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Premiership clubs looking at 13s

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The market for outside centres to become bloodbath as four English club giants compete for talent

As Gallagher Premiership sides continue to build their squads for the 2019/20 season, it seems the market for outside centres is heating up in English rugby’s top tier competition.

Per RugbyPass sources, Gloucester, Northampton Saints, Saracens and Wasps are all looking for a big-name addition in the 13 jersey, whilst Bristol Bears and Newcastle Falcons are also keen to add to their options at the position.

Fortunately for the clubs involved, there a number of enticing options coming off of contract at the end of the 2018/19 season.

The three biggest names in contract years in the Premiership would be Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o, whilst Wasps have also been heavily mooted to sign former All Black Malakai Fekitoa.

Joseph has already been linked with a lucrative move to Bristol but no matter how impressive the offer, that is a move, if it were to happen, that is unlikely to progress until Bristol show they are more than likely going to avoid the drop to the Greene King IPA Championship this season.

Tuilagi and Te’o have enjoyed profitable deals at Leicester Tigers and Worcester Warriors respectively but have seen their tenures blighted by injury. It will be interesting to see if this affects their clubs’ attitudes towards retention and how their market value sits with the other Premiership clubs.

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Watch: Damian Hopley discusses player welfare education in the wake of the new season structure that comes into place after the Rugby World Cup.

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Both Joseph and Tuilagi, presumably, retain England ambitions beyond the 2019 Rugby World Cup, so stays in the Premiership make sense for them, but Te’o, who turns 32 this season, could profit from a stint in the Top 14 before eventually hanging up his boots.

Should Joseph and Tuilagi opt to leave their clubs, that would also bring Bath and Leicester into the outside centre market.

Another intriguing name could be Ollie Devoto.

The Exeter Chief signed a three-year deal with he joined from Bath and that contract expires this season. He is built in the mould of the secondary playmakers that have come into vogue at the 13 position following the rises of Henry Slade and Alex Lozowski, but unfortunately injuries have marred his time at Exeter so far.

Two players who may not be ‘stars’ but who have proven they have what it takes at the highest club level, are Saracens’ Nick Tompkins and Newcastle’s Tom Penny.

Tompkins has struggled to break into the regular Saracens XV and with Lozowski seemingly having taken up permanent station there this season, the former England U20 star could be eyeing up first team rugby elsewhere. As for Penny, he’s worked his way ahead of Scotland international Chris Harris at Kingston Park in recent weeks and has been dovetailing nicely with Johnny Williams in the north-east.

Both Tompkins and Penny are in contract years.

Experienced operators like Marcelo Bosch and Olivier Wynand are also in the final seasons of their respective deals and could be short-term solutions for clubs looking to fill out their squads and have them provide mentoring roles for younger players.

The other option for clubs looking to bolster their stocks at 13 or find a potential starter would be to target players currently on senior academy contracts and bring them in before their value skyrockets.

Gabriel Ibitoye is being looked at as a wing by Harlequins and all of his potential suitors, but 13 is a position he is well-acquainted with and could certainly perform at a high standard at in the Premiership.

Ollie Lawrence is already making waves at the senior level, although Worcester Warriors will be keen to lock him up on a long-term senior contract, Saracens’ Dom Morris is ready for more games and Harlequins’ Harry Barlow has plenty of talent, but faces a tough pecking order to climb in the club’s midfield.

In other news: Premiership CEO Mark McCafferty explains the how the new season structure will work.

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The market for outside centres to become bloodbath as four English club giants compete for talent