With the Aviva Premiership returning this Friday night, who will be the ones to watch from competing each team? Oli Davis gives us his views:
Bath Rugby – Kyle Eastmond
The forgotten man of English rugby it seems. How a player with Eastmond’s level of speed, agility and power can be overlooked for the inside centre jersey for England is frankly inexplicable. With Brad Barritt offering nothing in attack and Sam Burgess destined for the back row, Eastmond will be desperate to prove that he can compete consistently at the highest level. The addition of Fijian Scrum Half Nikola Matawulu is a brilliant signing, as evidenced by his performances at the World Cup.
Exeter Chiefs – Dave Ewers
Chiefs fans will already know of the substantial talent that the Zimbabwe-born flanker possesses. Considered unlucky not to get more of a look for the England World Cup squad, the Exeter man must surely view the demise of Messrs Wood and Robshaw as an opportunity to put himself forward for the Six Nations. In combination with Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom, the Chiefs have potentially the best back row in the league. Henry Slade will of course be on the radars of many, including the England management, it will be interesting to see whether the former University of Exeter student plays at 10, 12 or 13.
Gloucester Rugby – Ross Moriarty
The son of former great Paul Moriarty, the Welshman broke into the regular Gloucester lineup last season before earning a call to the Welsh World Cup squad in the aftermath of Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny’s injuries. The former England U-20 back row is an extremely physical player, not afraid to put his body on the line in defence and explosive in attack. Look to Moriarty to continue his development this year for the Cherry and Whites. Billy Twelvetrees will also be looking to finally fulfill his promise as an inside centre with a complete skill set; power, pace, passing and kicking.
Harlequins – Jamie Roberts
A fantastic signing by the West London club, Roberts will no doubt bring an impressive blend of guile, experience and raw power to proceedings at The Twickenham Stoop. Harlequins will always look to play an expansive, exciting brand of rugby but struggled last year due to a lack of physicality in the backline. Roberts will remedy that situation as well as providing invaluable defensive cover for the often vulnerable fly-half, Nick Evans.
Leicester Tigers – Freddie Burns
Once a highly touted prospect when plying his trade at Gloucester, the fly-half has suffered from a lack of confidence over the past two seasons. However, during the second half of last year, the Tigers man looked to have recovered some of the scintillating touches that made him one of the most entertaining young players around. Should Burns regain his confidence and be provided with front-foot ball from his pack, Leicester could be a real threat.
London Irish – Ben Franks
The Reading-based club have made some extremely astute signings and the former All Black may be the best of the bunch. A solid scrummage is integral to all parts of Rugby Union due to the foundation that it can provide, expect Franks and Scottish international Geoff Cross to bring plenty of ballast at scrummage time. Irish also have England prospect Alex Lewington and the Scot Sean Maitland on the wings, they will have no trouble crossing the whitewash, especially if the prolific Lewington can continue his form from last season.
London Wasps – Christian Wade
The Coventry-based club is fortunate to have arguably one of the most electric players in World Rugby, let alone the Premiership. The winger is capable of changing a game with his raw speed and incredible agility. Another who was considered unfortunate to be left out of the England set up, Wade and centres Elliot Daly and the All Black Charles Piutau may form one of the most clinical try scoring backlines in the league.
Newcastle Falcons – Sinoti Sinoti
Type in the Samoan’s name into YouTube and you are sure to find endless highlights featuring incredible tries from the Falcons Winger. Possessing typical Samoan strength and power, Sinoti combines an effortless step into that mix. Opposition teams cannot implement a pre-planned defence strategy for the man as he is simply too unpredictable. Expect him to once again provide the spark for the Falcons.
Northampton Saints – Alex Corbisiero
Once considered the best loosehead prop in the world and a star in the Lions tour of Australia in 2013, injuries have stunted Corbisiero’s career enormously. Subsequently, last year was extremely poor by the Englishman’s high standards, many will remember the domination of Corbisiero by the Chiefs’ tighthead Tomas Francis last year. It remains to be seen whether or not he can rediscover his scrummaging prowess but should he do so, opposition scrums will be under immense pressure.
Sale Sharks – Danny Cipriani
Who else? Cipriani’s raw talent is undeniable, his vision and creativity is almost unparalleled which is why it was such a shame not to see him involved at the World Cup. Off the pitch, the man may be prone to a misdemeanour or two, however there is no question as to his ability with ball in hand. His form for Sale has been nothing short of excellent over the past two seasons and he has been at the very heart of the Manchester club’s revival under Steve Diamond.
Saracens – Maro Itoje
An extremely exciting prospect for Saracens, the Second Row/Flanker combines a substantial frame with power and pace. Invited to train with England during the preliminary call-ups, a first cap must surely be on the horizon in the near future. However both Saracens and England have an abundance of resources in the Second Row position so Itoje, with his young age also being taken into consideration, may be restricted of game time.
Worcester Warriors – Chris Pennell
Were it not for Worcester’s relegation two seasons ago, Pennell may have seen more England opportunities come his way. Brilliant under the high ball and dangerous in attack, Pennell had the most metres made by any player in the 2013/14 season. He will be crucial to every attack that Worcester have and should he perform as he did a few years ago, he is sure to garner plenty of attention.