Rugby joins in the January transfer madness

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Rugby joins in the January transfer madness
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Billy Vunipola has agreed a move to Saracens next year

Supposedly, there's no such thing as a transfer window in rugby. Players come to the end of their contracts, and can be signed at any time during the season.

So with the business end of the campaign fast approaching, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that several stars of the Aviva Premiership have announced that they will be plying their trade elsewhere next year.

Saracens announced the signings of two giant men, James Johnston from Harlequins and Billy Vunipola from London Wasps. At first glance, there are obvious motives for both of these players to move to the fez-heads.

John Smit and Carlos Nieto are leaving at the end of the season so there are spaces to be filled in the front row and Vunipola has his brother already playing there which was surely a big factor in his decision to move.

But there are arguments to say they would be better off continuing at their current clubs.

For Johnston, it seems an odd move to leave the current champions who are lauded by the media for their attacking verve and free flowing rugby. Granted, he is a front row forward and 'attacking verve' is not likely to be a phrase he is familiar with, but it's not like he is moving for the glory, either.

Leaving the current champions to move to a team who have scored the fewest tries in the Premiership confirms as much.

Perhaps the sourest note of this saga was brought up by Conor O'Shea, Harlequins director of rugby. He wished his young charge Johnston well but was less than generous when discussing the club he was off to.

Apparently, there was no dialogue between the clubs prior to Saracens' announcement that they had signed him. You would have thought as rugby is supposedly 'the gentleman's game', that a quick phone call to O'Shea or Quins could have been made to save them having to hear about it in the same manner as the general public - via a press conference.

Arguably, Vunipola's move is more understandable. He is coming from Wasps, a team who have had a torrid couple of years. Having said that, they are looking a lot better this season on the pitch, and with a rumoured investor lined up to sort out their monetary problems, they could soon be in a better state off it too.

They have a core of quality youngsters, all of whom look like future internationals. He could have been the rock around which a new golden era was ushered in at the Wycombe-based club. Instead, he is moving to a club renowned for its rotation policy and fierce competition for places.

The likes of Ernst Joubert, Kelly Brown and Jackson Wray are unlikely to roll over without a fight. He may have the potential to be better than all of them, but for now, they are his direct competition.

Elsewhere, Alex Corbisiero has agreed a move to Northampton Saints. This is less of a puzzler as his current club London Irish are having an awful season and the Saints are losing their totemic loosehead Soane Tonga'uiha.

A great signing for the Saints and it will be interesting to see how the Exiles respond to this, especially with another England star, Jonathan Joseph, rumoured to be off to Bath.

It has been an exciting week for those rugby fans already looking ahead to next season. There may be no transfer window in rugby but in some ways that just adds to the intrigue when a flurry of transfers like this come along.

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