The one overwhelming hope as Prem 2022/23 kicks off - Andy Goode
The plight of Worcester has dominated a pre-season in England that has seen less transfer activity than I can remember for a long time but the Gallagher Premiership remains as intriguing and competitive as ever. The Warriors have been the ones in the limelight but we all know the whole league is feeling the pinch and just a handful of clubs have made splashy signings.
Leicester, Bristol and Sale have been the big hitters in that regard and that will raise hopes that the Bears and Sharks can right the wrongs of the last campaign and return to the Premiership playoffs after a season away.
Sale have a real chance with Alex Sanderson having even more time to get his feet under the table and George Ford, Jonny Hill and Tom O’Flaherty all significant acquisitions. Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager are among a quartet of South African departures but they look well-placed for a tilt at the top four.
Bristol are bringing the noise with Ellis Genge as stirring a signing as you can get given his local roots and playing style. Add in AJ MacGinty, Magnus Bradbury and Gabriel Ibitoye and they certainly look a stronger proposition.
Last season was such a fall from grace for the Bears, though, with issues off the field adding to a major hangover from the manner of their semi-final defeat to Harlequins in the previous campaign, and I just can’t see them going from tenth to challenging for the title.
The champions have made the most high-profile signing in World Cup-winning fly-half Handre Pollard, with England international Anthony Watson fairly high up on that list, too. They are shoo-ins for the top four again.
In the capital, Saracens and Harlequins have been very quiet in terms of recruitment but both still look very strong on paper and I can’t see them missing out on the end-of-season shake-up either.
Gloucester exceeded everyone’s expectations last season and I may or may not have tipped them for a lowly finish before the season began before falling away in the final rounds of the regular season – I think it will be them or Sale to round off the top four.
The recent news of Ed Slater’s MND diagnosis shocked the rugby world, not just Gloucester, but that might just galvanise an already united group that bit more. George Skivington worked wonders last season and they could go one better this time around.
The transfer activity may have been understated and the squads may be trimmed down but the truism that anyone can beat anyone else on any given day still remains. Over the course of a long, arduous domestic campaign, though, I do think the Premiership has become something of a two-tier league in recent times.
I can’t see Bath, Newcastle, Worcester or Wasps breaking out of that bottom five and London Irish may be the ones to drop out of the top eight if Bristol pull themselves together. Exeter are the elephant in the room. A humbling seventh-place finish after six consecutive seasons finishing in the top two but it’s hard to make the case for a return to the playoffs.
With no relegation still, all the focus is on the fight for the top four and there is more than enough quality across the league to ensure that battle goes down to the wire and we won’t lack for entertainment again.
The one intrigue we could do without is whether we will still have 13 clubs standing come May – or come October for that matter. The Premiership is here to entertain and I have no doubt it will deliver in spades once more but the overwhelming hope and aim as the 2022/23 season kicks off has to be simply that everyone makes it through to the end.
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