After weeks of speculation over possible new signings, Friday morning saw Sale announce the first two of potentially seven (!) new arrivals in the form of Juandre Kruger and Kieran Longbottom.
Kruger, 30, is the South African lock Dimes first revealed he was courting back in January and will join the club next season from Racing Metro 92. Capped 17 times for the Springboks since 2012, Kruger’s arrival will see him reunite with Steve Diamond (who first brought him to England in 2008 whilst serving as Northampton’s director of player recruitment) and another Parisian alumni, Brian Mujati, who he played with at both Saints and Racing.
Longbottom, also 30, meanwhile has signed from reigning Premiership champions Saracens. The Australian-cum-English tighthead first arrived in England back in 2014 from Western Force and will serve as a ready-made replacement for Vadim Cobilas who is leaving Sale for Bordeaux at the end of the season. Although predominately a tighthead, Longbottom can also prop down as a loosehead.
If I was skeptical before of the ‘challenging for top four’ rhetoric that has been repeated ad nauseum from the club in recent weeks and months, the announcement of Kruger and Longbottom now has me completely buying into the vision Steve Diamond and co. have created to further the club in the coming years.
Kruger and Longbottom are fantastic signings, especially considering they have both been lured away from two of world rugby’s wealthiest sides. The pair’s recruitment suggests Diamond has been able to sell both on an ambitious plan for the Sharks’ immediate and long-term future rather than simply an enlarged pay packet, a move which bodes well for a Sale team currently stuck in a pattern of mid-table respectability and that apparently have at least three more new signings to announce.
Juandre Kruger is probably the biggest signing Sale have made since Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray back in 2012. An esteemed Southern Hemisphere international, Kurger will be immediately earmarked as the Sharks’ first choice lock and will partner up with Bryn Evans to create arguably the most formidable engine room pairing in the Premiership not named Maro and George. Kruger’s superb ball-carrying skills and surprising turn of pace, lineout expertise, and wealth of experience and nous having played in all of three of the modern game’s biggest leagues will work perfectly in tandem with Bryn Evans, who, despite being a technically excellent lock who has been Sale’s most impressive performer this season, lacks the dynamic ball-playing skills that separate the game’s elite from the greats. Kruger will fit in perfectly alongside the Kiwi.
Longbottom meanwhile is far more than simply the backup to Mujati and mentor to Ciaran Parker many Sale fans were expecting to sign to replace the leaving Cobilas next season. A steady operator in the loose and a technically excellent scrummager, Longbottom will give Sale the genuine competition at the tighthead position they thought they were losing with Cobilas’ departure, plus the prop also offers the added bonus of EQP status to help boost the RFU contribution to the club’s coffers. Longbottom’s signing is not without some risk – due to a nasty foot injury he has only featured a handful of times for Saracens this season – but with that malady set to be completely healed before next season, fans can be excited about the arrival of a prop who was being touted for potential England selection before last year’s World Cup.
With Kruger and Longbottom joining Rob Webber and Laurence Pearce as members of Sale’s forwards corps for next season, it would be logical to think Diamond’s forwards recruitment may now be over. With both the BBC’s Nathan Middleton and the Manchester Evening News’ Neil Leigh reporting at least three more deals are set to be announced soon, could next week see the arrival of reinforcements for the Sharks’ backline?
Lewis Hughes doesn’t know whether he’s more excited by the arrival of Juandre Kruger or Kieran Longbottom. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.