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Sykes psyched to join Blues

Leinster have shown their future intentions by swooping for what coach Joe Schmidt called "strong additions" in Natal Sharks second row Steven Sykes, Canterbury Crusaders fly-half Matt Berquist and Connacht tight-head Jamie Hagan.

South African Sykes is a direct replacement for Scotland international Nathan Hines, who has been nothing short of magnificent for Leinster in his two seasons in the blue jersey.

Moreover, Sykes is looking to make a sound enough impression to attract the attention of Ireland coach Declan Kidney and his compatriot Gert Smal, the forwards coach. He has signed on for three years.

"For me, I believe it is a good career and personal move," said Sykes. "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 don't for one second want anyone to think I am unhappy here or unhappy at the Sharks; I love the Sharks! I have played over 130 games for the Union and loved every minute of it.

"However, I believe that it will be very good for my rugby to make the move and I am looking forward to the experience of playing in European conditions week-in and week-out, learning about their way of playing -- which I think will suit me".

Former Leinster Academy prop Jamie Hagan had to take the road west to Connacht to get the game time, the experience to develop in order to convince his eastern brethren he had the stuff to make an impact.

The recent news of Stan Wright's transfer to Stade Francais opened the door for Hagan's return as a fast-improving scrummager and able all-rounder.


He grew into the role as Connacht's first choice tight-head over the spread of two seasons.

Hagan has also signed a three-year contract which is evidence enough that Schmidt, forwards coach Jono Gibbes and scrum guru Greg Feek have seen proof of his durability and effectiveness.

The Balbriggan man will start as a second choice to Mike Ross in what is something of a gamble for him.

"I am delighted to be heading back home to Leinster and I am looking forward to the new challenges that I will face, to pushing on from my experience in Galway to make an impact when I return to Leinster in the summer," issued Hagan.

Canterbury Crusaders fly-half Matt Berquist, 27, has penned a one-year deal with a further option to extend. He is a wise head with club experience at Hawke's Bay, Otago, Auckland and, most recently, Canterbury.

"I have always been keen to test myself in Europe and the Magners League and Heineken Cup competitions will certainly provide a real challenge," he said.

"Leinster have a strong reputation in New Zealand and I am excited by the opportunity to test myself in a new environment."