The NSW Waratahs have prepared for the expected loss of Berrick Barnes by signing Queensland utility Jono Lance – the third back to leave the Reds after the Super Rugby season.
Lance’s defection, coming just after Wallabies and Reds winger Digby Ioane signed a mega-rich two-year deal in France, is expected to be announced by the Waratahs early next week.
The son of Canberra rugby league premiership back-rower Dean, Lance is understood to be looking for more opportunities to shine as a playmaker at five-eighth or inside centre.
The 22-year-old – hemmed in behind Quade Cooper, Ben Tapuai and Mike Harris at the Reds – appears a good fit for NSW with Barnes set to leave for Japan and current No.12 Rob Horne more of a direct ball-runner.
Lance has had little chance to show his ball-playing skills for Queensland, instead being used as a tackling fullback positioned in the front line to allow Cooper to counter-attack from the back in defence.
Lance started at No.15 in the Reds’ 2011 final triumph over the Crusaders and has also cemented his place there this year after a strong start to 2012 in the centres was ruined by a serious knee injury.
While Queensland have lost three outside backs in Lance, Ioane and winger-fullback Luke Morahan (Western Force), they remain well resourced with Wallabies winger Dom Shipperley, young gun Chris Feauai-Sautia, Rod Davies and Aidan Toua.
Harris and fellow utility Ben Lucas can also play fullback.
Queensland have continued to bolster their back-row stocks by signing Australian under-20 captain Curtis Browning to a two-year deal, a decision that signals the end of ageless Wallaby Radike Samo’s fairytale four-season stint at the Reds.
A blindside flanker or No.8, Browning made his Super Rugby debut off the bench in round six against the Bulls after developing his game at Ballymore beside starting back-rowers Liam Gill, Ed Quirk and Jake Schatz.
“Curtis has long been identified as a player of the future for the Reds and you can already see the improvements he has made this year,” said 2014 head coach Richard Graham.