The Tigers just missed out on making the playoffs last season with Newcastle Falcons taking their spot. They will be looking to make amends for that this season as missing out on the knockout stages is not a common occurrence for the Tigers. Under Matt O’Connor, Leicester Tigers seem to have the right balance of experience and talent that should help them secure a spot in the top four places this year.
The Tigers Lineup looks very strong. In the forwards, despite the loss of the “Samoan Beast”, Logovu’i Mulipola, there is still plenty of strength in the pack with an introduction of another potential Samoan Beast, Fred Tuilagi. Despite being only 21, just having that surname alone sends shivers down opponent spines. He is joined by newly signed Scottish legend, Dave Denton in the Back Row. However, what has Tiger fans drooling is this potential backline: 9. Ben Youngs 10. George Ford 11. Jonny May 12. Matt Toomua/ Kyle Eastmond 13. Manu Tuilagi 14. Telusa Veainu 15. Matthew Tait. That back-line probably has the best balance of experience, play-making ability, physicality, pace and skill within the Premiership. This balance should be enough for the Tigers to secure a play-off spot.
Leicester Tigers opening fixture could quite possibly be the match of the weekend as they play away to Exeter Chief Sandy Park. Kick-off this Saturday at 4.30 pm.
The last time bath made it to the knockout stages in the league, the Sam Burgess “experiment” was in full-swing. After that experiment ended in a disastrous result fro Burgess and the English team in the world cup, Bath have not been able to pose a threat to the top four. However, this season may be different with the introduction of Girvan Dempsey as the new attack coach. Dempsey was an integral part of Leinster’s success last season in becoming the best team in Europe. Todd Blackadder is hoping Dempsey can be apart of something similar with Bath.
Dempsey will have a great backline to work with. Wales international Rhys Priestland will be the starting number 10 with Freddie Burns as cover. Newly signed Jamie Roberts will be expected to be a “crash-ball” option at 12 with Johnathan Joseph linking up with Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga and Semesa Rokoduguni as the outside backs. Ball at the back of rucks will be controlled by former Exeter Chiefs player, Will Chudley. Despite an exciting back-line, it is the back-row that teams will we worried about. Lions international Taulupe Faletau, alongside Springbok Francois Louw and English International Sam Underhill, will bring an interesting dynamic to the pack. There is also the return of Dave Attwood from loan with Toulon. With secure ruck ball and a backline being coached by possibly one of the best attacking coaches in Europe, Bath could be in a position to threaten the top four spots on the table.
Bath have a tough opening match away to Bristol Bears this Friday at 7.45pm.
The Gerry and Whites have been consistent in remaining in the lower half of the table. With the club investing in a new pitch at Kingsholm stadium, they will be hoping to make it into some sort of a fortress. Nevertheless, I believe this outcome will be unlikely and we could be in store for another disappointing season as Gloucester will most likely not cross the mid-way point of the table.
Two weeks ago, one of the club’s new signings was making headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Danny Cipriani must surely have the world cup in 2019 at the back of his mind as impressing at Gloucester, will give him the best chance at making jones’s squad for the tournament. From looking at the squad, it is clear Johan Ackermann has been looking towards his home country to strengthen his pack. Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert and Ruan Dreyer all coming from the Lions alongside Franco Marais coming from the Sharks. They will be joining Gloucester veteran and English international, Ben Morgan in the forwards There is also the former lock turned winger Matt Banahan that joined from Bath that will add some size to the backline. However, there has been a loss of leadership in the squad with the departure of Richard Hibbard and John Afoa. Despite Cipriani commanding the backline and the major South African influence in the pack, I still believe Gloucester will be unable to shake off another bottom of the table result.
It is important that Gloucester get the win over Northampton Saints at their home ground this Saturday at 2pm.
After they became champions in 2006, the Sharks have struggled to make it past the mid-way point in the table. They have always been near the latter end and have come close to being relegated to the RFU Championship. Fortunately, last season marked a slight improvement as they managed to keep above Northampton Saints and Harlequins, keeping them out of the “danger zone”. However, although there are many notable names in the squad, Sharks only bought in three players during the summer.
It may be possible last season that players like Faf De Klerk (who England fans will now after his tackle on Nathan Hughes in the summer series , AJ McGinty, Marland Yarde and the Two Curry Brothers, kept Sale Sharks out of the “danger zone”. There are also the likes of James O’Connor coming back from injury and Chris Ashton coming back to English rugby after his stint in Toulon. Although it sounds like an exciting backline, there is also the bad news that Ashton will be serving a seven-week ban after the tip-tackle in the pre-season friendly. With the lack of signings this summer, this may come back to haunt Sharks this season. They may be looking at a relegation battle with Worcester Warriors at the end of the season.
Sale Sharks will start their campaign against Harlequins away at Twickenham Stoop at 3pm, this Saturday. I fear for that the fans that they might not come away with the result they want.
Written by James O’Connor – 31/08/18