While domestic fixture schedules continue to clash with Test windows, the Holy Grail of Premiership recruitment is landing an international-class player who somehow avoids being picked for international duty. In that respect, André Esterhuizen is something of a unicorn.
The 27-year-old may well be the world’s best inside centre at the moment. Marrying power with sharp passing and disruptive defence, he has plundered three consecutive man-of-the-match awards for Harlequins.
Esterhuizen has been all the more valuable for his availability, notwithstanding two suspensions last season. South Africa have deemed him to be surplus to requirements since the last of his eight caps, which came in August 2019. Damian de Allende – one of very few centres as effective as Esterhuizen at the breakdown – remains first choice for the Springboks.
Paul Gustard, the former head of rugby at Harlequins, deserves immense credit for acquiring Esterhuizen. Another of Gustard’s midfield signings was Luke Northmore, a relatively low-key pick-up from Cardiff Metropolitan University. Two and a half years on from joining Harlequins, Northmore is thriving among more widely-known backs such as Esterhuizen, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant.
On Saturday, in a gripping repeat of last season’s Premiership final, the Devonian helped his club to sink Exeter Chiefs again. It is understood that the England coaches are fond of Northmore and have been in contact. Three of them, including attack guru Martin Gleeson, were watching from the stands this weekend.
Eddie Jones has charged Gleeson with enhancing England’s attacking repertoire from lineouts and in kicking exchanges. That is a good place to start. Six days prior to Harlequins’ 14-12 win over Exeter, Harlequins launched a two-phase set-piece strike against Gloucester at Kingsholm that ended with Northmore scoring a fine solo try. First, watch it through: