The Rugby Hokey Cokey

Back in November it was announced that Gloucester Rugby had signed flanker/number 8 Carl Fearns onto a 3-year contract ahead of next season. Being a Gloucester fan, I was thrilled by this news as he is a physical player who had been getting great reviews for his performances in the Top 14 with Lyon. However in recent weeks there have been rumours that his move may be off and that he will instead be re-signing with Lyon for next season.

What we know at the moment is that Lyon have approached Gloucester about allowing him to stay in France, but that Gloucester have so far stood their ground and made clear they are not willing to accept financial compensation in order to release him from the contract he has signed. While I certainly hope that Fearns does move to Gloucester this summer, I thought that it was worth taking a look at the situation and what could be affecting the relevant parties’ decisions.

 

Why do both teams want him?

At 27 years old, with no senior England caps to his name and having moved to a team in the French second tier after losing his place in the Bath team to Sam Burgess, Fearns may not immediately look like a player teams should be so determined to have, but there is much more to him than that history suggests. When Fearns left Bath, they had great strength in the back row and even though he frequently performed at a high level, his performances often went under the radar with the impressive Francois Louw at 7 and the media fawning over Sam Burgess. Given a chance at Lyon, he has been able to show his true quality, being named Supporter’s Player of the Season as they won promotion last season. This year he has continued to impress, having carried the ball considerably more than any other forward in the Top 14 and also being the top scoring forward with 7 tries, which also puts him joint 7th overall in the league try scoring table. England boss Eddie Jones has apparently been interested in him returning to England – making him eligible for the national team – and Lyon’s consultant coach Dave Ellis has also suggested he should be considered for a Lions spot this summer.

Why come to Gloucester?

When Gloucester broke the news for Fearns signing, he was quoted as recognising Gloucester’s history as a powerhouse in English rugby. That may not have been the case in recent seasons but they have still often been competitive against top opposition and simply struggled with their consistency through the whole season. With the potential investment from Mohed Altrad, alongside the appointment of Johan Ackermann as Head Coach from next season, there is renewed optimism that Gloucester could get back to fighting for the playoffs in 2018. There is also good enough depth in the back row for Fearns to have to fight for a place, but at the same time he would also be expected to make the starting XV when Gloucester put out their best team. Having played for local rivals Bath for a number of years, Fearns will also be well aware of the passion that fans have for rugby in the South West and will be familiar with the impact the fans in the Shed can have on a match at Kingsholm. Most importantly if Fearns harbours international aspirations, he will be playing in England so would be available for selection by Eddie Jones.

Why stay at Lyon?

Even though Fearns will be used to the Premiership from his time at the Rec, there is no guarantee that he will be able to transfer his form from Lyon to Gloucester. It may be that his style of play is perfectly suited to Lyon’s game plan but not to the cherry and whites, however I find this unlikely due to Gloucester having a number of physical back rowers in their squad this year – Ross Moriarty, Ben Morgan and Sione Kalamafoni – as well as blonde-haired wrecking ball Richard Hibbard at hooker. It could unfortunately be argued that it is hard to make the England squad when playing for Gloucester, with Matt Kvesic unable to make Eddie Jones’ match day squads despite rave reviews from almost everyone last season. Jonny May (when fit) has been the only regular in the England Elite Player Squad since the Australian took over, with Ben Morgan having fallen behind Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Josh Beaumont in the pecking order. Hopefully, Gloucester’s attractiveness to England selectors will increase if they become more competitive under Ackermann, but as there has been little improvement in results over the last 3 seasons, there can be no guarantee of this.

It is possible that the U-turn may not even be for purely rugby reasons. Top 14 clubs are well-known for offering big money to entice players, it could be that they are offering a much more lucrative contract than Gloucester can. It may even be that the decision may be for family reasons, as he may have decided that he does not want to uproot his family so soon after 2 years in Lyon.

 

This is all purely speculation at the moment, as far as I have seen there have been no comments from Carl Fearns confirming whether he wants to come to Gloucester or stay in Lyon for the next year, though it would be great if we could get some clarity from him.

As a Gloucester fan, I want Carl Fearns at the club next year as I feel that he will be a real asset. As an England fan I also want him back in the Premiership so that he can at least be considered for the national team. However, if he wants to stay at Lyon then I would rather he did, as I would prefer players who are 100% committed to the club and the compensation from Lyon could benefit the club in their search for a replacement… Sergio Parisse perhaps if rumours are to be believed.

 

What are your thoughts on the whole saga? Gloucester fans: would you rather Fearns or the compensation? Which club would you choose if given the chance? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

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