A Global Gathering in Premiership Rugby

With the 2013/14 Aviva Premiership rugby season starting tonight, we’ve looked at the overseas players who will be competing in this year’s league – more specifically, those nationalities you may not expect.

Rugby is not like football, where it is commonplace these days to see Premiership teams with only one or two British players in the side. The English teams will have mainly English players, with the same being the case for teams in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France. There is of course the odd Scottish/Welsh/Irish/French player in each squad – as there is with English players abroad. Think Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon – and a few from even further afield, such as Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Argentina; the last of which has seen a surge of players in the English leagues recently.

What you may not know is that there are some players from international sides in the tier two and tier three brackets – these are the teams that do not automatically qualify for the World Cup and aren’t in the strongest 10 sides – playing in the Aviva Premiership:

USA

Despite being dwarfed by American Football, USA Rugby has a decent following in the States. They are in the Tier 2 bracket along with the likes of Samoa and Tonga but don’t have such a big following. They have two players in the Aviva Premiership, with Flanker Samu Manoa at Northampton Saints and Fullback Chris Wyles at Saracens. Another Fullback, Blaine Scully, has recently been trialling with Leicester Tigers too and there could be three representatives of The Eagles in the league.

Canada

The Canucks have a similar following to the USA in terms of rugby, though with slightly more success in world cups – they managed to get to the quarter finals in the 1991 World Cup.  They are also in the Tier 2 bracket and regularly play against other second tier teams in the Pacific Nations Cup – the other four teams in the last tournament were Japan, Tonga, USA and Fiji, who ended up winning the cup. They are represented in the Aviva Premiership by Sales Sharks Centre Phil Mackenzie and Jebb Sinclair, a Lock at London Irish.

Namibia

The Tier 3 side, with the catchy nickname of the Welwitschias, have been regulars at recent world cups, playing in them all from 1999 until 2011 – unfortunately, however, they have never won a game, with their best match points tally being minus 182. They are represented by just one player, Jacques Burger, who plays on the Back Row. Last season there was another Namibia player, Tinus du Plessis, at London Wasps. However, his name is not on either the Aviva Premiership website or Wasps websites, so his involvement this year is unclear.

Russia

Surprisingly, there are three Russian players in the Aviva Premiership. This may come as a shock given that the country’s only previous world cup experience was in 2011, where they didn’t win a game, and are currently trying to qualify for the next one in 2015. The Tier 3 side, nicknamed The Bears, have Vasily Artemyev, a winger playing for Northampton Saints, and Locks Kirill Kulemin and Andrei Ostrokov, both playing for Sale Sharks.

Do you know of any other players from smaller rugby countries plying their trade in the Aviva Premiership? Or maybe some examples of players in the lower leagues?

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