighted as the weak link in an exceptional Wasps backline. A very poor tackler and perhaps not as tactically astute as other Premiership stalwarts, Sopoaga struggled with the constant focus and intensity of the northern hemisphere game; matches won on small margins never really suited his game. Such was his poor form in defence and in the loose, Wasps were forced to blood Umaga far earlier than they would have wanted. After a season and a half of inconsistent performances, Sopoaga put in a woeful showing against Bath, conceding two tries in the opening ten minutes due to his individual errors. He hasn't been in the Wasps squad since.

4. Nemani Nadolo (Exeter)

Now Nemani Nadolo has spent the last half decade showing his class across the international and domestic game, often captaining his beloved Fiji against the odds at the world's grandest stage. His time at Leicester has also been largely succesful thus far too, however, his injury prone season and age profile might turn the tide of that transfer very quickly. It's his time at Exeter, that not many fans know about, that we are concentrating on here though. Nadolo signed with French Top 14 team Bourgoin-Jallieu for the 2010–11 season, but transferred early to England's Exeter Chiefs in January 2011, just as they were finding their footing in England's top league. Nadolo's brief time at Exeter was fairly troublesome to say the least. He was registered at Exeter under his Australian passport and was mistakenly picked alongside two other non-Kolpak players. This is a breach of IRB regulations of course and resulted in Exeter being docked two points and fined £5,000. Also while at Exeter he was arrested by police for drink driving. He was subsequently banned from driving for 18 months and fined £950. Nadolo was immediately released from his contract with the club after only making 5 appearances; 5 appearances in which he didn't score, assist or place kick.

3. Freddie Burns (Bath & Leicester)

Burns is considered a bit of journey man in the modern game, and a rarity in today's Rugby climate. A maverick on the pitch, Burns is deservedly a hot prospect in the modern game and has showcased on numerous occasions that he is up there with some of the best Fly Halves in England; just look at when he took apart the All Blacks for proof of that! Burns is potentially unlucky to feature on this list as he did have some great moments in Blue, Black and White, but he pretty much defines a transfer that didn't quite 'click'. Struggling to unseat Priestland from the starting journey, Burns made 53 appearances for Bath in all competitions but they largely came off of the bench in solo efforts to find win's from losing scenario's. Unfortunately, Burns has never quite shown the tactical arsenal within his game, and certainly does possess the all round game management skills of someone like Priestland. It didn't help that he was dogged by the career trajectory of George Ford who unseated him internationally, took over duties from him at Leicester and arguably had a far better reputation at Bath as their starting man too. His points tally is impressive and we are all in agreement that he's a cracking player, but it has always felt as if he was unsettled; with him returning to Leicester at the end of this season, hopefully he will refind that much needed Gloucester-form.

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2. Ambrose Curtis (Wasps)

Wasps have a love-hate relationship with All Black signings. Gopperth, Halai, Piutau are just a couple of names that spring to mind when you think of cracking southern hemisphere signings. However, Sopoaga, Toomaga-Allen (jury is still out there) and Curtis are three signings that were made in proximity of one and other, that I'm sure Wasps regret making. Curtis in particular is one that stinks of someone who just couldn't settle in the UK. Prior to Wasps, Curtis made his Wellington debut in 2012 against Manawatu and went on to establish himself as a regular starter and try-scorer for the Lions over the next 2 seasons. Despite a substandard showing by his province in 2014 in which they were relegated from the ITM Cup Premiership, Curtis's own form was strong. He made 4 appearances for the New Zealand U20's and 3 for the Maori All Blacks. At 25 years old, he fit the perfect age profile as a great signing for Wasps. So what happened? Well he didn't play, not a single time, and he actually became a bit of a mystery for Wasps fans. What happened to him? Why wasn't he playing? After a season, Curtis featured for Wasps A in the Premiership Rugby Shield a handful of times and made one first-team appearance in the Premiership Rugby Cup against Northampton Saints. After a shock retirement from club hero Matt Mullan, Ambrose was announced as leaving the club also to join French Pro D2 side Vannes, seemingly out of nowhere. He has since vanished from public viewing at the top of the professional game.

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1. Richie Gray (Sale)

This should have been a gamechanger for Sale. During a time that they were banished into relegation dogfights in the turn of the decade, Sale really needed some superstars to elevate them out of obscurity and back into contenders again. Signing a 23 year old, Scottish international and British and Irish Lions Capped Second Rower should have brought them all the success in the world. At 6ft 10 and 20 stone, if nothing else, he was going to turn that Sale pack into a formidable lump that could dominate lineouts and really put the shove on at scrum time. However, he made 16 particularly underwhelming performances in his single season at the club and immediately jumped ship over to France to play for Castres in the Top 14. Having scored just the one score, he will be remembered for being absolutely clattered by young, small Wasps Scrum Half Joe Simpson. Luckily I was there to see it with my own eyes, because I doubt many would believe it having seen the two up close together. Personally, this move unfortunately defined his career as someone who could never quite match his early potential... How does Gray have more Lions appearances than both his brother and Joe Launchbury, I will never know.

Photo Copyright @ Getty Images - The Rugby Paper

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