Some amazing talent has made the long journey to Europe from the southern hemisphere. Some of those have arrived with massive reputations, and sometimes they have not quite delivered for one reason or another. Others, however, have been unmitigated successes. They have become legends of European rugby. Examples of the calibre of player to have adorned these shores are legendary All Black outhalf Dan Carter, albeit for just one match for Perpignan. He was chosen as Man of the Match though in that game against the Leicester Tigers. Unfortunately for everyone in Europe he soon got injured and his little sabbatical in the northern hemisphere was brought to a premature end. South Africa's World Cup winning captain John Smit also had a spell in Europe where he briefly plyed his trade at Clermont Auvergne. The Top 14 side had a huge squad and in fact for the big games Smit often found himself behind the Argentinean Mario Ledesma in the pecking order, but he did make a few Heineken Cup appearances nonetheless. All Munster fans expected big things from Christian Cullen when he made the move to Thomond Park in 2003 but unfortunately a blight of injuries put paid to his stay, and the Paekakariki Express was merely a spectator when Anthony Foley lifted the Heineken Cup in 2006. His ex All Black teammate Jonah Lomu also appeared on the books at the Cardiff Blues and he played twice in the Heineken Cup for the Blues against Calvisano in 2006. They are just a few examples of the legends that have graced the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup in the last 15 years, but in truth there are dozens of New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, Argentineans and Pacific Islanders who would be worthy of mention.
It's been a difficult task an no doubt we have missed out a few, but this is our election of the 15 most influential southern hemisphere imports since the inception of the European Rugby Competitions fifteen years ago. (Courtesy of Emerald Rugby Magazine).
Felipe Contepomi (Bristol & Leinster via Argentina)
The Argentinean ace had an inauspicious beginning to his Leinster career following some bundled paperwork which meant he was ineligible to play for the province at first. Instead he lined up for Carlow initially and when he did eventually pull on the Leinster blue he found himself behind Kiwi David Holwell in the pecking order. Howell eventually departed though, leaving Leinster fans despairing. Within months they had practically forgotten Howell as Contepomi emerged from his shadow to become one of the best 10's in Europe. He will always be remembered in Dublin 4 for his exhilarating and abrasive play, even if his temperament did seem to let him down at times.
Now departed to Toulon, Dr. Phil will always remain a Leinster cult hero, and it was extremely unfortunate that he missed out on Leinster's greatest day in Murrayfield last May through injury, as his contribution to the cause certainly warranted that honour. He lies 6th in the all time point scoring chart in Heineken Cup history having scored 421 points in the colours of Bristol and Leinster.
Diego Dominguez (Milan & Stade Francais via Italy & Argentina)
OK, he played 74 times for Italy and scored an amazing 983 Test points for the Azzuri, but the little diminutive genius was of course a born and bred Argentinean, and in fact twice played for the Puma's before switching allegiances. He had toured Europe with Argentina in 1986, where he was back up to the legendary Hugo Porta. The European lifestyle was obviously to his liking as he remained in France before moving onto Milan. He debuted for Italy in 1991, for whom he was to play for 12 years, which encapsulated three World Cups. He moved to Stade Francais in 1997 and he was their playmaker in chief for seven years. He was the top points scorer in the history of the competition for a while with 645 points until he was surpassed by Ronan O'Gara, and then Stephen Jones. His greatest moment was almost the 2000 Heineken Cup Final at the Parc des Princes against Leicester. He scored a competition record 30 points in the final, but unfortunately for Diego and his Stade teammates Leicester scored 34 to beat them in the highest scoring final to date.
Butch James (Bath via South Africa)
The World Cup winning Springbok outhalf inspired Bath to win the 2008 Challenge Cup Final against Worcester at the Millennium Stadium on a scoreline of 24-16. He set the tone with a bit of rugby alchemy, by way of a beautifully disguised pass, to create a try for flanker Jonny Fa'amatuainu and Bath were on their way. He also kicked a late penalty, to make sure of the triumph, once regular kicker Olly Barkley was replaced. The currently injured James had made his debut for Bath earlier in that Challenge Cup campaign in a Man of the Match performance against Auch.
In James' other year at the Rec he played no small part in helping the English club top a difficult Pool containing European giants Toulouse, Glasgow and the Dragons.
While not a prolific goalkicker James was instrumental in bringing noticeable flair back to Bath's back play as he was able to unleash exciting runners like Banahan and Abendabon outside him.
ERC 15 (1995 - 2010)
A microsite dedicated to celebrating the 1st 15 years of European Club Rugby