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Premiership Rugby

The best summer signings so far

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

1) Mark Robinson (Northampton, from Auckland, New Zealand) A real shrewd one from Northampton coach Wayne Smith in luring the former All Black scrum-half over to English shores, having missed out on a Super 12 contract with Auckland-based Super 12 side the Blues behind current All Black Steve Devine, despite the Blues initially favouring Robinson over Devine in the contractual pecking order. Capped three times by New Zealand, the feisty No.9 will provide top-notch cover for England's Matt Dawson in the Northampton colours during Dawson's participation in the Rugby World Cup, as well as lightening Dawson's burden during the rest of the season. Robinson starred for the Barbarians against England back in May, and has been toughening himself up with a stint in Rugby League for the New Zealand Warriors, playing with great success at hooker in the 13-man code. 2) Julian White (Leicester, from Bristol) With the retirement of stalwart Darren Garforth and the sale of Franck Tournaire, Leicester have moved quickly to bolster their engine room in the propping area, and with Bristol's relegation last season, the availability of an England regular in the combative White was too good an opportunity to pass up. Admittedly White will be away for the World Cup in all likelihood – a key factor in many transfers this off-season – but alongside fellow new recruit Darren Morris and current Tiger Graham Rowntree, the fierce scrummaging and aggressive driving play of the 14-times-capped White will be a major plus for Leicester fans in the coming months. 3) Aaron Persico (Leeds Tykes, From Viadana, Italy) Leeds Tykes have snapped up a real gem in the 25-year-old Italian, who signs from Arix Viadana after a career which has seen him pick up 30 caps already, and carve out a real reputation.  Persico did the unthinkable in displacing star openside Mauro Bergamasco in the Italy team for the 2003 Six Nations, and more than repaid coach John Kirwan's faith in him, as the New Zealand-born flanker covered every yard of the turf and excelled in the open field. A suprmely athletic player, Persico is very much the model of the modern No.7. 4) Braam van Straaten (Sale Sharks, from Leeds Tykes) While talk of a return to his homeland abounded after two highly productive seasons with Leeds Tykes, it was not to South Africa, but to Cheshire, that the former Springbok fly-half and centre looked for his rugby employment, having last season helped Leeds to silence the doubters and qualify for the Heineken Cup. At 31-years-old and nearing 32, time may not be on Van Straaten's side in terms of playing longevity, but there are few, if any, better goal-kickers in the Premiership than the 21-times-capped veteran, who will fill in for the injured Charlie Hodgson in the early stages of the season after the England fly-half's knee injury. A steady performer, you know what you're getting with Van Straaten. 5) Ramiro Pez (Leicester, from Rotherham) Having twice helped Rotherham to the National Division One title in the last two seasons, Pez opted not to stick with the newly-promoted Yorkshire club, but instead opt for the glamour and reputation of the Leicester Tigers, who have dominated the domestic game over the last five years, but have recently lacked a figurehead in the No.10 shirt. The sale of Andy Goode and the injury to Austin Healey damaged them badly last season as they lost their title, but the solidity of the 24-year-old Pez – who shone for Italy in the Six Nations in a breakthrough year – alongside new Tigers' centre Daryl Gibson, will give coach Dean Richards' side the businesslike approach which they were missing last time round. Goal-kicking is also a key weapon in the Pez armoury, having learnt from Italian master and fellow Argentine-born player Diego Dominguez down the years. 6) Raphael Ibanez (Saracens, from Castres, France) Having been touted around Europe, linked with Leicester and Gloucester, veteran France hooker Raphael Ibanez finally decided on his destination as Saracens, having opted to leave French club Castres. The 29-year-old brings with him 63 caps worth of experience, although will miss the start of the campaign as he gets stuck into France's World Cup campaign. The vastly experienced Ibanez will add vital leadership to a Saracens team struggling for direction after the dismissal of coach Wayne Shelford, but will be a valuable influence on some of the younger lights in the side, with their pack already containing England blindside and club captain Richard Hill. 7) Duncan McRae (Gloucester, from NSW Waratahs, Australia) A name synonymous with British rugby fans not necessarily for his two-year stint with Saracens, but more for his infamous assault on Irish fly-half Ronan O'Gara while playing for Australian Super 12 side the NSW Waratahs against the British and Irish Lions in 2001. But in the fiery Aussie No.10, Gloucester have signed a solid performer. He will likely fill the gap left by the departure of French points machine Ludovic Mercier, and as well as his well-known aggression, also brings with him a canny tactical kicking game from his days in Rugby League. He knows the English scene after a fruitful spell Saracens, and despite his reputation preceding him, should go on to become a favourite at Kingsholm with his toiling play. 8) Michael Lipman (Bath, from Bristol) While the high-profile exits of players like Julian White, Daryl Gibson and Agustin Pichot from relegated Bristol may have hogged the limelight, it is one of their young guns, openside Michael Lipman, who could turn out to be a real steal for neighbours Bath. English-born, but raised in Australia, he rose through the ranks down under with the NSW Waratahs, but his performances in the Bristol shirt after arriving in the UK were enough to convince England coach Clive Woodward of his athletic attributes. Included in the England team to face the Barbarians recently, Lipman is a hot prospect on the domestic scene as he hones his game further. 9) Gavin Duffy (Harlequins, from Connacht, Ireland) Not perhaps a household name to the English audience, but the 21-year-old fullback has made a name for himself already after starring for the unfancied Connacht province, who have blended a number of impressive young players into their squad and got the best out of them, even reaching the quarter-finals of the Celtic League and the Parker Pen Challenge Cup last season. Not quite in the Irish international frame at the moment, Duffy recently stole the show at an Irish practice match, upstaging a number of current internationals with his dextrous back play. Also a Gaelic footballer ofnote, Duffy could well be one of the major surprise packages of the English season in the Harlequins colours. 10) Luke Gross (Rotherham, from Llanelli, Wales) There is no substitute for experience, and in USA and Llanelli lock LukeGross Premiership new-boys Rotherham have made a very wise acquisition. 33-years-old he may be, but Gross is a big unit, and can significantly influence the game in the tight phases with his battling style. 55 Test caps for the Eagles shows that he is no mug, and Gross' cult following in Wales after a successful time at Stradey Park will surely be mirrored at Rotherham's Millmoor home, as he joins fellow Scarlet Guy Easterby – the Ireland scrum-half – in making the move, bolstering Rotherham's already healthy American contingent, which contains the likes of fullback Link Wilfley and centre Jason Keyter. By Mark Smith


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