London Irish have confirmed seven new additions for next season’s Aviva Premiership campaign, with a further three signings still to come.
As revealed in this week’s edition of The Irish World, the Exiles have moved quickly to announce their already confirmed player additions, with Italy back Luke McLean and Australia hooker Saia Fainga’a, Scotland loosehead Gordon Reid and Georgia back row Lasha Lomidze bringing further international pedigree to Nick Kennedy’s Exiles squad.
“I’m thrilled to have signed for London Irish, a club that has big ambitions and I’m excited to join up with my new teammates,” said McLean.
“The club has a top class coaching set-up headed up by Nick Kennedy, who coached the team to play some attractive rugby last season and hopefully I can add to that.”
Commenting on the new signings, London Irish Director of Rugby Nick Kennedy, said: “I’m delighted with the signing of Luke, who is a fantastic addition to the squad as we look to progress in the Premiership.
“His experience and calm head under pressure will serve us well and I’m looking forward to welcoming him to the club for the start of pre-season.
“Saia is a superb signing for us and has a stellar rugby playing CV, having played at the highest level for both club and country. He will intensify the competition for places in the front row and I’m intrigued to see what he can bring to the team.”
“In Gordon we have a very talented prop with considerable experience. He’s a winner with Glasgow and has underlined his burgeoning credentials on the international scene, so he will undoubtedly boost our options in the front-row.
“We have been tracking the progress of Lasha for some time and we are delighted to have signed him.
“Georgia has a very good reputation for producing strong, industrious forwards and Lasha fits into that mould. We are delighted that he has joined the club and he will be a solid addition to the squad.”
Saracens’ tighthead Petrus Du Plessis, prolific France Top 14 winger Napolioni Nalaga and Melbourne Rebels scrum-half Ben Meehan are the other confirmed new arrivals, with four more signings set to be announced on Monday (5 June).
“I played against him [Napolioni] in the Heineken Cup Final in 2013 and he was superb throughout the game. He’s improved his game year on year and has the try scoring ability, passion and determination to succeed in the Premiership,” added Kennedy.
“He’ll undoubtedly add firepower and a clinical edge to our backline with his uncompromising running game.
“Petrus adds to the experience that we currently have, but will also be important for the development of our young front rows coming through the ranks.
“Ben is a young, promising scrum-half who has demonstrated that he can cut it at the highest level in Super Rugby. He’s a clever scrum-half, with an excellent kicking game and he will push our other half-backs for a starting berth.”
The Exiles confirmed their return to the Premiership – a year after they were relegated from the top flight – with an 84-66 aggregate victory over Yorkshire Carnegie in the Championship final.
Who are London Irish’s new signings?
The versatile back, 29, who has Premiership experience and 89 Italy caps to his name, played in all of his country’s RBS 6 Nations matches this year.
Australian-born McLean made the switch to Italian side Calvisano the same year where he spent two seasons prior to his move to Pro12 side Treviso.
McLean enjoyed five seasons with Treviso during which time his international career went from strength to strength and in 2014 Sale Sharks came calling for his services. The fleet-footed back who can play at either full-back, wing or centre returned to Treviso in 2015.
Fainga’a, 30, made his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies in 2006 and had a two-year stint with the Canberra-based club, before moving to Queensland Reds where he spent seven seasons.
Signing for the Reds ahead of the 2009 season, Fainga’a’s impressive form led to his Test debut against Fiji the following year.
Fainga’a played a key role in Queensland’s 2011 Super Rugby title-winning season and featured prominently for the Wallabies at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. Capped 36 times by the Wallabies, he has represented Australia at every age group.
Petrus Du Plessis
Lifting the European Rugby Champions Cup twice and the Premiership Rugby title on three occasions, the 35-year-old tighthead adds vast experience to the Exiles’ pack.
The South African English qualified front-row joined Saracens in 2009 and has since made 158 appearances for the North London club.
Playing at Saracens under current Irish Technical Director Brendan Venter, Du Plessis’ final game for the Fez Boys was as a second half replacement in a 28-17 Champions Cup Final victory over Clermont Auvergne in May.
Nalaga, 31, who racked up 105 tries in 165 games during two stints with Clermont Auvergne, was a Heineken Cup Finalist in 2013 with the Yellow Army where his side were narrowly defeated 16-15 by Toulon at the Aviva Stadium.
The explosive flyer made the switch to Lyon in 2015 and scored 14 tries in 12 games in his first season.
Nalaga went on to contribute seven tries in 20 appearances for Lyon last term as the Stade de Gerland outfit narrowly missed out on a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup Play-off.
A Top 14 winner with Clermont in 2010, he was also the league’s top try scorer on three occasions.
Meehan, 24, began his professional career with NRL side Melbourne Storm before switching codes in 2013 when he signed for Queensland Reds’ Academy.
Capped four-times by Australia Under-20s, the Queenslander, who was nominated for the 2013 Australian Under-20s Player of the Year, moved to the Rebels a year later.
The 30-year-old loosehead joins from Glasgow Warriors where he made 109 appearances during which time he won the Pro12 title in the 2014/15 season.
The Ayrshire-born front-rower was a prominent figure for Scotland in this year’s Six Nations, and has been named in Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad for their summer Tour.
Lomidze, 24, who can play at either blindside flanker or No. 8, has played 25 times for Georgia including appearances at the 2015 World Cup where eventual winners New Zealand were their opponents in Pool C.
Born in Tiblisi, Lomidze began his career at French Top 14 side Montpellier in 2012 where he spent two seasons before making the move to Beziers.