watson storms the uk

LONDON - Controversial South African flanker Luke Watson is among an impressive cast of southern hemisphere big names who are set to have a huge impact on the English Premiership season that starts today.

LONDON - Controversial South African flanker Luke Watson is among an impressive cast of southern hemisphere big names who are set to have a huge impact on the English Premiership season that starts today.

Steve Kefu, Schalk Brits, Carlos Spencer, Carl Hayman, Nick Evans, Rico Gear, Greg Somerville, Butch James and Sisaro Koyamaibole are among around 70 southern hemisphere internationals registered with Premiership clubs for the upcoming campaign.

England coach Martin Johnson has seen several Test players opt to play their club rugby in France, but it is far from one-way traffic as the English game welcomes a host of imports.

Watson, capped 10 times by his country, will join Bath in November from Western Province, having admitted further Test honours are on the backburner for the time being.

The back rower's career has been mired in controversy since he was forced into the national side by the South Africa Rugby Union in 2007, against the wishes of then-coach Jake White, and Watson says he is still not happy with the rugby environment in his homeland.

But fellow South African, Bath captain Michael Claassens, is welcoming Watson to the Recreation Ground with open arms.

"I think he is going to be a big boost for the club," Claassens said. "He is not only a class player but he is a great leader on and off the field. He leads by example and what he said was taken out of proportion."

Bath had an eventful pre-season, with four players leaving the club over lurid drugs allegations. But this could not dissuade the 25-year-old Watson from joining the club.

"I'm a very clean-living guy," Watson insisted. "I don't touch alcohol or anything and I think that helped with Bath's decision."

Brits, a 28-year-old hooker, joins Saracens from the Stormers.

It is clear the imports will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the English season. - Sapa-AFP

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