Rugby fans have not been given much respite this summer. With England’s success in Australia in June and the introduction of rugby sevens to the Olympic schedule, followers of the game will certainly not have suffered withdrawal. Now we already have the return of the Aviva Premiership upon us, with the first games being played on September 2. It looks as though this season will be as voraciously contested as any other with England’s Mike Brown recently commenting that ‘in the Premiership now there are no easy games’. Without a doubt, all 12 teams face a tough season ahead, but will it be tougher for some than others? Here we take a look at each team and their prospects for the coming months.
Leicester have always been a difficult opponent
to face. Tigers are used to finishing in the top four and, under Head Coach Aaron Mauger, will look to continue this tradition. Helping them on this mission is loosehead prop Ellis Genge. The 21 year-old was part of the squad that travelled to Australia over the summer and Mauger believes he has great potential for the upcoming season.
Over the past few seasons, Gloucester have been playing to avoid relegation rather than competing for the top spots. It’s hard to see how they can improve much on last season’s 8th place finish.
The Falcons have clung on to their Premiership place, finishing in 11th for three seasons in a row. Having added to their collection of Tongan players with the signing of former Leicester back-row Opeti Fonua, they could fare better this season. Measuring 6 foot 5, weighing 135kg and with, according to Director of Rugby Dean Richards, a ‘very direct approach’, Fonua is an intimidating prospect for defences.
Saints were left feeling they had underachieved last year after failing to secure a place in the top four for the first time since 2009. England captain Dylan Hartley has assured that, despite talks of selection for the British and Irish Lions tour, his full focus is on Northampton pre-season training. Hopefully others are following his example; it would be a shame for the club’s performance to fall short of its potential for another season.
Sale have put in some middling performances over the past few years but they may well hope for a top four finish after recent signings. Centre Sam James and hooker Cameron Neild, both winners of Sale’s Young Player of the Season last year, have just re-signed with the club for four years. James shows great promise for the future after scoring seven tries in 24 appearances last season. Sharks boss Steve Diamond thinks it will not be long before England come calling for the 22 year-old. A new addition to the squad is USA fly-half AJ MacGinty, a player who is used to winning after his success with Connacht in Ireland last year.
This team returned to form last season to win the Premiership once more after a disappointing fourth place finish in 2015. With star player Maro Itoje, who hasn’t lost a match he has started in since May 2015, taking the title from Saracens will be no easy task.
Like Newcastle, Worcester are used to being precariously perched at the bottom of the table. It was recently announced that fullback Chris Pennell will miss the start of the season due to a neck injury; the last thing Warriors need if they are to avoid relegation again this year.
Another team that underperformed last season. However, with a new leadership team of Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson imported from New Zealand, the club may be able to replicate fellow South-Westerners Exeter’s success this time around.
Having once been in the play-offs for three successive seasons between 2012 and 2014, Quins have had a disappointing couple of years. This situation may not improve thanks to a new RFU-Premiership Rugby agreement which awards players who are part of the England Squad a ten-week off-season before the start of the new Premiership season. Players may also get a weekend off if they spend enough minutes on the pitch during the November Tests and Six Nations. This change is undoubtedly kinder on the players and better for our national side but will mean key Harlequins players such as Danny Care and Mike Brown may spend less time at The Stoop. This could push the club further down the table this season.
This is Bristol’s first foray into Premiership rugby since 2009. They had an almost flawless 2015/16 season to earn promotion. With recent signings including Jordan Crane from Leicester Tigers and USA centre Thretton Palamo from Saracens, it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their spot.
Under new captain Joe Launchbury, Wasps will be seeking to build on their solid third place finish of last season. As a loyal Wasps player since 2009, Launchbury has won 91 caps for the club and seems like the ideal man to lead the team to a place in the Premiership final. The only thing standing in his way could be fellow England International and former captain James Haskell’s absence for a large part of the Wasps’ season due to an injury he picked up playing for the country.
After a fantastic 2015-16 season, it is hard to see this extremely hard-working team settling for anything less than the top four. Recent signings include Ollie Devoto. The former Bath back hopes he will benefit from his time at the club as much as Henry Slade and Jack Nowell have. If Devoto follows in their footsteps he will prove to be a valuable addition to the squad; although Chiefs will have to make do without Nowell for the foreseeable future after the England wing recently underwent surgery on a thumb injury. Providing they can survive without Nowell for a while, Rob Baxter’s side may be able to go one better on last season’s performance and take the trophy home to Sandy Park.