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Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

New recruits add strength in depth for Leinster

Steven Sykes, Matt Berquist and Jamie Hagan have all agreed deals to join the province in the summer.
Mar 28th 2011, 6:29 PM 280 0

WE HAVEN’T EVEN reached the business end of the provincial rugby season but that hasn’t stopped Leinster bosses from engaging in a bit of forward-planning as they seek to enhance their prospects for next season.

Earlier this afternoon, the province announced a hat-trick of new signings with tight-head prop Jamie Hagan joining from Connacht while second row Steven Sykes and out-half Matt Berquist have been recruited from the Natal Sharks and the Canterbury Crusaders respectively.

Both Hagan and Sykes have committed to three year deals with their new club while Berquist has signed a one-year deal with the option for further extension. All three signings will be formally completed at the end of this season.

For Hagan, the move to Leinster is effectively a homecoming as the 23-year-old front row graduated from the Leinster Academy before transferring to provincial rivals Connacht in 2009.

The decision to move out west allowed Hagan to gain considerable playing experience and he became a regular feature on the province’s Magners League and Amlin Challenge Cup team-sheets. Speaking today, he paid tribute to those who had helped him develop his game over the last two years.

I am delighted to be heading back home to Leinster and I am looking forward to the new challenges that I will face.

Everyone in Connacht (particularly Eric Elwood and Dan McFarland) has been very good to me over the last few years and I’m looking forward to pushing on from my experience in Galway to make an impact when I return to Leinster in the summer.

For his new team-mates, Leinster represents pastures new rather than home.  ”I am delighted to join an ambitious club who are on the up, said Berquist, 27, who has been capped 21 times at Super 14/15 level. ”Leinster have a strong reputation in New Zealand and I am excited by the opportunity to test myself in a new environment.”

Though Sykes is focusing on the immediate challenge of adapting to European rugby, the 26-year-old is also conscious that his move from the Natal Sharks could enhance his international prospects. The second row represented South Africa at U19 level but has never been given a senior cap, making him eligible for an Irish call-up if he sees out the duration of his contract.

For me I believe it is a good career and personal move – I want to play international rugby and it would be a fantastic honour to play for Ireland as well if it came about.

Before any of that though I am really excited to play for Leinster. I really do believe it is the right move for me.

The announcement of next season’s new recruits once again emphasises Leinster’s ambition as the club enters a particularly difficult stretch of fixtures.

On Saturday evening they travel to Thomond Park for a Magners League tie against Munster, a game which will serve as intense preparation ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Leicester Tigers.

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Niall Kelly

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