Big names arrive and old faces return in the new URC season

We have already gone in depth on the four Irish provinces (you can read our breakdowns of Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht here), but it’s been another busy summer of comings and goings across the BTK United Rugby Championship.

Some big names are returning to the URC, with others arriving to the league for the first time.

Here are some of the most exciting signings to keep an eye on across the rest of the league this season.

Eben Etzebeth (Sharks)

By some distance the most high-profile arrival to the URC this season, the Springbok legend returns to South Africa after three years in France with Toulon.

The towering lock provides even more ballast to a Sharks pack that already boasts Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas di Toit, Siya Kolisi and the exciting Vincent Tshituka who has joined from the Lions.

Having previously played for his home side Stormers, Etzebeth joins the Durban-based Sharks, who have been spending big recently, Carlu Sadie (Lions) and Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Sale) among those who have also arrived this summer.

Sean Everitt’s side couldn’t stitch those star names together last season, finishing fifth overall and third out of the four South African franchises, but the addition of Etzebeth could be a game-changing arrival both for the team and the league as a whole.


Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff)

Cardiff have made a big statement with their summer signings, with Wales legend Liam Williams swapping scarlet for blue, Thomas Young joining from Wasps, and Taulupe Faletau ending his six-year spell in England.

Faletau – who previously played for the Dragons – has been at Bath since the 2016/17 season, but has struggled with injury in recent seasons, featuring just eight times for the Premiership side in 2021/22.

In spite of those injuries, the 31-year-old has remained a vital player for both Wales and the British and Irish Lions, closing in on 100 Test caps.

Playing for Wales is reportedly one of Faletau’s main reasons for wanting to return home. While the back row has long passed the 60-cap threshold to be selected for Wales while playing outside the country, he has been unavailable for games in recent seasons which have fallen outside of the official Test window, which clubs are not obliged to release players for.

Alongside Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins and James Botham, Faletau adds even more depth to a strong Cardiff back row.


JJ Hanrahan (Dragons)

The well traveled Kerryman arrives in Newport this season, where he could thrive as the center of their attack.

Having departed Munster for a second time in 2021, Hanrahan spent last season at Clermont Auvergne in France where he was a regular in the team, playing 27 matches in all competitions.

However, his gametime this season would likely have been more limited due to the arrival of Anthony Belleau from Toulon, and Hanrahan now returns to the URC with the Dragons.

The 30-year-old has signed a long-term contract at Dean Ryan’s side, and if he can play the expressive rugby he’s known for, it could make the perennial strugglers an attractive watch.


Vaea Fifita (Scarlets)

The Scarlets look like being a long way short of their 2017 heyday when they bullied Leinster and Munster to win the Pro12 title.

Financially they haven’t been able to compete with the Irish sides in recent seasons, and as such have struggled to bring in the kind of high-profile that will get supporters into the stadium.

The signing of Vaea Fifita could bring a bit more excitement to Parc Y Scarlets, with the 11-cap All Black arriving from Wasps.

Capable of playing both lock and back row, Fifita featured 18 times for Wasps last season, having joined from the Hurricanes in Super Rugby.

Younger brother of Connacht second row Leva Fifita, the 30-year-old adds real power and speed to the Scarlets pack.


Marco van Staden (Bulls)

The powerful back row returns to Pretoria this season, having spent one year in the Premiership with the Leicester Tigers.

His spell at the Tigers was halted by concussion, and he didn’t feature for the club after December of last year having been stood down. But after being cleared to return, he has re-signed with his former side, and will form what looks like being a lethal back row alongside Marcell Coetzee and Elrigh Louw.

Van Staden was arguably the best Bulls player in the 2021 Rainbow Cup, leading the competition in both tackles and turnovers won, and that form saw him called into the Springbok setup, where he featured in two of the three Tests against the British and Irish Lions


Joseph Dweba (Stormers)

The defending champions lost two key players in the off-season, with full-back Warrick Gelant and winger Sergeal Peterson both departing.

Their most notable signing is that of Springbok hooker Joseph Dweba, who returns to South Africa from Bordeaux-Begles.

Having lost Bongi Mbonambi to the Sharks last year, the Stormers have looked light at hooker, and Dweba’s arrival completes an attractive front row of South African internationals alongside Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff.

Short and powerful at just 5ft 7in, Dweba has earned four caps for the Boks since making his debut in 2021.

He’s also no stranger to this competition, having impressed for the Cheetahs in the old Pro14 prior to his move to France in 2020.

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Watch live coverage of Cardiff v Munster and Zebre Parma v Leinster (17 September) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.

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