The brand new Gallagher Premiership rugby season will kick off on Friday when Bristol Bears entertain Saracens at Ashton Gate. Who can ever forget the thrilling climax to last season when Harlequins came from nowhere to clinch the Premiership crown. After an epic semi-final victory against Bristol, the Londoners went one better with another epic display to get the better of Exeter Chiefs.
After the final was played at Twickenham in June, barely 75 days have passed and we are ready to go again. Quins will be looking to defend their title, but will face strong challenges from Exeter, Bristol and Saracens who are back in the big time.
13 sides all after one aim
The West Country side with Stuart Hooper at the helm have had a relatively quiet summer. Two senior players have been recruited- Johannes Jonker and D’arcy Rae- with Danny Cipriani signed at the end of the previous campaign.
Losing Zach Mercer at 8 will take some replacing, but expect Bath to be a top six side this campaign.
Bears finished last season with a top four finish and making the knock out stage of the Heineken Champions Cup. However, the club missed out on a Premiership final after blowing a 28-0 lead at home to Quins in the semi-final.
Like Bath, Bears have also been very quiet with players in to the club. Only three have been added, Antoine Frisch from Rouen, Tom Whiteley from Saracens and Sam Jeffries.
Having finished top of the table, there isn’t a huge amount to fix. Question is would they have recovered from that defeat to Quins in the Premiership semi-final.
Expect Chiefs to once again mount a big challenge
Chiefs have long kept coming and goings to a bare minimum. This campaign is not surprisingly no different. Chiefs will be desperate to bounce back after their loss to Harlequins in the final. That defeat hurt the former Champions Cup holders.
If Sam Simmonds gets a call up from England after a successful tour with the Lions, that is a big hole to fill. However, as always you can count on Chiefs being the side to beat.
The serial under achievers in the Premiership have finished in the top half of the Premiership only once in the last nine seasons.
Among a flock of summer signings, one name sticks out. Scotland outside half Adam Hastings is DOR George Skivington’s major signing. The deal was completed in the early part of last season. Up front Gloucester have added Russian tight head prop Kirill Gotovstev.
If Gloucester want to make the top six then they have to take advantage of their opening round of fixtures- Northampton, Leicester and Worcester, all winnable matches.
Can Quins back up last seasons exploits?
Last seasons champions Quins came with an unreal ending to a season after a coaching reshuffle in January. Prior to this the Londoners back in December looked a long way off challenging for the title. Paul Gustard was removed of his duties with Adam Jones, Nick Evans and Jerry Flannery giving the reigns. The switch worked and the rest is just history.
The biggest and hardest task for Quins will be to repeat the same feat this campaign. The Stoop outfit have brought in Tabai Matson as chief coach, but overall nothing will change.
Biggest concern for Quins will be how many players will they loose to England duty. Last season they profited when Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant weren’t considered in Eddie Jones’s planes. For the forthcoming summer internationals, this may all change.
Harlequins will welcome back flanker Will Evans who missed the final weeks of the season through injury. Six players have been added to an already impressive squad, although they will still need to improve defensively, a major problem from last season.
Many a time last campaign Quins had to come from behind to snatch victory. It worked last season, but they won’t want to keep on falling behind in games.
Tigers looking to get back to their best
Under Steve Borthwick Tigers are beginning to get back to aide that other teams will fear. After flirting with relegation the appointment of Borthwick changed their fortunes and made them a stiffer side to dislodge easily.
Among their recruits ahead of the new season is South African flanker Marco van Staden, who featured in the recent Lions series. Prop Francois van Wyk has arrived from Northampton to join a squad of eight South Africans.
Ellis Genge has replaced Tom Youngs as captain. The prop was outstanding for England in the summer and will be a big boost to a Tigers side.
At one point last season Irish were on course for a top four finish before eventually finishing in the Challenge Cup places. The exiles have had a busy time during the summer recruiting with no less than nine signings added.
The recruits include three South Africans, prop Marcel van der Merwe, hooker Mike Willemse and outside half Benhard Janse van Rensburg.
Last season Irish were ahead in a lot of games but couldn’t close out wins. This campaign they will have to learn by this otherwise a season of struggle looms.
Falcons could prove surprise package
The Falcons finished last season in 10th place despite winning their opening three matches. Covid hit the North East club with three games called off, and they never recovered from this setback.
Falcons have made two big acquisitions with the signings of the former Harlequins pair of Mike Brown and Nathan Earle. Having lost their last seven matches on the road, a big improvement is required. If they can improve on their travels then Dean Richard’s side could be a surprise package.
Northampton have become a yo- yo side with results. One week looking good the next poor. They finished fifth last season and weren’t far away from the top four mix. A slow start didn’t help their changes with two bad defeats at the end of the campaign.
Saints have bolstered their squad with the signings of South African wing Courtnall Skosan, Fiji’s Frank Lomani and Stormers Juarno Augustus. However they have lost the excellent Harry Mallinder to a Japanese side which is a big blow.
Sharks look strong once again
Having survived the sudden departure of DOR Steve Diamond just two months into the campaign, Sharks finished in the top four after winning ten matches out of 11 before visiting Exeter on the final day- losing by a point.
Three players have been added to the squad- Tommy Taylor and Simon McIntyre from Wasps and Nick Schonert from Worcester.
In the absence of Faf de Klerk, scrum half Raffi Quirke should increase his game time. Expect Sale to once again figure in the end of season shake up.
After an absence of a year, Sarries are back. With Ben Earle, Max Malins and Alex Goode all return from loan spells. Saracens have signed USA scrum half Ruben de Haas and South African Ivan van Zyl.
The Premiership is a lot different to the one Sarries last played in. Then they were a shoe in for a top four finish but this time around the top four may take some shifting.
Wasps looking to improve from last season
After a brilliant 2019-20 season after making the Premiership final, last season will go down as a big disappointment. Hit hard by injuries to key players Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis and Alfie Barbeary, Wasps struggled.
Ten players have been added to the squad with nine moving in the opposite direction.
After finding themselves marooned at the bottom of the league last season with relegation not an issue, Warriors need to improve substantially. A major shake up has been happening at Sixways during the past few months with 20 players shifted out and 11 drafted in.
Two Lions, Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland have been signed along with four other international players. Worcester look considerably stronger on paper than last season. If they gel quickly they surely wont be relegation favourites.