All eyes on Saracens but Quins will miss out on top four - Andy Goode
They shocked everyone at the end of last season and dug deeper than anyone outside of their own environment thought possible to come back from 28-0 down against Bristol in the semi-final and see off Exeter in the final to lift the title but now they’re there to be shot at.
Wasps reached the final the season before last but struggled to hit the same heights last time around, finishing eighth in the end, and I can see a similar thing happening to Quins. The league looks more competitive than ever now and I don’t see them making the top four.
Their fellow Londoners Sarries will still get some stick from fans, hopefully all good natured, after their off-field indiscretions but they’ll utilise the perception that ‘everybody hates us’ to motivate them and I think they’ll just sneak into the play-offs.
Some people are talking them up as favourites to win the league and they may well do so if they can put a run together at the back end of the season but their big stars such as Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Elliot Daly, Mako Vunipola and co aren’t going to be able to play too much in the league before we get to the home straight.
For obvious reasons, their squad depth looks a lot thinner than it did the last time they were in the Premiership and the league has improved since they’ve been away so they’ll find it hard going early on but I still think they’ll be in the shake up when we get to June.
The Bears and the Chiefs were head and shoulders above the rest last season and I expect that pair to occupy the top two spots again but I’m backing my old club Leicester to finish as their closest challengers this time around.
They have already rediscovered the hard-nosed edge that the club has historically been renowned for under Steve Borthwick and I think the return of Freddie Burns will make a big difference. George Ford only played in five Premiership games last season and now they have someone who is more than able to fill his boots when he’s away.
Plus, it might have raised some eyebrows but Ellis Genge is a smart choice as captain if he has the right brains trust around him. Nobody puts more in than him, people will follow him into battle and having the armband might just help keep him on the straight and narrow.
Marco van Staden is an excellent signing as well and South Africans don’t miss too much of the Premiership season because of international duty, so he and Jasper Wiese in the back row will be a frightening proposition for opposition defences.
It’s almost a three tier league now with a whole host of teams in the middle certainly starting out feeling like they have a shot at the top four and Sale, Wasps, Harlequins, Northampton and Bath will all be pushing hard to make the play-offs.
Sale, in particular, will be really close after making major strides already under Alex Sanderson and with some of the size and physicality in their ranks and I think Wasps will be much improved as well.
Francois Hougaard, Vaea Fifita and Elliot Stooke are all good additions and they lost a lot of close games last season so you only have to turn a few of those around and they’ll be knocking on the door but a lot is resting on the shoulders of Jacob Umaga.
London Irish tailed off badly in the second half of last season and I have them finishing ninth again but I think we’ll see a big improvement from Worcester, who only won one game on the field last time around and that was on the opening day.
A pair of British & Irish Lions in Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland would improve any team but Owen Williams is a massive signing as well and Willi Heinz is a shrewd addition to give them the kind of nous and leadership they’ve been missing at times.
Of course, there isn’t the threat of relegation now and they are in a complete rebuilding phase. Adam Hastings is a great signing but you look at their other transfer business and there hasn’t been much investment apart from that.
Hastings could well be absent for much of the season as well because of his Scotland commitments and I just don’t see the same strength in depth in the Cherry and Whites squad that there is elsewhere in the league.
More so than most seasons, this is one where predictions can make you look a bit daft with big name international players set to miss so much Premiership rugby and a lot of other factors making some teams difficult to judge.
One thing isn’t in doubt though, it’ll be another hugely competitive campaign and I’m happy to stick my neck out and pick Gloucester to finish bottom for the first time ever and the reigning champions to be all the way down in seventh. We’ll see how daft that sounds in June!
My predicted Premiership table
- London Irish
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