Sar­ries for me but Le­ices­ter can sur­prise

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“Wasps will need Willie le Roux to fire on all cylin­ders if they are to chal­lenge. He has to have a big­ger im­pact on the team”

The com­pet­i­tive­ness of the Pre­mier­ship is what gets me ex­cited ev­ery year and this sea­son is no dif­fer­ent. It is a great league to watch and I am sure it is also highly en­joy­able for the play­ers to com­pete in.

Even teams like Ex­eter or Sara­cens know they can be turned over by any side at any given time. It might not be the case at home as much but def­i­nitely away from Sandy Park or Al­lianz Park.

The more suc­cess­ful you are the more the teams want to beat you and that’s why Sara­cens’ suc­cess over the past few years has been so in­cred­i­ble. They will be des­per­ate to re­claim their ti­tle this sea­son and I think they’ll do it as long as they don’t have any­thing dis­rupt­ing them.

They had a lot of dis­trac­tions go­ing into that semi-fi­nal at Ex­eter last sea­son with the Cham­pi­ons Cup fi­nal only the week be­fore and a lot of their play­ers find­ing out they had been se­lected for the Lions tour.

They’re usu­ally re­ally good at han­dling these things but it proved too much last sea­son and I see they are now wor­ried about los­ing play­ers next sea­son be­cause of wages.

There will be a lot of chat go­ing on about play­ers’ fu­ture in the com­ing months and other teams will be sniff­ing around for those play­ers. Ev­ery­thing I hear about their cul­ture is very good but we’ll see how strong it re­ally is this sea­son.

Billy Vu­nipola will be re­freshed af­ter miss­ing out on the Lions through in­jury and I can’t wait to see Will Skel­ton back in the Pre­mier­ship. That’s some weight and de­struc­tion to bring back af­ter his short stint last sea­son.

Liam Wil­liams is an­other ex­cit­ing ad­di­tion to their squad and I’m ex­pect­ing big things from him. I’m sure Wasps went af­ter him but the lure of liv­ing in Lon­don was too great to turn down.

Ben Spencer is a nice prospect at scrum-half and if he gets his chance I hon­estly see him push­ing Ben Youngs and Danny Care for Eng­land se­lec­tion. In the nicest pos­si­ble way, flanker Calum Clark doesn’t seem to fit the Sara­cens way of do­ing things and can get a lit­tle penalty-silly at times but I’m sure Mark McCall will sort him out. He’s a great coach who never grabs the lime­light. He just loves his job and does it re­ally well.

Say­ing all that, Ex­eter were de­served win­ners of the Pre­mier­ship. That semi­fi­nal was ac­tu­ally the first time I watched a game live at Sandy Park and what an ex­pe­ri­ence it was. It was like an old-fash­ioned at­mos­phere yet in­cred­i­bly friendly and in­clu­sive. There was a real feel­good factor around the ground for what was a nail-bit­ing game.

From that day the feel­ing was that it was go­ing to be Ex­eter’s sea­son even if Wasps gave them a good run in the fi­nal. Their suc­cess felt more like an en­tire club’s rather than just a team’s. They haven’t brought in house­hold names apart from a few Aussies and their suc­cess has come from home-grown tal­ents. The play­ers they sign are good play­ers but Rob Bax­ter is al­ways mak­ing sure they’ll fit in the club’s cul­ture.

For the first time in their his­tory, they will be the team ev­ery­one wants to beat and that’s a pres­sure they’re go­ing to have to live with. It will be a hard ti­tle to de­fend but from ev­ery­thing we have seen from them in re­cent years I’m sure they will be able to cope with it just fine.

Aussie Nic White is a very steady scrum-half who re­minds me of some­one like Peter Stringer and will do a good job rather than be a flashy player. Bax­ter will be hop­ing he can get some­thing out of Matt Kvesic that other teams haven’t been able to. He’s good over the ball but he needs to bal­ance risk and re­ward be­cause he gives away a lot of penal­ties.

Wasps will need Willie le Roux to fire on all cylin­ders if they are to chal­lenge. Kurt­ley Beale was sim­ply ex­tra­or­di­nary last sea­son, tak­ing over bril­liantly from Charles Pi­u­tau. We’re yet to see the best of Le Roux and I feel he has to have a big­ger im­pact on the team.

An­other area they need to im­prove on is the ag­gres­sion and ruth­less­ness of their pack. They’ll need to be as straight­for­ward as they can be flam­boy­ant if they want to go one step fur­ther.

They’ll be hop­ing Joe Launch­bury re­mains fit while Thomas Young con­tin­ues to im­prove at open­side and Danny Cipri­ani fi­nally finds the in­spi­ra­tion he should be de­liv­er­ing in his late 20s.

Weirdly, Le­ices­ter could be

the sur­prise pack­age and make the top four again. Apart from them­selve , I don’t think any­one be­lieved they could make it but if the for­wards can de­liver even 50 per cent of good ball to what looks like a world-class back­line they will be a force to be reckoned with

If you look at the ad­di­tion of Ge­orge Ford with the fit-again Matt Toomua and Manu Tuilagi in mid­field and the likes of Telusa Veainu and Jonny May in the back three there’s a lot of dam­age to be done.

Their pack is not as formidables it once was and Welford Road might not have the same aura. These will be he ques­tions they’ll have to an­swer.

So I don’t think the top four will change un­less the likes of Bath, Northamp­ton or Sale step up.

Bath are look­ing to redis­cover their spec­tac­u­lar 2014-15 form when they reached the fi­nal. We saw glimpse of it last sea­son but also too much poor play to think they can com­pete at the to

Todd Black­ad­der and Tabai Mat­son will be one year into their ten­ure so I’m look­ing for­ward to see how they got on. Fly-half Fred­die Burns is a great addi Un­der­hill­tion to the and squad An­thony along­side PereniseSam up

“Northamp­ton have been a sleep­ing gi­ant since win­ning in 2014 and they don’t seem to have re­placed Louis Pi­camoles”

front. The pack has un­der­per­formed and they need to give Burns good ball to feed the likes of Jonathan Joseph, An­thony Wat­son and Semesa Roko­duguni.

Northamp­ton have been a sleep­ing gi­ant since win­ning the Pre­mier­ship in 2014 and they don’t seem to have re­placed Louis Pi­camoles who was head and shoul­ders above ev­ery­one else last sea­son. Some­thing has got to hap­pen this sea­son or we’ll see some changes in the coach­ing rather than play­ing staff.

Sale pushed for the Cham­pi­ons Cup be­fore drop­ping off and they’ll be look­ing to re­turn to the top com­pe­ti­tion.

Glouces­ter don’t ap­pear to be a real threat any­more. They have lost too many times and teams don’t view King­sholm as a tough place to go any­more.

Ed Slater could prove a good sign­ing for them, adding the grunt up front they could re­ally do with. They need some­one to lead them and play so well that other play­ers are em­bar­rassed to play poorly along­side him. He could be that man given his con­sis­tency and he could bring the best out of some­one like Ben Morgan.

New­cas­tle have had some very good re­sults un­der Dean Richards and they will back them­selves to keep im­prov­ing while Har­lequins will be thrilled to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons Cup again. But there’s noth­ing dev­as­tat­ing about them and I can’t see how they’re go­ing to rip teams apart even if they have a very ta­lented young cen­tre in Joe Marchant.

That leaves us with Worces­ter and Lon­don Ir­ish fight­ing for rel­e­ga­tion. Gary Gold’s tac­tics kept the War­riors up last sea­son. It’s never go­ing to be flam­boy­ant rugby but it could pull them away from the rel­e­ga­tion fight and leave Ir­ish alone at the bot­tom.

Free Willie: Willie le Roux must fire for Wasps

Re­freshed: Billy Vu­nipola

Steady, not flashy: Nic White

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Ex­cit­ing ad­di­tion: Liam Wil­liams

Danger­ous: Ge­orge Ford

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