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News: It's Here! - Aviva Premiership Preview

By Western Wanderer
September 2 2016

With the new season only hours away, Western Wanderer (David to his mates), takes a look at the Aviva Premiership season ahead...








2015/16 was significantly influenced by the World Cup: not only did the season start six weeks late, but the cancellation of LV Cup led to greater demands on first team players – for most teams there was no downtime between October and April. This season players’ workloads can be managed better and there is potential for first teamers to rest, be fresher and perform at a higher level. There should also be more opportunities for academy players to show their abilities during the LV as well as for squad players to get valuable gametime.

The salary cap has increased by £1m and there are enhanced academy credits – whether this is improving the quality of teams or just inflating player wages is open to debate, but does narrow the gap with the Top 14 and open a chasm between the Premiership and the Pro 12, which is looking increasingly like the poor relation. Anyone putting money on the next Pro 12 winner of the European Champions Cup? Come on, speak up at the back?

Predictions can make fools of all of us which is made tougher by the many coaching changes. I cannot recall that number from one season to the next, but here goes:



Add Schalk Burger to replace namesake Jacques and Sean Maitland to an incredible first team who won the double last season. Loss of Hodgson’s control, attacking verve and fine goalkicking will be felt during international windows – Lozowski has much to live up to. The biggest challenge could be player burnout as many of their first team will be on England duty during LV breaks. No English team worked out how to beat them last season and can’t see that changing. Expect Itoje to be canonised by



Much comment has been made on recruitment of Matt Toomua and JP Pieterson, but the arrival of Genge gives Ayerza an apprentice and will allow the Argentinian some well-earned breaks - along with South African Cilliers at tight head. The Leicester pack had not been as fearsome as of old (conceding a hat-trick of scrum penalty tries in one game last season) and I expect some of that bite to return. Another pre-season of Aaron Mauger should get the backs flowing and expect tries aplenty assuming the mud bath of a pitch has improved over the summer. With two talented fly halves and fewer international call ups means they have all the resources to challenge.



Continued clever recruitment – Aussies must enjoy being near the Devon surf! - brings Holmes, Dennis and Turner. Question where Devoto fits into a backline already blessed with Steenson, Hill, and Slade amongst others, although a greater number of international call ups may impact on them. Baxter’s magic seems to create a well-oiled pack from unheralded players who at excel at scrum and maul and provide excellent ball for those talented three quarters. The Exeter miracle marches on for another season with the Tank Engine steaming in for yet more tries.



It’s hard to know quite how much impact the loss of George Smith will have: creating fast ball and slowing down opposition ball has a huge effect on both your own and opposition backs. With Haskell out for the first few months of the season the backrow is certainly not as strong as last season. The Piutau brothers may have left but bringing in Beale (although currently injured), Eastmond, Cipriani (and Le Roux from Christmas) hardly leaves the backs weaker. But perhaps more significantly the arrival of Tommy Taylor and Matt Symons shores up a pathetic lineout and scrummaging will improve too with Marty Moore crossing the Irish Sea. It may take them a while to gel with so many changes to the first team, but if they get going will be hard to beat.



Continuity seems to be the watchword despite missing the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. The arrival of Picamoles will provide experience in a crucial position together with impetus, if and when Calum Clark returns he can play a decisive role at the breakdown. Can Harry Mallinder, fresh from U20 triumph deliver on promise shown last season? Seem to suffer from a lack of variety in gameplan and pace at fullback with Foden not the force of old. Will JJ Hanrahan be given a run in the first team by a conservative coach? Will Becky James’s boyfriend ever be passed the ball in space? Will performances of youngsters Harrison and Mallinder last season tread path for others such as Collins, Packman and Ludlam to be given their opportunity too? Too many ifs – other teams have recruited better so another season outside the playoffs beckons despite Tom Wood’s drive as newly installed captain.



The savvy recruitment of Kruger has gazumped by Toulon, so Welshman Lou Reed takes a walk on the wild side in Manchester instead; AJ MacGinty fresh from Pro 12 triumph with Connacht will try to replace the creativity of Cipriani. Diamond has the knack of bringing the best out of one of the smaller playing budgets, Mike Philips will bring his usual spikiness and Josh Charnley recruited from Wigan RL could be an inspired signing. However given loss of flair and Tommy Taylor’s reliability can’t see them improving on last season.



After a season of acrimony: court cases, disciplinaries and sackings together with a recently recruited coach there are many uncertainties about Bath. The arrivals of Charteris and Faletau certainly beefs up the pack which should provide good quality ball and Fotuali should give a fantastic service to George Ford or Rhys Priestland. But the late departure of Eastmond leaves them painfully short in the backs, whilst there is a lack of direction from having no head coach pre-season. They can't be as bad as last season and hopefully the Burgess legacy and malcontent have been buried. Less than half of 2014/15 finalists squad remain and stability wins rugby matches so expect a season of rebuilding for Blackadder (who has experience of northern hemisphere rugby at Edinburgh to add to his Super rugby feats) at the Wreck –and that assumes that the owner keeps his nose out of things.



Plus ca change mais plus c’est la meme chose at the Stoop. Rowntree is the only external recruit to the coaching team despite another year of flattering to deceive. It feels like drifting decline with another year in Nick Evans’s legs, can Ruiraidh Jackson be consistent enough as his prospective replacement? Other than that recruitment feels uninspired and I might have predicted a further fall if not for upheavals elsewhere.



A fabulous looking backline if they manage to get them fit, which Matt Scott’s direct running will add to. Unfortunately that seems to be rather a big if. The forwards have struggled in recent seasons, which Super Rugby recruits Hohneck and Matu’u will hope to turn around. Thrush was outstanding last season, Ross Moriarty, showing his fine pedigree, provides power from the backrow, whilst Kvesic will hope to show Eddie Jones what he is missing. However there is just not enough quality throughout the team, so I foresee another season in the lower echelons.



It was all looking encouraging at Sixways: the arrival of Ben Teo to bring a bit of flair to the backs, with a full season of Hougard’s control at scrum half and a bit more graft up front to build on an encouraging first season back in the top division. Then Ryan gets the hump and walks out and confidence in the club dissolves. Neither fly half (Lamb or Heathcote) convinces, so for the club to perform one of them will have to step up and surprise us, but there is enough grunt and knowhow in the pack for them to stay up.



They've got there in the end after seven long years in purgatory, they've got the "right" Pisi, whilst Callum Sheedy who kicked them up is a player of much potential. Lots of players with Premiership experience to help in first season back, including a Tiny fellow, Mark Sorensen and Jon Fisher (who I’m sure we all wish an injury free season) once of St James’s! Jordan Crane at number 8 should provide leadership and ballast as they seek to improve the pack bossed by Doncaster in the playoff finals much of which remains. That they seem to struggle under pressure is a concern. The move to Ashton Gate gives the club huge potential and Lansdown’s cheque book could be useful if relegation threatens.



They do have talent coming through: Marcus Watson (Anthony’s younger brother and talented enough to win a Rio 7s silver medal) and Simon Hammersley, whilst Goneva adds experience and creativity amongst a staggering number of squad changes (twelve arrivals and even more departures). However, last season only a few inspired performances from Andy Goode kept them up. Without his goalkicking and control it’s hard to see where their points are coming from.



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News: It's Here! - Aviva Premiership Preview (IP Logged)
02/09/2016 13:48
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Re: News: It's Here! - Aviva Premiership Preview
Phil. (IP Logged)
02/09/2016 14:01
Many apologies for the delay in getting this up, David - many thanks! smiling smiley

Re: News: It's Here! - Aviva Premiership Preview
SaintED (IP Logged)
02/09/2016 14:45
Very good review, thanks. See another person sees Tigs as ominously strong this season. Interesting looking at the squad assembled for the opening Glaws fixture and seeing almost half the starting team has changed in under two seasons. Add to that Cockerills ability to see the limitations of a team that increasingly relied on scrum penalties and scrum infringement cards for their wins and there's maybe an illustration from our nearest and dearest of how quick it can be turned around when a side have lost their way.

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