My Premiership preview -  2017/18 season (or That Blog where I'm really, really wrong)

My Premiership preview - 2017/18 season (or That Blog where I'm really, really wrong)

The new premiership season is within touching distance! New faces, new coaches, the return of London Irish, it's gearing up to be another nailbiting, enthralling season in the English top flight!

As per usual, I will give a brief outlook on all the teams, key signings and players that will be missed, the en to watch, etc, then I will try to predict the final table and who the champions will be. As is also tradition, I will be massively wrong!

Bath

On the surface, Bath seem to have lost more talent than is coming in, with names like Ford, Denton, Freuan, Sisi and Bowden leaving for pastures new and Burns and Underhill being the only big name new faces, although the return of fan favorite Perenise is a fillip too. Bath are still being linked with several new signings so I don't think their squad is complete at this stage

Key men

The new signings of Freddie Burns and Sam Underhill both have international ambitions and will be looking to force their way into Eddie Jones England squad. With the likes of Rhys Priestland and Francois Louw already at the Rec, they will need to be at their best to do that, which is potentially great news for Bath and England

Will be missed

George Ford was often in his best form for his club, so is probably the key player leaving Bath, however, with Priestland and Burns in the squad, it should lessen the blow!

One to watch

Max Clark cemented himself in the Bath side towards the end of last season, he has classy running lines and is a great finisher, last season was his introduction, this season could well be his breakthrough!

Exeter Chiefs

Last seasons champions will be hoping to be able to defend their crown and announced their intentions by signing Matt Kvesic and Nic White, whereas the two standout names alone may not scream about a huge squad improvement, we all know that Rob Baxter is a shrewd operator with his signings and you can never bet against some of the lesser known names coming in becoming stars over the course of the season

Key men

Kvesic had an off key year last time out and if he can recover his scavenging best form, he will prove vital for the Chiefs this season, Henry Slade will be looking to force his way into international contention, everyone knows what he's capable of, so if he stays fit, he will be the key man in the Chiefs impressive backline

Will be missed

A guy that will be tough to replace is Geoff Parling. Even at the back end of a superb career, Parling is like a fourth back rower in the loose and his line out work is almost unrivalled, especially in defence!

One to watch

Nic White was once the heir apparent to Will Genia, but moved to Montpellier a couple of years ago and was impressive in his spell there. With the likes of Haydn Thomas and Dave Lewis leaving Sandy Park, Chiefs fans will be hoping White hits the ground running 

Gloucester

Sweeping changes on and off the pitch as new head coach Johan Ackermann looks to build a squad of grafters as he did with the Lions, many new faces in the pack seem to point at Glaws returning to their 'traditional' forward dominated game, with the impressive backs already at the club, this could be the start of the turnaround thats been long awaited by us shedheads! There's still a few rumoured signings in the pipeline that may get the Shed pulses racing!

Key Men

Ruan Ackermann has followed his dad to the 'Holm and has a blossoming reputation behind him, at just 21, he could prove to be part of a mighty back row with the likes of Ross Moriarty and Ben Morgan. In the backs, Owen Williams will carry the hopes of the fans on his shoulders, Gloucester need a high percentage kicker and a 10 that will dictate play, Williams is capable of both,

Will be missed 

Jonny May's move to the Tigers wasn't wholly well received by the Gloucester faithful, there are players to replace him on the pitch, but Jonny was a popular guy off the pitch and will certainly be missed by most!

One to watch

With the departure of Greig Laidlaw, the scrum half spot is a three way battle between Willi Heinz, Callum Braley and a yound Scotsman called Ben Vellacott. Vellacott is a player with humongous potential, he's quick, snipy and has a rocket pass. If he gets a chance, he'll shine!

Harlequins

Quins will be looking to improve on last seasons final position, but will have to do so without their talismanic number 10, Nick Evans, who has retired. No huge changes at the swoop, mostly youngsters signing or like for like replacements, but, for me, they've made one of the best signings of the season in Francis Saili from Munster.

Key men

Saili will be vital in the centres, his strength and fleet footed attacking could rip up Prem defences. The unenviable task of filling Nick Evans boots will go to Demetri Catrakilis, the South African has decent pedigree and is impressive off the tee, and with the likes of Roberts and Saili outside him, will play a key role in the Quins offence this season!

Will be missed

Evans is joined in retirement by Karl Dickson, who is reliable cover when Danny Care is away with England or unavailable, to lose one key half back is tough enough, but to lose 2 is difficult to replace in one go. 

One to watch

Joe Marchant will be hoping to grow his reputation yet again, already on the radar for England, he has tough competition to get a Quins starting berth, but he'll be able to learn from 2 incredible talents and he will relish the challenges this season will bring

Leicester Tigers

Some great business done by Tigers this summer, bringing in some new faces to the league, and some experienced Premiership players who have come in and will look to seamlessly replace the likes of Pieterson and Betham. Matt O'Connor has replaced the well liked Aaron Mauger at the helm and will hope a season of stability will return them to championship contention

Key Men

It almost seems like Tigers and Gloucester have been swapping players this summer, but in Tongan destroyer Sione Kalamafoni and England flyer Jonny May, Tigers will be happy with their end of the deals, added to another England international in George Ford, there's been some great business done.

Will be missed

It seems everyone that has left the Tigers were popular with the fans, the retired Marcos Ayerza will be irreplaceable, Ed Slater's leadership will be missed, Peter Betham's underrated and understated play in the backs will also be a blow.

One to watch

Telusa Veainu is always fun to watch. The Tongan back 3 player is exceptional on the front foot, and regularly lights up games with twinkle toed running. With support from the likes of Jonny May, he will be a lethal and vital part of the Tigers backline!

London Irish

Great to see the Exiles return to the top flight so quickly. They have moved to sign several impressive players to bolster the squad and with a few youngsters staking their claim as well, they will be hoping to maintain their top flight status and push for the top 6!

Key Men

Napolioni Nalaga. Scored tries for fun in Lyon colours. Will be a danger man all season long, as will his fellow winger, Joe Cokanasiga, who looks like he could be a world class winger. After terrorising Championship defences, he will be hoping to do the same to the Prremiership sides!

Will be missed

Darren Allison has moved on to Bath, and is arguably the biggest name leaving Irish this summer, alongside Luke Narraway who's moving to Coventry. As in Coventry Coventry, not Wasps Coventry.

Newcastle Falcons

Some of the best business this summer has been done at Newcastle. Toby Flood has gone back to his roots, Maxime Mermoz, DTH van der Merwe, Josh and Joel Matavesi..... Impresssive stuff from last seasons surprise package (and yep. the team I stupidly wrote off as relegation fodder) The potential in the Falcons squad now is mighty, if they gel and start well, top 6 is a definite possibility

Key Men

Toby Flood has ambitions of returning to international rugby, albeit with Germany, due to some loophole in the laws, he will certainly look to come back with a bang, and he certainly has the skills to do so! DTH van der Merwe has scored tries wherever he's played, if the Falcons can get him in space, that won't change in the Premiership

Will be missed

Tom Catterick retired young, and he had absolute tons of potential that will remain untapped, I was gutted when I saw he'd retired as he was great to watch as a neutral!

One to watch

The man so good they named him twice, Sinoti Sinoti, he was hampered with injury last season, but we've already seen what he's capable of and he is a true human highlight reel

Northampton Saints

Saints have more outs than ins this season, which may be a concern going forward, they still have the weighty task of replacing Louis Picamoles after reportedly failing in several bids for Ross Moriarty, but some off the new faces seem to be quite decent and I don't think there are any huge fears for the Saints​, although in a congested mid-table, they may not make the top 6

Key Men

I'm sure I saw that Piers Francis, who was so impressive for England in Argentina, will miss the start of the season, but I'm really intrigued to see hope he fares in the Premiership as he looks like he could be 'the real deal!' Francis will link with impressive Aussie, Rob Horne in what could be a great partnership

Will be missed

Louis Picamoles is pretty irreplaceable, right, not just his control at scrums, or his hard yards, but for the offloads and link play he provided. His loss will leave a bad taste in the mouths of Saints fans as they have lost a truly world class player.

One to watch

The continuation of Harry Mallinders development is always good to watch, another big step up this season could see him break the England squad

Sale Sharks

Dimes is putting together a great set of youngsters to blend with some quality experienced players, they also have another couple of what I think are the best signings of the season in Faf de Klerk and Josh Strauss. With the emergence of the Curry twins and Denny Solomona last time out, Sharks are starting to look really good!

Key men

For sure de Klerk will be a key cog for the Sharks, and with the impressive firepower that Sale have out wide, if he can get things moving, they'll get results. We've seen what Denny can do, but the likes of Haley, Addison and Charnley will be chomping at the bit this season! Can't forget about James O'Connor either!

Will be missed

Peter Stringer and Mike Phillips. Vital experience in the 9 jersey has been lost, Faf is a great 9, but the guys that have left will have left a huge shadow!

One to watch

I'll cheat here....the Curry twins. An absolute dream for a coach, a great flanker and a genetic clone! Made their impressions on the league last season, but double trouble will be a handful this season aa well!

Saracens

Sarries will be desperate to reclaim 'their' crown this time out, they have strengthened and replaced where it's been needed and have terrific youngsters coming through as well, they'll be ultra dangerous this season! 

Key men

Obviously Maro Itoje, and obviously Owen Farrell, no need to write much about them as I'm certain you know about them! Add in Lions test player Liam Williams to replace Chris Ashton and Christopher Tolofua in the engine room and it's plainly obvious this is still a world class Saracens squad!

Will be missed

Ashton's try scoring exploits will definitely be missed, but also the loss of Scottish duo Kelly Brown and Jim Hamilton will remove some of the heart and soul of the off-field ethos. Also Will Fraser, who's just been forced to retire at just 27 years old!

One to watch

Nick Isiekwe is hyped as the new Maro Itoje, and he had some top performances in the LV and even got on the England tour to Argentina, he will be looking to usurp Maro, Kruis or Skelton and get himself a run in the squad 

Wasps

The runners up last season will be looking for an improvement this season, Juan de Jongh is the biggest signing, but Wasps have been strangely quiet in the 'big signing' stakes this season, seemingly linked with every player under the sun, they've kept faith with what is largely last seasons squad.

Key Men 

Jimmy Gopperth was outstanding last term, and Wasps will be hoping his renaissance can continue this season. Obviously, Christian Wade and his expertise in finishing will be crucial to Wasps again this season as well.

Will be missed

Kurtley Beale, Frank Halai and Alapati Leiua were solid options for Wasps, de Jongh is a way to go as replacement, but the backs seem a little lighter in numbers than in previous seasons

One to watch

Whereas Wade grabs the headlines, Josh Bassett chips in with plenty of tries and assists himself, hopefully he can escape the shadows of Wade and start to make himself a household name

Worcester Warriors

Plenty of outs and not many ins so far for the Warriors, Denton and Stringer being the biggest names, however, the losses for me outstrip the players coming in, and I think it may be a tough season for the Sixways side. 

Key Men

Some great players in the Warriors backline, Ben Te'o was a vital name to keep, Wynand Olivier is a great foil for him, and some experienced players like Stringer, Mills, Pennell will be looking to spark games to life.

Will be missed

Oh boy, Val Rapava-Ruskin, Phil Dowson and Cooper Vuna are the names that scream out, but also the likes of Andy Short, Chris Vui, Ryan Lamb and Tevita Cavubati are all big losses to the squad.

One to watch

Dave Denton didn't have the greatest spell at Bath and will be looking to stay fit and repair his reputation at Sixways. When he's on form, he's a quality 8, and for the benefit of the Premiership, I hope he can recover his previous form before injuries and lack of game time affected him.

 

 

So now....the fun bit!

Ok. so now I pick how I think the final table will look, offend several sets of fans and end up getting it wrong and looking stupid!

1- Saracens. I just think they have signed incredibly well and think they're stronger than last season.

2 - Exeter. Always difficult to beat and some good signings made. Will be up at the top and hoping to defend the title! 

3 - Wasps. Unless there are more signings upcoming, I think they look light in numbers, especially during international periods.

4 - Leicester. Very strong back line and an above average pack. Leicester find ways to win and the new look side has a great balance to it

5 - Bath. Another side I feel are a couple of signings away from completion, will be a tough team to beat, but I think they may fall short of the playoffs

6 - Harlequins. I like the look of the squad, and if they aren't cursed with injury again, they should be fine!

7 - Northampton - Home form should see them clear of any real danger and secure a handy mid table finish

8 - Newcastle - Awesome backline, good set of forwards, if they keep the squad healthy, I think they'll be a surprise package again!

9- Gloucester - Lots of change this season, I think they'll possibly start slow, but once they've gelled, will keep themselves safe

10 - Sale - Nothing wrong at Sale at all, but with plenty of similar squad strengths this season, they drew my short straw!

11 - London Irish - The new boys for me JUST edge the Warriors squad in quality, it'll be a tight affair, but I think the Exiles pip them

12 - Worcester - Too much change at the Warriors and the quality lost isn't the same as whats come in,in my opinion,  but don't despair because - a) I'm always wrong and b)usually whoever I tip to go down does the double over Gloucester!

Taking my opinion out of the equation, I genuinely feel that from 6th to 12th is SO close, any side having a bad spell could find themselves doomed. The Premiership looks to be splitting into 2 distinct leagues within a league, the top 5 or 6 seem to be a little way ahead of the rest, but not so far apart that upsets can't happen. Certainly sides like Quins, Saints, Sale, Glaws and Falcons could all find themselves moving up the table if they can either pick up a signing or 2 or if the new signings they have gel quickly enough, and the sides I have in the bottom 2  can certainly be mid table,look at the Falcons example last season,they proved big names aren't always a guarantee of success and that hard work and team ethos can get results!