At the midway point of the 2018/19 season, all of the Irish provinces will be pretty content with where they stand in both the domestic and European competition and a lot of this is due to some excellent signings the four teams have made in 2018.
Heading into the current season, we have seen the IRFU’s heavy influence whereby players have moved between provinces and also Irish eligible players, who have developed their careers elsewhere, return to these shores in the hope of wearing the green jersey.
Here, we rank the top 10 signings made by the Irish provinces in 2018.
10. Arno Botha (Munster)
Arno Botha signed for Munster in the offseason on a one-year contract and he has proven a very popular figure in the short time that he has been with the southern province.
Previously with London Irish and the Blue Bulls, Botha arrived at Munster with a poor injury record which ultimately cost him a deal at Ulster. However, he has proven his fitness to rack up 652 minutes already this season and his explosive ball-carrying ability has proven inevitably popular with the Red Army.
He has proven an adequate replacement for CJ Stander when the 28-year-old has been away on Ireland duty.
9. Marty Moore (Ulster)
Marty Moore made his return to Irish shores in the summer after a two-season stint with English club Wasps.
The former Leinster tighthead was in the Irish picture before his well-publicized move away from the eastern province and his absence has seen the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter and John Ryan leapfrog him in Joe Schmidt’s pecking order.
Since Moore made his competitive Ulster debut against the Leicester Tigers in October, he has contributed to the rejuvenation of Ulster’s pack which has long been a weak point for the northern province.
Some strong scrummaging displays will not have gone unnoticed by the Irish management team.
8. Henry Speight (Ulster)
Henry Speight will make his final appearance for Ulster away to Connacht in Galway this weekend and he will be heavily missed by those in the Kingspan Stadium.
Speight will return to the Brumbies who begin their season a little earlier in 2019 due to it being a World Cup year.
Speight’s height and power has been a useful asset for Dan McFarland’s side in their promising form this season and the loss of his experience will likely be felt when he returns home to Australia next week.
7. Mike Haley (Munster)
Irish qualified Mike Haley made the switch to Munster from the Sale Sharks in the summer and his performances for his new club were always going to be under heavy scrutiny due to the man he replaced – Simon Zebo.
Haley has been a mainstay in the 15 shirt this season, amassing an incredible 881 minutes so far. He is assured under a high ball, offers a good kicking option and is a good counter-attacking runner. He will be disappointed with one or two mistakes, most notably the dropped ball which led to Ulster’s first try last Friday night but for the most part, he has been a very good signing for Johann van Graan’s side.
6. Jordi Murphy (Ulster)
Another signing which raised a few eyebrows when it was announced, Jordi Murphy made the switch to Ulster from Leinster after helping the eastern province to a Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions cup double.
The move came from the desire for consistent first-team rugby due to the likes of Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock all battling it out for a back-row spot in Leo Cullen’s side.
An injury at the beginning of the season hampered Murphy’s progress but he has gone on to become an important part of the Ulster pack with the 27-year-old’s work rate and ability at the breakdown winning plenty of plaudits at the Kingspan.
5. Alby Mathewson (Munster)
Signed as short-term cover for Conor Murray, the former All Black proved his quality immediately when he made his debut against Ulster at Thomond Park earlier in the season.
Mathewson bring a level of calm and assuredness to Munster’s play and is an excellent back-up option for Murray.
Matthewson’s contract was extended which will bring him up to the end of March and the southern province will likely want to extend that until the end of the season.
4. Joey Carbery (Munster)
One of the most high-profile signings in recent memory, Joey Carbery’s move to Munster from Leinster dominated the headlines and column inches for a long time.
He has played a lot of games for Munster this season and has proven what he can bring to the attack as the southern province look to continually evolve their game.
Carbery is exposing himself to life as the No. 1 outhalf – something which he never had at Leinster. The inexperience in this regard has been evident on some occasions this season, most notably away to Castres but if Munster stick with their man, which they will, Carbery will likely transition into the world-class outhalf that they have been crying out for.
3. Billy Burns (Ulster)
Billy Burns made the move from Gloucester and Kingsholm during the summer and has been a mainstay of this Ulster side since September.
Burns has grown into the commander in chief role at Ulster and most recently in the back-to-back games against Scarlets and the home win over Munster, he has displayed his abilities to get his backline moving while also kicking cleverly and tactically when required.
Looks to be getting better every week.
2. Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
Much was expected of Tadhg Beirne when he made his move to Munster considering his incredible performances for the Scarlets and he hasn’t let anyone down after producing some superb performances for his new club.
Man of the match accolades and topping the turnover charts been a consistent feature of Beirne’s time with Munster.
He has also had the responsibility of calling the lineouts put upon him which is a new challenge for the Kildare native but it is something which he is continually growing comfortable with.
1. Will Addison (Ulster)
The former Sale Sharks utility back has been an absolute revelation since he made the move to Belfast. His ability to play across the back three and in the centre is undoubtedly an asset but how he excels in these positions is what is most impressive.
Addison has an excellent ability to read the game – knowing when to attack a gap and when it comes to his defensive duties, he is a great communicator and tackler.
His last-minute inclusion against Argentina during the November internationals, where he performed brilliantly, is a testament to the professionalism and level of preparation which he demands of himself.
If he continues this form, expect him to be on the plane to Japan next year.