So new season is here and I’m looking forward to it with plenty of optimism. Why you might ask? Well if we look at the comparison to how last season started that might give some context.
2015/16 – England had just become the first nation to be knocked out of a home world cup in the group stages. 2016/17 – England have come off the back of their first ever series win in Australia and 3-0 as well. There has been the development and improvement of some fantastic home grown players, step forward Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley and Billy Vunipola.
2015/16 – The salary cap was lower. 2016/17 – so many marquee players have been signed! Kurtley Beale, Schalk Burger, Matt Toomua
2015/16 – Some teams were just starting their renaissance and by the end of the season Wasps had risen like Lazarus and offered us a sign of what was to come. 2016/17 – With so many teams improving and other teams looking to not repeat dismal seasons, Bath, it is really hard to predict the top 4.
So I hope that has whetted your appetite for the new season which starts tonight. Here is my run down of the teams and what we can expect from them.
Key Signing(s) – Todd Blackadder and Taulupe Faletau
Breakthrough Player – Jack Walker
After a dismal season last year they will be looking to put right numerous wrongs and in signing Faletau and Charteris they have added some much needed experience and quality to their pack which looked a bit hopeless at times last season. This should enable them to get the platform they need to allow their much vaunted backline the time and space to run teams ragged.
Key Signing(s) – Tusi Pisi, Jordan Crane
Breakthrough Player – Jack Tovey
Final back in the big time after seven years away. This sport mad city is expecting to turn out ~15000 people per game and will need all of their support if they want to avoid the drop after one year. They have bolstered the squad with top level experience in Crane, Pisi, Fisher and Bevington and will need all of the nous and grunt to battle for any points they can get their hands on. If Henson can get fit then they could prosper.
Key Signing(s) – Ollie Devoto
Breakthrough player – Sam Simmonds
They got so close last year and if it wasn’t for them being overawed in the first half of the final they could have won it to deny the mighty Sarries. Don’t count on them making the same mistake twice. They have made few signings as only tweaks are needed but expect Henry Slade to play like a man possessed after some of Eddie Jones’ harsh comments leading up to the season kicking off.
Key Signing(s) – Motu Matu’u
Breakthrough Player – Lewis Ludlow
A mixed bag last year, some highs but plenty of lows. The coaching team has been in place for a while now so they should have got their message across and the talk coming out of the club is they want to win the league and believe they can do it. I’m still to be convinced. Some early season consistency could make the top 4 a possibility though.
Key Signing(s) – Mark Reddish
Breakthrough player – Joe Marchant
Out with the old and in with the new for the coaching set up with John Kingston now taking the helm at the Stoop with Nick Easter and Graham Rowntree alongside him. Not for a want of trying they lacked a little grunt up front which made it hard for their back especially when Nick Evans was injured. By bringing in Rowntree I’m expecting some hardnosed forward play and this will see them push for the end of season playoffs.
Key Signing(s) – Matt Toomua, JP Pietersen
Breakthrough player(s) – Will Evans, Ellis Genge
Aaron Mauger got the back purring last year but they were not quite the finished product as they missed some key players due to injuries at key times. By getting out the cheque book and seeing Manu Tuilagi back they should be there or there abouts again this year. I can’t wait to see a back line of Youngs, Burns, Toomua, Tuilagi, Pietersen, Veinau and Tait turn on the jets this year. Expect plenty of tries!
Key Signing(s) – Vereniki Goneva, Opeti Fonua
Breakthrough player(s) – Zach Kibirige, Callum Chick
Escaped the drop due the the experience of Andy Goode last year and will need much more than that this year. Having Sinoti Sinoti back from injury and bringing in established performers like Goneva will certainly help. I still see them in the bottom two but making it much more comfortable for themselves this time round. Hopefully, youngsters like Chick will get some game time.
Key Signing – Louis Picamoles
Breakthrough player – Harry Mallinder
Close but no cigar last term and it was mainly due to them missing Samu Manoa, so step forward Louis Picamoles, one of the best ball carriers in the international game. With the go forward offered to the pack from him, Teimana Harrison and Coutney Lawes I’m expecting George North to score a hat load of tries and Saints to make the top 4.
Key Signing(s) – AJ MacGinty, Mike Phillips
Breakthrough player(s) – George Nott, Tom and Ben Curry
Every year it seems like they lose their best players, yet 3 out of the last 5 years they have made the top 6. With new owners in place promising investment hopefully this signals the start of a building phase for the Sharks. I think top 6 will be a stretch but I wouldn’t put anything past them especially with Josh Charnley coming over from rugby league part way through the season. We all know what happened last time Sale did this with a Wigan winger…..
Key Signing(s) – Schalk Burger, Alex Lozowski
Breakthrough player(s) – Nathan Earle, Savenaca Rawaca
Double winners in 2015/16 and champions in 2014/15. They are going for a treble / double double something which I believe has only been done by the legendary Wasps team of the late 90s. Their squad is still so young but has an almighty drive to succeed and put it on the line for their team mates. It is hard to look past them this year but without Charlie Hodgson steering the helm when Farrell is away there could be an opportunity for upsets.
Key Signing(s) – Tommy Taylor, Willie Le Roux
Breakthrough player(s) – Ehize Ehizode, Tom West
The move to Coventry has been fully justified, the wind is in their sails, the cheque book is out, the prodigal son has returned and they are putting themselves back into the big games. It’s the stuff of Hollywood! This is going to be an enormous year for them as the pressure to deliver is now back on them but with established international stars available and their variable hooking performance last year now sorted out with Tommy Taylor I wouldn’t put a double past them.
Key Signing(s) – Ben Te’o, Francois Hougaard
Breakthrough player – Ben Howard
They have recruited very smartly for this season with some big players coming in and adding direction and leadership in key positions, none more so than Francois Hougaard. He runs the show for them and puts them in the right areas of the field. A complete dynamo who is the player to stop, tie this in with the signing of Te’o and they could well surprise a few teams this season. But it is always hard to get off to a good start when your director of rugby leaves just before the season starts so probably bottom three again for them.