Sarries for me but Leicester can surprise
“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
Exciting addition: Liam Williams
Dangerous: George Ford