These are the ones to watch for
With the Premiership season nearly upon us, there is a lot of talent to be excited about. I’ve picked out a player from each club that I think will have fans on the edge of their seats in 2017-18.
BATH – SAM UNDERHILL
Not too many forwards make my selection but Sam Underhill gets the nod because he is a very talented player whose return to England has been hyped up for some time. Is he the guy to finally put the England openside debate to bed? James Haskell has done a brilliant job but Underhill is a specialist with age on his side. Ball in hand he is strong and has good footwork and links up play well, but he can also do the dog work and win turnovers. Will be fascinating to watch him develop under the England coaches.
EXETER CHIEFS – HENRY SLADE
I am a bit of a closet Slade fan to be fair – ever since I played against him during my first year at Wasps and he schooled me. His ball skills are top drawer and some of the touches he has are out of this world. Every time he gets the ball, he tries to make something happen. The thing that excites me is whether we’ll find out this year if he is going to play 10 full-time or concentrate on playing centre? I’d recommend the latter.
GLOUCESTER – JASON WOODWARD
An exciting player in what is an average squad in my book. Played exceptionally well at times last year in a heavily beaten Bristol team. Always seems to find space in front of him and has the pace to exploit it. Gloucester will need his spark to excite the fans now Jonny May has gone to Leicester.
HARLEQUINS – FRANCIS SAILI
A Kiwi centre from Munster similar in style to Toulon-bound All Black Malakai Fekitoa. I watched Saili a few times in the Pro12 and his footwork is unbelievable. He is quick and powerful with the ability to make something happen every time he touches the ball either through a line break or by attracting defenders to create space for others. It’ll be interesting to see if they decide to play him at 12 and Joe Marchant at 13 or Jamie Roberts at 12 and Saili at 13, because he can play both.
LEICESTER – MANU TUILAGI
Almost feels like a new signing because of his lack of game time over the last few years. Everyone wants to see Manu fit – other than maybe opposition defences – and dominating games with his physicality in attack and defence. His carries or fends or bone-crunching tackles are the things you remember from games and he has been sorely missed.
LONDON IRISH – JOE COKANASIGA
We haven’t seen the best of Napolioni Nalaga for a few years so I’m going to go with one of England’s young hotshots. The man they call “Big Joe” scored an absolute belter of a try against London Scottish in the Championship last year and I cannot wait to see him in the Premiership. Could give Irish X-factor they need to survive.
NEWCASTLE – SINOTI SINOTI
Newcastle have been firing more shots in attack under Dave Walder and a fitagain Sinoti Sinoti will only add considerably to their weaponry. He has had a rough ride with injuries but, from what I hear, he has had a great pre-season in terms of shaking off all those niggles. When fresh, he beats defenders with pace and footwork; when tired, he uses his strength to bounce off them.
NORTHAMPTON – PIERS FRANCIS
A jaw injury in pre-season may delay his Premiership career but it should be worth the wait. I was really impressed with his all-round game in Argentina. It’ll be intriguing to see if Saints want him to spark their back-line at 10 or at 12 where he played for England. Seems to have everything in his locker to be a success in the Northern Hemisphere after making his name in Super Rugby.
SALE SHARKS – FAF DE KLERK
Blond hair makes him look even more explosive when he makes those little breaks around the edges and sucks in defenders before offloading. The hard thing for him will be getting used to playing on softer pitches. He’ll soon find the AJ Bell in winter is a bit different to Jo’burg. Sale fans have been well-blessed at No.9 with Peter Stringer and Mike Phillip. Faf will offer something different again.
SARACENS – LIAM WILLIAMS
The man with the mesmerising bow legs. I can’t wait to see him in the Premiership week-in week-out. Written off before the Lions tour but he had a blinder against the Chiefs and went on to prove he is world-class. Alex Goode has had the run at full-back recently so it’ll be interesting to see if Liam plays there or on the wing.
WASPS – CHRISTIAN WADE
An obvious pick but if you could choose anyone to illustrate the term “crowd-pleaser”, he would be it. Ball in hand and going forward, he is something else. Christian is just electric in terms of pace and his ability to finish in tight spaces is probably unrivalled although Denny Solomona is threatening to give him a run for his money.
WORCESTER – FRANCOIS HOUGAARD
Worcester’s only world-class player. Fast and strong – the physical attributes I’d have loved to have had! Makes scintillating breaks from nine but can be physical as well – a real feisty competitor. Worcester tend to need him to save the day as they are normally in a relegation battle by the time he arrives from his international commitments.
“Christian is just electric in terms of pace and his ability to finish in tight spaces”
Crowd pleaser: Wasps wing Christian Wade