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Nick Mullins' Premiership preview - part two Leicester to Northampton

By Paul Smith
Leicester in action against Worcester (PA)

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


Over the course of around 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

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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown

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

Leicester Tigers

Last season: Sixth with 54 points (W11, D0, L11)

Top scorer: Zack Henry (98)

Top try scorer: Julian Montoya (5)

Head coach: Steve Borthwick (appointed 2020)

Arrivals: 14 including Freddie Burns, Marco van Staden and Bryce Hegarty


Departures: 17 including Tomas Lavanini, Zack Henry and Joaquin Diaz Bonilla

Most recent play-off season: 2016/17

Title wins: Ten

Nick’s verdict:

“Clearing out the attic feels the best way to describe last season when they had the most major of overhauls. It felt like I was getting an email every day telling me another player had left.

“At times it felt brutal looking from the outside but clearly it was needed because by the end of last season they were looking like their old selves.

“I think I said in commentary at one point that they were starting to look, smell and play like Steve Borthwick and if ever a team needed to be remodelled in the image of its head coach than Leicester were that club.


“Borthwick has come in and taken them back to the old days. I think the signings are really clever – as we saw with the Lions van Staden is impressive. They’re getting some old-fashioned grunt back in the pack and with the likes of Freddie Burns and Bryce Hegarty there will be plenty to smile about.

“Although we seem to talk a lot about coaches and the standards they set these days Kevin Sinfield is going to be a really interesting story this season, as will Richard Wigglesworth and Matt Smith coming together to look after the attack. I’ll be surprised if they’re not pushing hard for the top four.”

London Irish

Last season: Ninth with 48 points (W6, D2, L14)

Top scorer: Paddy Jackson (177)

Top try scorer: Curtis Rona (8)

Head coach: Declan Kidney (appointed 2018)

Arrivals: 14 including Benhard Janse van Rensburg and Marcel van der Merwe

Departures: 10 including Blair Cowan, Waisake Naholo and Tom Homer

Most recent play-off season: 2008/9

Title wins: None

Nick’s verdict:

“Speaking personally their new stadium is one of the go-to places in the Premiership. The walk to the ground past the riverside pubs then the value for money from a season ticket at Brentford is tremendous.

“They are thrilling to watch at times, but I suspect because Declan Kidney is more pragmatic than me that he would swap some of the excitement for a bit more consistency.

“There’s no Blair Cowan or Theo Brophy-Clews this season but with a good crop of ex-academy players let’s see Irish not having to come back from 30 points down to win thrillingly quite so often, and instead winning a few dull games.”

Newcastle Falcons

Last season: Tenth with 45 points (W9, D0, L13)

Top scorer: Brett Connon (81)

Top try scorer: Adam Radwan/George McGuigan (7)

Head coach: Dean Richards (appointed 2012)

Arrivals: 13 including Mike Brown and Nathan Earle

Departures: 14 including Toby Flood and Cooper Vuna

Most recent play-off season: 2017/18

Title wins: One

Nick’s verdict:

“Newcastle Brown has become the phrase and there’s been plenty of chat about Mike Brown.

“I think the move has come at a good time for him and despite leaving the champion club he’ll enjoy what they’re doing at Newcastle.

“He’ll have some familiar faces around him in Nathan Earle, Ollie Lindsay-Hague, Nick Easter and Dean Richards and I think he’ll like the playing surface.

“Can they make the top six…I don’t know. But Newcastle will be well worth watching, they’ve signed cleverly and I like the coaching team Dean Richards has put round him.”

Northampton Saints

Last season: Fifth with 57 points (W11, D0, L11)

Top scorer: James Grayson (83)

Top try scorer: Ollie Sleightholme (7)

Head coach: Chris Boyd (appointed 2018)

Arrivals: Six including Juarno Augustus and Brandon Nansen

Departures: 11 including Ben Franks, Harry Mallinder and Samson Ma’asi

Most recent play-off season: 2018/19

Title wins: One

Nick’s verdict:

“I always got the sense last season that for all the promise and despite them finishing fifth there was still a huge sense of frustration amongst the players and coaches.

“When you consider they finished three or four wins off Quins, they can look back at plenty of matches they should have won if they’d had a bit more composure close to the try-line.

“That will be a big work-on for them again this season – but I like the fact that Lewis Ludlam is in charge and he’ll have a lot of experience around him.

“If Saints can find some consistency when their noses are around the try-line they will be pushing for the play-offs, and there’s no reason to think they can’t turn that frustration into winning a few more games.”


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