With the all new Gallagher Premiership well under way, the last few weeks have been a stellar showcase for the newest signings including the likes of Alex Lewington and Joe Cokanasiga stepping into the limelight from the IPA Championship. Alongside these men we have picked others who we believe are worth keeping an eye open for this season.
Lima Sopoaga (Wasps):
Sopoaga joins London Wasps for the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season. “It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make but is one I’m at peace with,” he said in regards to his migration. Sopoaga has made a great start to his Wasps career as he was instrumental in helping them seal victory by 6 points on Saturday.
With the departure of creative talisman Danny Cipriani to Gloucester, Wasps needed to replace him with another world class outside-half. Enter Lima Sopoaga. The 27 year old joins from the Highlanders where he scored over 800 points during his 7 year stint at the Otago outfit. Moreover, Sopoaga has netted over 60 test points for the All Blacks in fewer than 20 appearances which may seem somewhat average. Yet on the contrary, this is impressive due to Sopoaga playing under study to world player of the year, Beauden Barrett. Many would argue that turning your back on international honours is not a smart move, yet Wasps fans will be rejoicing in the matter. Not only will Sopoaga be accessible to Dai Young all season but the potential of blossoming half-back partnership with Dan Robson is on the cards. Robson plays a very similar attacking flair to Sopoaga’s previous team mate, Aaron Smith. With Robson on one side and fellow play maker Jimmy Gopperth on the over, I can guarantee Sopoaga will be at the helm of their title challenge this season.
Alex Lewington (Saracens):
Lewington has made an unreal start to the 2018/19 season at his new club, scoring 5 tries in only 2 starts (3 games). With a strike rate like that it begs belief what his tally will be come then end of the campaign!
The former London Irish exile joined the Premiership champions in a desperate bid to prove he can play at the highest levels. Lewington scored 10 tries in 10 games for Irish’s return to the premiership in the 2016/2017 season. His raw athleticism and eye for a gap is encouraging for any Sarries fan for the season ahead, yet Lewington will have to fight for his spot out wide. With the return of David Strettle, and with Sean Matiland and Liam Williams already on the books, Lewington will have to show a different pedigree on the pitch. Although it must be argued that is Lewington could cross the lines over 10 times for a relegation London Irish side, only positives can come from the rest this season.
Chris Ashton (Sale Sharks):
Unfortunately Chris Ashton has not has the start to the 2018/19 season that he would have hoped for as he is serving a 7 week ban for an incident in a pre-season friendly.
The former Saracens player returned to the Premiership after a year’s absence with Top 14 club, Toulon. During his stint across the channel, Ashton was utilised at Fullback to allow the likes of JP Pietersen and Josua Tuisova to run wild on the wings. This created a deadly triple threat from any scenario which allowed Ashton to cross the line 24 times, setting a new Try-scoring record in the Top 14. Thankfully for Ashton, the Sale setup works perfectly to simulate this once again. Denny Solomona, Marland Yarde, Byron McGuigan and Paolo Odogwu all offer attacking prowess from out-wide which enables Ashton to sit deep and poach once again, which is a scary thought even for the likes of Saracens and Exeter. Arguably, Ashton’s return to the Premiership is primarily due to his pursuit of international honours. The potential of pulling on the red rose, and with the attacking set up at Sale, the likes of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly should be concerned about their futures in the number 15 jersey.
Charles Piutau (Bristol Bears):
Piutau is another exciting prospect within the Prem this season, however he is another one who is yet to play. Piutau joined the Bears from Wasps so he is no stranger to Prem rugby. When back fit he is likely to showcase his talent and score an abundance of points for Bristol this year.
Bristol have made an exciting start to the premiership under a new name and new manager, Pat Lam. Lam has expressed great desire to create those future England Internationals whilst attracting big talent from abroad. The likes of John Afoa and Charles Piutau have joined the ranks with Piutau acting as the star signing. The former Wasps, Ulster and All Black international is reportedly the highest paid player in the premiership, which is partially due to his outstanding performance for Wasps during the 2015/2016 seasons where he scored 50 points. Alongside his brother Siale, the pair will hope to offer their versatile and power in the back line in order to consolidate that the Bears are here to stay. Still only 26 years young, his individual brilliance combined with his raw strength will offer Bristol a lethal attack going forward.
Jaco Kriel (Gloucester):
Gloucester have made their third signing for the 2018-19 season by recruiting South Africa back rower Jaco Kriel on an undisclosed-length deal. Kriel, 28, follows fellow South African, hooker Franco Marais, and Bath’s former England back Matt Banahan in agreeing a move to Kingsholm.
The Cherry and Whites have started the Gallagher season well under coach, Johan Ackermann. Ackermann joined from the Lions’ last season, where many hope his two successive Super Rugby finals can transform Gloucester into a top 4 team. In order to do this Ackerman’s captain, Jaco Kriel has joined the club. The breakdown genius is on the slighter side for a flanker, standing in at 6.1 feet. Yet this does not stop the South African International topping the breakdown and tackle charts in Super Rugby. The 29-year-old will bring world class talent and experience to the Gloucester pack, which already has adaptable options in the back row. In particular, Six Nations break out star, Jake Polledri will only flourish further under Kriel and any top tier team will be worried about losing possession at the breakdown.
Written by Sam Powell – 18/09/18