Rugby Union: Global recruits signed by Best

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The Independent Online
DICK BEST, London Irish's English coach, has been on a recruitment drive barely seen since the days of Kitchener. At the last count the Irish had signed 19 new players, not so much from the Emerald Isle, but the southern hemisphere. From last season's squad, 23 have left the club.

Best pointed out that the Irish Rugby Football Union have put 120 players on contract, including a significant figure from London Irish. Best has signed the wing Simon Berridge and the flanker Jake Boer from Western Province, the scrum-half Kevin Putt and the lock Ryan Strudwick from Natal, and the prop Peter Rogers from Transvaal. From New Zealand he has brought Stephen Bachop, the former All Blacks stand-off, the full-back Jarrod Cunningham, the hooker Michael Howe, and from Australia, the flanker Rob Gallagher. He has also recruited from Bedford, Moseley, Coventry and London Scottish.

The recruitment did not end with a squad of full-time professionals. Andy Keast, the Quins coach, joins as coach to the backs and Geoff Huckstep as chief executive from Wasps.

However, the Exiles have suffered two blows: the loss of Lions lock Jeremy Davidson to Castres for an annual salary of pounds 230,000, and the local council's refusal to grant planning permission for the development of the ground. Sunbury's capacity is limited to 7,000 and the club need 10,000 to show a profit.

On Saturday the Irish play Wasps at Sunbury in a pre-Premiership friendly. Apart from giving Conor O'Shea, the Irish captain, a chance to get acquainted with his new team-mates, the match will be attended by leading referees. "We will use it to study and discuss the laws," Best said. "Assessors of referees will also be present and they are the people who hide in the corner with half a pint of bitter and who ruin rugby in this country."