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Nick Mullins' Premiership preview - part one Bath to Harlequins

By Paul Smith

Trending on RugbyPass

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BT Sport’s Nick Mullins has over the last decade become the instantly recognisable voice of rugby union in the British Isles.

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Over the course of around 40 matches per season – and upwards of 100 preparatory training ground visits – BT Sport’s leading match commentator sees more Gallagher Premiership action than most.

As such he is ideally placed to assess the hopes of the 13 teams for whom the road to Twickenham next June gets underway this weekend.

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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown reminsce

Here is the first part of his club-by-club preview.

Bath

Last season: Seventh place with 52 points (W10, D0, L12)

Top scorer: Rhys Priestland (150)

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Top try scorer: Will Muir (7)

Head coach: Stuart Hooper (appointed 2019)

Arrivals: Seven including Danny Cipriani, D’Arcy Rae, Jaco Coetzee

Departures: 14 including Zach Mercer, Elliott Stooke, Rhys Priestland

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Most recent play-off season: 2019/20

Title wins: Six

Nick’s verdict:

“I won’t be the only one talking a lot about Danny Cipriani this season, but I am also very interested to see how David Williams their new attack coach goes.

“I know they’ve been talking about how they blend backs and forwards a bit more effectively and those two are central to that.

“Everybody at Bath will hope he has a huge impact because lots of neutrals looked at them last season and wondered how a team with so many impressive backs could not be more consistent.

“Cipriani for Priestland makes them a different looking team, and they are going to have to find someone to step up for Zach Mercer who was our man-of-the-match every time we saw them play.”

Bristol Bears in action against Leicester (PA)

Bristol Bears

Last season: First place with 85 points (W17, D1, L4) then beaten semi-finalists

Top scorer: Callum Sheedy (91)

Top try scorer: Max Malins (8)

Head coach: Pat Lam (appointed 2017)

Arrivals: Three including Tom Whiteley

Departures: Eight including Max Malins, Ben Earle and Siale Piutau

Most recent play-off season: 2020/21

Title wins: None

Nick’s verdict:

“They’ll be top four again, probably top two and maybe top one but there’s another team or two who will have something to say about that.

“They’ve lost Ben Earl and Max Malins who had positive impacts last season but they have Tom Whiteley coming the other way from Saracens.

“The player I’m most curious to see how they replace is Siale Piutau since I got the impression that for all the magic they threw out last season a lot revolved around him.

“Pat Lam is much too clever not to have thought about what they’re going to do about that and maybe there will be a subtle change in how they play.

“I can’t think of any better way to start the season than Ashton Gate on Friday night against Saracens and those two will be going at each other throughout the season.”

Exeter Chiefs

Last season: Second with 82 points (W17, D0, L5) then beaten finalists

Top scorer: Joe Simmonds (184)

Top try scorer: Sam Simmonds (21)

Head coach: Rob Baxter (appointed 2009)

Arrivals: Seven including five from their academy

Departures: Eight including Alex Cuthbert, Corey Baldwin and Tomas Francis

Most recent play-off season: 2020/21

Title wins: Two

Nick’s verdict:

“They are sticking largely with the squad that has got them to the last six finals and there’s no reason to think they won’t make it to their seventh in a row.

“As much as we neutrals were thrilled by the final, they will have been burned by it and you can be sure no-one will have worked harder than Rob Baxter and his coaches over the summer to put that behind them.

“I am very interested in how Exeter have developed their academy and made players into Premiership stars and the next name to have been promoted is Frankie Nowell – a teenage utility back who is Jack’s brother.

“I suspect we’ll be talking a lot about him over the next few months.”

Billy Twelvetrees in action for Gloucester against Bristol (PA)

Gloucester

Last season: Eleventh with 45 points (W7, D0, L15)

Top scorer: Billy Twelvetrees (104)

Top try scorer: Santiago Carreras (6)

Head coach: George Skivington (appointed 2020)

Arrivals: Eight including Adam Hastings and Ben Meehan

Departures: Six including Matt Garvey, Willi Heinz and Matt Banahan

Most recent play-off season: 2018/19

Title wins: None

Nick’s verdict:

“Patience is the watchword for Gloucester, they are further down the redevelopment path than Worcester but George Skivington is having to completely rebalance the squad.

“Looking from the outside over the last few seasons they seem to have invested heavily in the backs and less so in the forwards and that now looks to be changing.

“Adam Hastings catches the eye as an arrival, but it is how they are beefing up the pack to give the likes of Lewis Ludlow more support that is more critical and I think George would want them to be much more impactful up front.

“I know one or two Gloucester forwards of old who will be choking on their pints of bitter at the thought of an artificial pitch at Kingsholm, but that’s what they’ve done and if that isn’t a line that tells up about 21st century rugby I don’t know what is.”

Harlequins

Last season: Fourth with 71 points (W14, D1, L8) then champions

Top scorer: Marcus Smith (286)

Top try scorer: Danny Care (12)

Head coach: Tabai Matson (appointed 2021)

Arrivals: Seven including Huw Jones and Tomasso Allen

Departures: 11 including Mike Brown, Elia Elia and Nathan Earle

Most recent play-off season: 2020/21

Title wins: Two

Nick’s verdict:

“I love Tabai Matson’s appointment – he fits perfectly into what they are trying to become.

“I know how much Bath and Todd Blackadder missed him when he had to leave early a few seasons ago.

“Some questions:

“Can they do what the 2012 title winning team couldn’t and kick on next season?

“Can that brilliant end to last season build into a cohesive challenge again this year?

“Is Marcus Smith ready to take the next step up and not just boss Premiership games but begin to boss test matches for England?”

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Nick Mullins' Premiership preview - part one Bath to Harlequins

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