Bay of Plenty's muted buildup to next month's ITM Cup national provincial rugby campaign has taken a significant and timely step forward with two high profile signatures.
Highlanders and Southland midfielder Kendrick Lynn has signed to play for the province, although he is primarily being viewed as a wing/fullback utility, while 29-year-old former Queensland Reds centre Mali Kefu has also been snapped up by the title aspirants for one season, hot on the heels of his older brother and former Wallaby Steve who played for the Steamers last year.
Lynn, 29, helped Southland to two Ranfurly Shield wins in his 61 games for the Stags, playing at centre in both victories over Canterbury, but said he was after a fresh challenge following a disappointing campaign with the Highlanders this year where he struggled to get any game time when he came back from a neck injury.
Kefu played a season for the Reds in 2003 but has been in France since 2004, with Toulon.
Lynn, who is from Waikato, had been looking overseas but Bay of Plenty heard he was available and jumped.
Steamers coach Kevin Schuler said yesterday he was surprised at the pace with which both players committed.
"It has all happened at very short notice - subsequent to us hearing he was available, we made contact but thought he'd take two or three weeks to think about it, yet he came back to us in a couple of days.
"Mali comes from a good family stable but signed at short notice, with our connection to him coming through his brother."
Schuler confirmed they had tentative talks with hulking All Blacks wing Hosea Gear, although the 28-year-old, who seems back in favour at national level, has not made a commitment yet to any ITM Cup team and is likely to be picked for the squad to play in the Rugby Championship, limiting his provincial availability.
"We've put an offer to him but have not heard back. He would be a strategic investment given he's highly likely to be an All Black (at the time of the ITM Cup). But if we did manage to get him for a cameo handful of games at no expense to us, it would be great."
Schuler pointed out the double backline signing should not be seen as a snub to the club players he and assistant John Walters had been looking at, with several also used in recent games for the Wasps XV.
But with fullback Toby Arnold (knee reconstruction) and wing Jason Hona (operations on both hips) sidelined, and former Steamers midfielder Brett Mather recovering from a broken leg after signing in the off-season, there were gaps that needed filling.
"The need for a genuine utility in the squad [Lynn] became very apparent and the fact is, we don't have a player locally we believe can be a starter across several positions. Someone like Lynn, who started his career at 10, played 15 and on the wing and more recently as a midfielder, who is available, was too good to ignore."
Schuler said it was significant that Bay of Plenty had contracted Kefu and Lynn to just the 2012 season.
"For me that's good. Short-term we've seen a gap and have two off-the-shelf, ready-to-go quality footballers. But we're still committed to guys we're bringing through our own system."