A few days ago, I found myself reading an article on the #Rugbyunited website listing the signings that each Premiership club has made ahead of the 2016/17 season. I found myself getting very excited by this for 2 main reasons: 1) It means we’re getting closer to the start of the new season. 2) There is some real quality joining the Premiership this season!
With this in mind, I thought it time to do my 1st article looking ahead to the new season, focusing on the new arrivals that I am most looking forward to seeing this season. I am not limiting myself to players new to the league, but instead looking at anyone who has moved teams over the summer as they are in a new environment. I have also decided to limit myself to no more than 1 player per team, otherwise I’d be here forever looking at the players some teams have brought in.
Taulupe Faletau – Newport Gwent Dragons to Bath Rugby
What a difference a year can make. 12 month ago Bath were runners-up in the Premiership final and were packed with options in the back row. Carl Fearns left that summer as he found himself behind Sam Burgess in the pecking order, but then Burgess also chose to leave after the World Cup. Bath endured a torrid season, finishing 9th, which spelled the end for head coach Mike Ford. As if that wasn’t enough, they have lost Alafoti Fa’osiliva and Leroy Houston this summer, and also said goodbye to Amanaki Mafi after a brief but controversial spell. David Denton, signed to replace Sam Burgess, was limited due to injury but when on form can be a top player. The good news for Bath fans is that they have signed arguably one of the best number 8s in the world for this season. A very reliable tackler whose ability on the ball frequently shines through for Wales, it will be great to see such a quality player in the Premiership. With strength, flair and guile aplenty, the likely back row of Denton/Garvey, Faletau and Francois Louw will be exciting to watch as Bath look to rebuild this season.
Matt Toomua – Brumbies to Leicester Tigers
As easy as it would have been to go for JP Pietersen here, I have chosen to go for Toomua due to the Tigers’ recent struggles in the midfield. Manu Tuilagi has had more than his share of injury troubles in recent years and experienced internationals Jean de Villiers and Seremaia Bai have both left this summer. Anthony Allen was also forced to retire last summer due to injury. There have been a number of times over the last few seasons where players have had to play at centre even though it is not their preferred position, such as Owen Williams, Vereniki Goneva (who has now also left Tigers) and, most recently, Peter Betham. As well as being a strong runner (handy if Tuilagi isn’t available) he is also a very skilled playmaker, reducing the pressure on the fly-half and opening up a number of tactical options. Even with supposedly weaker squads, Tigers always seem to find a way to make the playoffs. This could be the strongest squad they’ve had for years.
Vereniki Goneva – Leicester Tigers to Newcastle Falcons
Newcastle have lost a lot of experience this summer: Andy Goode, Kane Thompson, Todd Clever and the Tuliagi brothers have all either retired or been released, whilst Josh Furno, a top-quality lock when on form, has moved to Zebre. The majority of players signed for this season are from lower leagues or the Sevens circuit, a very risky move for a team likely to be fighting towards the foot of the table. Dean Richards will be hoping that the signing of Vereniki Goneva pays off as it could be the difference between Premiership and Championship rugby in the 2017/18 season. A regular try scorer at both club and international level, Goneva’s years of Premiership experience will give him every chance of succeeding, assuming that his teammates are able to play to a similar level.
Louis Picamoles – Toulouse to Northampton Saints
Northampton missed Samu Manoa last season. Finishing 5 points behind 4th placed Leicester, a number of their losses were by small margins (7 losing bonus points), as were a number of their wins. A player with real physicality could easily tip the balance of a close match in your favour. Louis Picamoles definitely has that physicality. A star in the World Cup, it was clear how much the French missed his powerful running during the most recent 6 Nations. Teimana Harrison is young and likely to only get better, with Picamoles joining him in that Saints back row, their backs will be expecting a lot of ball on the front foot. However he has shown on a number of occasions that he may have a darker side to himself on the pitch, so Saints will be hoping that doesn’t show itself at a crucial time.
Sean Maitland – London Irish to Saracens
I’m sure most people who look at Sarries’ new signings will be paying close attention to Schalk Burger (with good reason), so I have decided to go down a different route and pick Sean Maitland. He’s had a number of ups and downs over recent years, including an injury midway through this year’s 6 Nations, but it must be remembered that he was a member of the British and Irish Lions 2013 Tour. Having grown up in New Zealand and played in Super Rugby for a number of years with the Crusaders, he is clearly a talented player and this move to Saracens could be just what he needs to reach his full potential. With the quality of squad at Saracens, he will have to work hard to earn his place in the team, but the quality of the players inside him, combined with their effective game plan, will give him every chance to thrive as they look to defend their Premiership and European double – something I think they are perfectly capable of doing this season.
Danny Cipriani – Sale Sharks to Wasps
A lot has changed since Danny Cipriani left the then-London Wasps in 2010. Cipriani has played Super Rugby for Melbourne Rebels, picked a fight with a bus and got himself back on the England radar with his performances for Sale in recent years. Not to be undone, Wasps have dropped the ‘London’ and moved to Coventry whilst making a number of high-profile, big money signings over the last few seasons. Jimmy Gopperth is a reliable fly-half, but I think that Cipriani has the ability to take this team to the next level. At the same time, playing in a team that should be fighting at the very top of the table should help Cipriani’s hopes of getting called up by Eddie Jones for the 6 Nations, especially if George Ford struggles at Bath. If nothing else, Wasps should be exciting to watch this season.
Josh Charnley – Wigan Warriors to Sale Sharks
Players who switch codes from league to union generally fall into one of two categories: Boom or Bust. From what I have seen of Josh Charnley, I fully expect him to fall into the former. This guy is a prolific finisher, averaging roughly 1 try per game in just over 150 games for both club and country. A code switch is never going to be easy, but from what I’ve heard, Sale are planning to play him on the wing, giving him the best possible chance to succeed. In 2000, an English winger moved from a starring role at Wigan to take a chance at union with Sale – Jason Robinson. He is arguably the most successful English code-switchers of the modern era. As if this didn’t already sound similar enough, they’re even switching codes at pretty much the same age! I’m not saying that Charnley will reach the same heights as Jason Robinson, but I certainly feel that he has the ability to become a star for Sale and possibly even the national team.
There are so many other players that I could have included on here, but I think this is long enough as it is! I would love to hear which new arrivals you’re most looking forward to seeing this year, both for your own team and as a fan in general.