The champions and the most feared English team in Europe, Saracens won the cup for the fourth time last season. For the last eight seasons Saracens have made the play-offs and they will most likely be in the final this season again. What teams have struggled with when playing against Saracens, is their blitz style defence that they implement perfectly nearly every game. England used the same defence system for their series win over Australia in the summer of 2016. Despite this, they still lost six matches and were below Exeter before the play-offs last season.
Liam Williams, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Sean Maitland, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Jaime George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Sean Maitland; all the mentioned players have been at some stage been called to represent the British and Irish Lions. This begins to show the talent that Saracens has and explains why most teams can’t beat them. With a squad this talented, they have only brought in three players, Alex Lewington and Tom Woolstencroft from London Irish and David Strettle returns to his former club from Clermont. With some notable names being left out of this piece, it’s hard to see Saracens not making the final next year.
Saracens will face Newcastle Falcons away for their opening match. Kick-off this Sunday at 3pm.
The runners-up of last season, Exeter Chiefs will be looking to go one step further this season. Head coach, Rob Baxter, did not have to make many changes to the formula during the summer as for the large part, it has been working for the past three seasons. You can’t fix what isn’t broken. Nevertheless, the have one tall hurdle to jump in the shape of Saracens. Not to mention, they will be getting fierce competition from both Wasps and Leicester Tigers this season. However, the question won’t be will they make the play-offs, as that is an almost certain yes, but rather, if can they take down the “big guns”.
The Chiefs have only brought in two big names and both of them will be standing the furthest away from the scrums (and probably rucks) on the pitch. Enter Lions and Wales international, Alex Cuthbert and one of the most feared men from the 2015 World cup, Santiago Cordero. These two additions will fill in nicely with a backline including Michele Campagnaro, Nic White, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade. What’s more interesting is though is that Rob baxter has looked towards the Chief’s academy for future star players as he has offered contracts to 14 Academy players. It may be worth keeping an eye on the chiefs during the season as future English players may be found here.
Exeter Chiefs will have the difficult task of hosting Leicester Tigers at 4.30pm this Saturday.
It’s hard to believe that Wasps have not lifted the trophy since 2008. In fact, any silverware since they became Champions that year. Director of rugby, Dai Young, will be hoping that will change this year. They were close in 2017 when they got to the final, but they lost to Exeter Chiefs in extra time which can be cruel for the fans. However, they have recruited well for this season which could see a change in fortune. Having the “Group of Death” in the Heineken cup might stop them progressing in Europe, but in turn, that could help to keep the top players fit for the play-offs at the end of the season. Therefore, wasps may have a good chance to finally put their hands on that elusive trophy.
Wasps must endure two big losses in the shape of Danny Cipriani and JCB enthusiast, James Haskell for the upcoming season. However, these losses won’t be felt that badly throughout the squad as it can be argued that the replacements being brought in are of a higher standard than their predecessors. Lima Sopoaga, New Zealand’s second-choice fly half in 2017, and Brad Shields from the Hurricanes will be Haskell and Cipriani’s replacements. Furthermore, Dai Young has looked to the championship below and has recruited five players. Joe Atkinson, Ross Neal, Billy Searle, Ben Morris and of course, IPA Championship Player of the Season, Michael le Bourgeois. These have been all stand out performers in the championship. Hopefully for Wasps, these performances can be transferred over to the Gallagher Premiership.
All these players will be joining the likes of Willie Le Roux, Elliot Daly, Nathan Hughes, Joe Simpson, Christian Wade and captain Joe Launchbury. Unfortunately, Jimmy Gopperth sustained a knee injury during pre-season and will now have to wait on the side-lines for six-nine months, missing most of the season. Nevertheless, Wasps still have an XV there that is capable of taking them to the knockout stages of the premiership.
Wasps begin their march to silverware with an away game against Worcester Warriors this Saturday at 3pm.
Newcastle Falcons had surprised many last season with many players coming into form and the club being able to secure a play-off spot in the Premiership since they won the championship last century in 1998.They will be looking for this form to continue into this season and not just have the result of last season to be a “spark in the pan”. However, this is easier said than done and I feel this goal will be too far out of reach for the side. Despite this, they still should be looking to finish somewhere around the mid-way point of the table.
Newcastle Falcons will be looking to inject terror into the other teams with the introduction of Logovi’i Mulipola into the squad. George Mcguigan and Nemani Nagusa will also be useful additions to the squad. However, in my opinion, the Falcons backline does not look as threatening as other squads within the league. That being said it still may be unwise to underestimate them. I believe Dean Richards will be secretly content if the club remain on the top-half of the table.
Falcons first match will be one of the hardest matches they will have this season as they play hosts to Saracens as Kingston park this Sunday . Kick-off at 3pm.
Written by James O’Connor – 31/08/18