The last time anyone other than Saracens or Exeter won the Premiership was 2013 – 14, when Northampton beat Saracens in the final. Their stranglehold on the league will be difficult to break.
They are the best ran and best coached sides. Currently, Mark McCall and Rob Baxter have a good claim at the title of best club coaches in the Northern Hemisphere, and will have Elliot Daly and Stuart Hogg bolstering their ranks next year. Furthermore, in terms of focus, mental strength and continuity, these two sides seem levels above the chasing pack. Indeed, last year they were.
However, a full pre-season to bed in new combinations, and allow coaches opportunity to develop styles of play, alongside savvy recruitment, could allow others to challenge the new hegemony.
Leading the chasing pack are undoubtedly Gloucester and Northampton. In Johan Ackerman and Chris Boyd, they possess coaches with all the talent and experience required, and the influence of these two figures was telling last year, something you would imagine will only increase over time. Gloucester have secured the long-term signature of Cipriani, last years player of the season, and have a young, explosive team that will surely develop further next season. Figures such as Ollie Thorley and Franco Mostert will surely only exert greater influence next year. Northampton, meanwhile, have utilised Boyd’s connections and influence to good effect, signing Matt Proctor and Owen Franks from New Zealand. Building upon a platform of experience in Cobus Reinach and Dan Biggar, they also have numerous young talents emerging, including Alex Mitchell, James Grayson and Fraser Dingwall.
Behind them, Sale and Harlequins look best placed to challenge. Both put together a series of strong results towards the end of the season, putting them in playoff contention, before ultimately falling away. However, having recruited astutely, they will be expecting to challenge for the top four once again. Harlequins are perhaps more likely to, given their acquisition of Landajo from the Jaguares and Campagnaro from Wasps, both proven internationals. Sale on the other hand, have an ever-growing roster of South Africans, and next season will be adding new second row Lood de Jager and all three of the du Preez brothers. Joining them will be Jake Cooper-Woolley and Simon Hammersley, who has the potential to be an excellent addition. Bath meanwhile, have a number of significant departures who they are yet to replace.
Finally, Leicester will be hoping to place a dreadful season behind them and emerge as candidates once more. It seems illogical to suggest a team who finished 11th last year could challenge in 2019-20, but they have too many quality players not to improve upon last years shambles. With a raft of quality internationals already at the club (Youngs, Genge, Tuilagi, Ford, May and Veainu for instance) they will be adding some steel to the pack in the form of Jordan Taufua and Tomas Lavanini. A thriving Leicester is positive for the league, and a good showing next year is necessary to arrest their alarming decline.
However, whether these contenders will be able to make any dent in the dominance of the front two will of course depend on a number of intangibles. Predictions are notoriously difficult, but Gloucester look the most likely to breach the divide. They have the players, and are one year further along with their development under Ackerman than Chris Boyd’s Northampton. One would be brave to bet against Saracens or Exeter continuing their duopoly however.
Written by Joe Ronan