Sale Sharks were dealt a bitter blow to their pre-season preparations on Thursday with the announcement that South African lock Juandre Kruger will no longer be joining the club for the 2016-17 season.
Kruger is instead expected to join Toulon.
First and foremost this is a massive loss for Sale. Arguably their highest profile signing for a number of seasons, Kruger, capped seventeen times by South Africa, would have brought a wealth of experience, ballast and ball-playing ability to the Sharks scrum and was expected to slot in next to Bryn Evans as the first choice lock pairing.
Sale will obviously now need to find another lock ahead of the new season. Despite the success enjoyed by the Sharks last with only three locks (Evans, Mills and Ostrikov) there is no doubting that it was an incredibly risky chance to take, one that would have left Sale incredibly vulnerable had any of the three gone down with a serious injury.
Although George Nott and Josh Beaumont can both feasibly cover lock, Kruger's signing was indicative that the Sharks coaching brass see both of their long-term futures in the backrow rather than the second row.
One name that immediately came to mind as a Kruger 'replacement' could be Matt Symons at London Irish. Symons came over last season from the Chiefs to much fanfare and despite a disappointing season in Reading is still highly rated in global rugby circles. A player of Symons quality is, quite frankly, too good to be plying his trade in the Championship next season, and rumours of a move to Wasps, despite having stalled, suggest he is interested in a move back to the Premiership.
But one thing I do want to stress is that whilst, understandably, the immediate reaction to Kruger's sudden u-turn has been a combination of anger and disappointment we shouldn't be too quick to criticise Kruger.
'Family reasons' is a blanket term that doesn't reveal anything significant about the motivations behind Kruger's sudden change of heart, and with a move to Toulon apparently now imminent it's only natural to draw a conclusion - as many have been doing - that Kruger (and his family)'s minds have been turned by a late contract offer well in excess of what Sale could offer.
But 'family reasons' could also mean that Kruger and his family have been unable to buy a suitable home in the Greater Manchester area or that he hasn't been able to find places in local schools for his children.
Or it could be that when an offer from the south of France finally came in, Kruger had no qualms about reneging on his agreed deal with the Sharks.
The fact of the matter is we simply don't know the exact reasons why Juandre Kruger is no longer joining Sale and as disappointing as this news is we should be careful not to criticise too harshly until the full story finally comes out.
On a positive note, we can rest assured Dimes is already be on the lookout for a suitable replacement with the MEN reporting that early focus has switched to the Southern Hemisphere and Super Rugby.
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