February 15, 2012
Gregor Townsend offloads under pressure while at the Sharks © Getty Images
French behemoth Sebastien Chabal is off to play in Australia and follows in the footsteps of some fellow Europeans in trying their hand in the southern hemisphere game. Sheep dipping, comb-overs and vodka bottles - it's all here in this week's Scrum Sevens as we assess how some travellers fared below the equator.
Christian Califano (Blues)
The prop took the honour of being the first French international to grace the Super Rugby stage when he took his bow for the Blues back in 2002 against the Hurricanes. He turned out five times for the Auckland franchise before making the switch to Saracens after just one season in New Zealand. Califano is well known to Gloucester fans having ended his rugby playing career at Kingsholm in 2008.
But Thierry Lacroix and Olivier Roumat had already set the benchmark for Frenchmen in the southern hemisphere by the time he arrived in New Zealand. The Test pair played a key role in guiding the Natal Sharks to Currie Cup glory in 1995, but they missed out on playing in Super Rugby. The Sharks failed to qualify for the tournament in 1995 and while Lacroix played for the Sharks again in 1996, he arrived too late to play any part in their charge to the final of the then Super 12 - a side which included Argentinean hooker Federico Mendez.
Danny Cipriani (Melbourne Rebels)
The English fly-half arrived in Australia at the newly formed Melbourne Rebels for the 2011 Super Rugby season. The immensely talented half-back only has seven England caps to his name and journeyed to the southern hemisphere with the view to expanding his knowledge of the game.
But while he turned out 12 times for the Rebels in their debut campaign, Cipriani was dogged with off-field strife. The 24-year-old hit the headlines after being accused of taking a bottle of vodka from behind a Melbourne bar and later on in the campaign, he was stood down from team duties - along with Richard Kingi - after embarking on an unsanctioned night out. But regardless of unsavoury headlines, Cipriani showed glimpses of his ability when he scored a sensational try against the Sharks.
Frederic Michalak (Sharks)
The 54-cap half-back arrived at the Sharks in 2008 and featured in just nine matches for the Natal-based franchise in Super Rugby due to injury. But Michalak returned from his spell on the sidelines to help guide them to the 2008 Currie Cup title to end the side's 12-year wait for a trophy.
And following injuries and international call-ups to key personnel at the end of May 2011, Michalak - who was Toulouse at the time - announced that he would re-join the Sharks for the end of the Super Rugby season and their Currie Cup campaign. He helped guide them to the semi-final in the South African domestic tournament and will look to line up for them again in the forthcoming Super XV season before journeying back to France to Toulon.
Andy Goode (Sharks)
Former England fly-half Andy Goode joined the Sharks on loan in 2010 to cover an injury to the magician Juan Martin Hernandez and Steve Meyer's premature retirement. Goode - who was turning out for Brive at the time - lasted just five minutes on his Super Rugby debut before being sin-binned for a high shot on Crusaders' half-back Dan Carter. And he followed this up with another yellow card in his next match - for infringing around the breakdown against the 'Tahs.
Despite nailing a last-gasp drop-goal against the Waratahs and scoring a try against the Blues, Goode cut a forlorn figure at times and was mocked by former team-mate Rod Kafer who labelled him as having "the only comb-over in Super Rugby".
Gregor Townsend (Sharks)
The Scottish fly-half - complete with British & Irish Lions Test honours - signed for the Sharks in 2004 after finding himself exiled from the international scene. He was greeted by two Sharks fans soon after his arrival in Durban telling Townsend how excited they were to have a player such as Neil Jenkins at the club. Confused identity aside, Townsend filled in alongside Butch James in a combative and attritional fly-half - centre partnership.
Townsend turned out nine times for the Sharks with a back injury ruling him out of their final two matches of the season. And the fly-half was set for one more season in Durban only for new Boks coach Jake White to rule that the Super Rugby franchises should be limited to players who could qualify for the South African national side.
But Townsend left a legacy at the Sharks - as highlighted by an article by Gavin Rich which praised the fly-half before asserting that "Yes, in answer to the inevitable question, a controlled influx of foreign players into the South African game may carry more benefits than negatives, as the northern hemisphere has shown through the way they have tapped into southern hemisphere resources during the last six years."
Julian White (Crusaders)
The now Tigers prop and 51-cap England international, turned out just once for the Crusaders back in the 1997 season after a bizarre change in fortunes. White was developing his farming career in Dannevirke and was encouraged to turn out for the local rugby team. He took his domestic bow for Hawke's Bay and narrowly missed out on a contract with the now defunct Central Vikings - due to a leg injury. But despite a back strain caused by 'sheep drenching', White was called into the Crusaders reckoning for six weeks in 1997.
And he took his bow for the Crusaders from the bench against the Sharks after fellow front-row Stu Loe was dismissed. The match ended in a 26-26 draw with Andrew Mehrtens contributing 21 of the Crusaders' points with the sole try coming from Mark Mayerhofler. White claims he cannot remember much of the game but he looks back on his time there with fondness.
"It was unbelievable. I'd come here to play for Dannevirke and thought I had an outside chance for Hawke's Bay," said White. "I don't remember much about the game against Natal - it all went by so fast. I was just happy to be there. I never thought I'd get the chance to play. It was good just going along. I continually ate the whole time down there. They called me 'Food bill'."
Kevin Yates (Hurricanes)
The prop was hit with a six-month ban from rugby in 1998 after allegedly biting the ear of Simon Fenn during a Tetley's Bitter Cup clash between Bath and London Scottish and decided to journey south in a bid to rebuild his reputation. He turned out for the Hurricanes in 2000 and also played for the Wellington Lions in the NPC and earned the honour of being the first British player to be awarded a Super Rugby contract.
Yates played in both the 2000 and 2001 Super Rugby seasons and formed a formidable front-row partnership alongside All Blacks duo Gordon Slater and Norm Hewitt. The prop later returned to the Premiership to play for Saracens and holds the world record for the longest time between two international caps. He realised this feat when he played for England against South Africa in 2007 - in a front-row which had a combined age of 104 - making it nine years and 353 since his previous Test against Argentina back in 1997.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.