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Nick Mullins' Premiership preview - part three Sale to Worcester

By Paul Smith

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

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During approximately 40 matches per season – and upwards of 100 preparatory training ground visits – BT’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 reminisce

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

Sale Sharks

Last season: Third with 74 points (W16, D0, L6) then beaten semi-finalists

Top scorer: AJ MacGinty (188)

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Top try scorer: Byron McGuigan (9)

Head coach: Alex Sanderson (appointed 2021)

Arrivals: Three including Tommy Taylor and Nick Schonert

Departures: Three including Jake Cooper-Woolley and Valery Morozov

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Most recent play-off season: 2020/21

Title wins: One

Nick’s verdict:

“The progress under Alex Sanderson during the second half of last season probably didn’t catch any of us by surprise but was no less impressive as a result and you can’t really blame them for running out of steam in the semi-final at Sandy Park.

“What I’ve loved about listening to how Alex is going to redefine the club is the responsibility he is giving the players to decide what kind of club they want to be.

“Their new signings – Tommy Taylor, Simon McIntyre and Nick Schonert underline what they want to be about.

“They absolutely deserved their place in the top four last season and with the quality of the coaching team they have, their new training centre and the feel-good factor around the club at the moment I’ll be really surprised if they’re not in the top four again at the end of this season.”

Saracens

Last season: Promoted as Greene King IPA Championship winners

Top scorer: Manu Vunipola (98)

Top try scorer: Ben Earl/Rotimi Segun (7)

Head coach: Mark McCall (appointed 2011)

Arrivals: 12 including loan returnees Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Max Malins, Alex Goode and Alex Lozowski

Departures: 10 including Michael Rhodes and Calum Clark

Most recent play-off season: 2018/19

Title wins: Five

Nick’s verdict:

“They’re my title favourites. Even thought their time in the Championship wasn’t the adventure they hoped it would be due to COVID-19 and the abbreviated season, they are back in the Premiership now and if any team has a better season than Sarries they will be very close to winning the title.

“We can all rattle off the names of the loan players they have back – perhaps the only question is how long it will take them to bed back in after not playing any games together last season.

“There might also be a small question mark over how long it takes their Lions players to get back up to speed but I suspect they will answer those questions pretty well and not having the Heineken Cup on their agenda this year makes the Premiership their big focus.”

Wasps

Last season: Eighth with 50 points (W9, D0, L13)

Top scorer: Jacob Umaga (98)

Top try scorer: Josh Bassett (9)

Head coach: Lee Blackett (appointed 2019)

Arrivals: 13 including Francois Hougaard, Elliott Stooke, Vaea Fifita and Nizaam Carr

Departures: 13 including Tommy Taylor, Will Rowlands, Kieran Brookes and Lima Sopoaga

Most recent play-off season: 2019/20

Title wins: Six

Nick’s verdict:

“I start every season by wondering what Wasps are going to do and again they are really hard to read.

“I’m a bit concerned that Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis and Paolo Odogwu will miss the first half of the season but like them having Nizaam Carr back and Elliott Stooke looks a hefty chunk to replace Will Rowlands.

“Francois Hougaard looks a clever signing who will work well with the young half-backs they have coming through while Alfie Barbeary offers plenty of hope for the future.

“I love watching Wasps – Dai Young used to hate me calling them rock stars but to a degree they still have that feel to them. What I suspect keeps the coaches awake at night is not knowing how they will perform from one day to the next but that’s what makes them so watchable.

“Who knows where they’ll finish this season, but it will be interesting to see!”

Worcester v Leicester (PA)

Worcester Warriors

Last season: Twelfth with 27 points (W4, D0, L18)

Top scorer: Billy Searle (63)

Top try scorer: Perry Humphries (5)

Head coach: Alan Solomons (appointed 2017)

Arrivals: 18 including Duhan van der Merwe, Rory Sutherland, Matt Garvey and Willi Heinz

Departures: 21 including Duncan Weir, Chris Pennell and Francois Hougaard

Most recent play-off season: None

Title wins: None

Nick’s verdict:

“With 19 players having gone they have been the ‘churnmeisters’ and if churn is the word for the club then patience is the key word for the supporters.

“I really hope they understand where the club are at the moment. Loads of us within the sport have so much time for Jonathan Thomas, he’s one of the smartest, most engaging young coaches in the Premiership.

“No relegation makes this the ideal time for a major stock take and I know JT is rebranding what they’re all about.

“I like the kind of player they’ve brought in – the likes of Willi Heinz, Duhan van der Merwe, Scott Baldwin and Rory Sutherland – and I think they’ll be tougher to beat next season.

“But everyone needs some realism around where they are – Jonathan Thomas is pointing them in the right direction but there’s a lot of work ahead.”

 

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Nick Mullins' Premiership preview - part three Sale to Worcester

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