It all starts one week today, and it was around about this time, twenty-one years ago(!) I was getting ready for my first game in the Cherry and White of Gloucester and so it’s good to see them getting the first game of the season on the 21st anniversary of my inaugural kick about in the premiership.
Enough with the reminiscing, we have a new season to get stuck into, and picking up on last week’s blog, we’re going to take a look at the second half of the teams in the premiership and what we can expect from them. This week we’ll take in Newcastle, Northampton, Sale, Saracens, Wasps and Worcester.
Newcastle. Bad times last season, picking up a win ratio that isn’t going to leave anyone with a smile on their face. Newcastle are complete enigmas at times though, sure they only won five games last season, but look at the teams that they did beat; Bath, Harlequins, Northampton, Leicester and London Irish all getting the sharp end of what Newcastle are capable of. It doesn’t end there though, they drew with Sale and narrowly missed out on beating Wasps, if that isn’t a team that have got something to give, then I don’t know what is. They have been busy, busy boys on the signings front with 17 names out the door and 14 new ones ready to take up rank in the first XV (although that’s nearly a team in its own right). Let’s see if the newcomers can get all four cylinders firing at this club. Could be dangerous if they do, not top five dangerous, but the mid table should watch its back.
Northampton had what can only be described as a howler in 15/16. Champions in 13/14, top of the league in 14/15 and then fifth place in 15/16? What happened there? Not a lot if I’m honest, it happens to the best of us, we have an off season, something doesn’t click, something doesn’t pull together and you end up coming up short in a lot of departments. They had a bit of a knock in terms of international duties but by his own admission Jim Mallinder said that they had a bit of inconsistent season, and I agree with him and think that was all it was. As highlighted above, they fell foul of Newcastle last season, that just shouldn’t be happening. No knee jerk reaction from the management in terms of signings, just a few careful selections to bolster in the positions where they are bit soft and these boys are good to go. Expect to see them back up there this season.
Sale could be in for an interesting season, with quite a number of new signings and also some big names walking out the door. It’s a goodbye to Danny Cipriani, Tommy Taylor and Tom Brady, which will leave a hole in the points scoring, but a welcome to cross code convert Josh Charnley, Laurence Pearce from Leicester and Keiran Longbottom from Sarries which may assist in filling part of that hole. Not all of it though, because if I am honest, that is a big hole to fill. Mid table last season, but will they be there 16/17? Time will tell, but I see an uphill battle on the horizon.
Saracens will be on fire after the season they had last year, the form these boys are in is just out of this world and I pity anybody who comes up against them on their best day. It’s horrible, and I do mean that in the nicest way possible to Sarries fans. Itoje, Kruis, Farrell, the Vunipola brothers, I can go on, but I won’t bother. Being at the mercy of the boot of Farrell is bad enough, but when you have got the other best parts of the England team propping him up, you know you are probably going to be in for a bad day. Like other well performing teams, there has been relative calm in the transfers department with Sarries actually shipping more players out than in. What do I predict from them this season? A lot of heartache for everyone else…
Wasps are on a collision course with the top of the table any time soon, they are looking formidable year on year at the moment and for a club that was on its knees in terms of both finances and performance in 2011 they have been on the move big time. 11th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 3rd, who knows where next? They’re another team who haven’t “had” to hit the panic button in terms of signings this season, but their current performance has let them get their hands in the cookie jar of some of other top clubs and a lot of those clubs have lost some decent cookies. Cipriani and Taylor from Sale, Eastmond from Bath, and also some nice picks from outside the English ranks, including Willie Le Roux from Sharks and Marty Moore from Lenster. They had a fairly middling end to the season, but I expect they will quickly bury it and move on. They’ll be in a playoff position again this season but how far can it go?
And last but not least, the boys in blue from Worcester, another local side which is just a quick jaunt down the M5 to Sixways for me. I often feel that Worcester are on the verge of great things, and then they get relegated. Since 2010 they’ve been up and down like the Andes, but this time, I really do feel like it is going to stick. Critically, last season they finished outside the bottom two and there was a decent bit of daylight in terms of points between them and the drop zone. Again, this is a team that hasn’t upended their squad to make changes and drive forward, there have been some nice considered signings and I think that they will go well this season. Ben T’eo, Jackson Wilson and Will Spencer will all be welcome additions. Give it another season and I can see Worcester troubling the mid-table.
So there we have it, 2016/17 Aviva Premiership is just days from kick-off. I’m excited, this is my favourite time of year and I very much look forward to a season of tough on pitch action.