It’s been a crazy old season in the Gallagher Premiership and with every passing day, it’s looking more and more likely that we may have seen the last of the competition for the 2019/20 campaign.

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With the Covid-19 outbreak putting the brakes on the competition until next month at the very earliest, and it looking unlikely that rugby will resume even then, the preseason friendlies for the 2020/21 season could be the next time we see a ball passed or kicked in anger in the competition.

There are also doomsday scenarios whereby one or two clubs could even end up going into administration due to the financial losses they will face over the period and though, touch wood, that doesn’t come to pass, it could be the last time we see those sides in their current guises.

Given those rather foreboding possibilities, we have looked back at the 13 rounds of rugby that were able to be played and come up with our potential end of season review.

From breakthrough players to biggest disappointments, and top signings to the XV of the season, we have it all covered below.

Continue reading below…

Watch: The Lockdown Episode 1 – Jim Hamilton is joined by Ian McKinley

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Breakthrough Player of the Season

1stLouis Rees-Zammit, Gloucester

The 19-year-old has thrived in senior rugby in just his first season out of Hartpury College and those performances for the Cherry and Whites were rewarded with a call-up to the Wales squad for the Guinness Six Nations. He has yet to make his full international debut, but his prolific finishing has him earmarked as a player who can be a difference-maker at the highest level in the future.

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2ndJoel Kpoku, Saracens

With Maro Itoje and George Kruis given an extended offseason following the Rugby World Cup and then again being required by England during the Six Nations, Kpoku has taken those opportunities with both hands and established himself as a player more than capable of cutting it at the Premiership level. He will be a vital component in the club’s rebuild following their salary cap indiscretions and expected relegation.

3rdAlex Coles, Northampton Saints

A partner in the England U20 engine room with Kpoku last season, Coles has risen to prominence with Northampton this campaign, thanks in part due to Chris Boyd’s willingness to give youth a chance in the East Midlands. Whether deployed in the second row or at blindside flanker, in the now fashionable Pieter-Steph du Toit role, Coles has impressed for Saints and has formed nice tandems with fellow academy products Lewis Ludlam and Alex Moon.

Honourable mentionsJacob Umaga (Wasps), George Furbank (Northampton Saints), Manu Vunipola (Saracens), Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), Gabriel Hamer-Webb (Bath), Ioan Lloyd (Bristol Bears), Ollie Hassell-Collins (London Irish), JJ Tonks (Northampton Saints), Rotimi Segun (Saracens)

Biggest disappointment

1stGloucester

The regression that Gloucester have encountered this season has been significant and disheartening for the club’s fervent fan base. Recent history shows that at least one of the two teams finishing 3rd or 4th in the Premiership will fall away the next season, so though whilst not entirely surprising, that is small comfort to those who were so buoyed by their 2018/19 campaign and expected even bigger and better things this season. Only time will tell if this is a one-season blip or a period of more considerable challenges for the club.

2ndRelegation battle

Often the most compelling aspect of the Premiership season, Saracens’ salary cap infringements and subsequent points deductions have taken away all excitement around that usually competitive contest. Without that punishment, Leicester and Worcester would be in the thick of it, with Gloucester, London Irish, Harlequins and Bath all within a two-game swing of bottom spot.

3rdLeicester Tigers

Leicester’s struggles last season were an unaccustomed experience for the club’s fans, who are much more used to life at the top of the table. If there were any hopes that it was a one-season anomaly, they have been dispelled thoroughly over the past six months, as Tigers have once again struggled near the bottom of the competition. They will be forever thankful for Saracens’ indiscretions coming to light.

Signing of the Season

1stDan du Preez, Sale Sharks

If you had to nail down one catalyst for Sale’s rise up the table to second spot, it would have to be du Preez, who has not only done extremely well to be the standout player in the north-west, but also the standout player in his family, with his two brothers having also impressed. His ball-carrying has been welcomed among the grafters, contact area specialists and defensive juggernauts in the Sharks’ back row.

2ndJacques Vermeulen, Exeter Chiefs

Vermeulen’s signing came in somewhat under the radar last year, although that’s the last thing you could say of his performances since he arrived in the south-west. He has fit like a glove in Exeter’s physical and abrasive back row, and his graft and work in defence and attack at and close to the contact area, has helped the Chiefs excel.

3rdNathan Hughes, Bristol Bears

After bursting on to the scene with Wasps and England, Hughes’ stock had arguably began to drop a little in his final season at the Ricoh Arena, to the point one or two may have raised an eyebrow at the amount of money Pat Lam invested in the No 8. Hughes and Lam have been completely and comprehensively vindicated, though, as the former Auckland back row has shone in Bristol’s high-octane attacking game plan and is currently looking like money very well spent.

Honourable MentionsWill Stuart (Bath), Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs), Joe Simpson (Gloucester), Jordan Taufua (Leicester Tigers), Jean-Luc du Preez (Sale Sharks), Robert du Preez (Sale Sharks), Zach Kibirige (Newcastle Falcons)

Biggest surprise

1st – London Irish

Having spent big on their return to the Premiership, there was always going to be plenty of intrigue around Irish this season, though few expected those high-profile players to settle in and form a cohesive team as quickly as they have. Irish’s fast start to the season and significant scalps taken has put them in a solid position, even though relegation was taken off the table for other reasons.

2ndBristol Bears (and their defence)

Everyone was impressed with Bristol last season and how well they coped in their first season back in the Premiership. They have consolidated that this campaign and added a resoluteness and defensive toughness that arguably wasn’t there the previous season. Their games might not be quite as end-to-end and helter skelter as neutrals would want, but they are in a better place now to make a legitimate title bid next season.

3rdSale Sharks

Sale’s recruitment prior to this season was exciting and it was eye-catching, although there was no guarantee the players would swiftly bed in and they’d be able to launch a challenge on the Premiership title. Those fears were unfounded, though, as the players have settled quickly and Sale currently sit second in the table. With that strong South African core in place, Sale have taken the first step in following Saracens’ model of success.

Coach of the Season

1stLee Blackett, Wasps

Wasps had been battling it out with Leicester and Worcester at the bottom of the table, only for Blackett’s mid-season promotion to see them power away from the sides in the lower echelons and put themselves in a Heineken Champions Cup qualifying spot. The club’s three-straight wins prior to the season suspension included a 60-10 mauling of Saracens and impressive bonus point wins over London Irish and Gloucester.

2ndSteve Diamond, Sale Sharks

Not everyone’s cup of tea, admittedly, but Diamond deserves credit for the way he has moulded the Sale squad this season and put them on track for a home semi-final in the Premiership playoffs. He’s only beaten here by Blackett due to the fact he is operating with a much more talent-rich squad than his Wasps counterpart.

3rdMark McCall, Saracens

Unfortunately for McCall, there will now always be an asterisk next to his achievements at Saracens, though that should not take away from the fine effort he’s put in this season. With a squad that is now cap compliant and still picked over by England for players, Saracens have put together enough wins and points to see them sit second in the competition were it not for their points deduction, and plenty of exciting youngsters have been blooded and given opportunities.

XV of the Season

 

  1. Charles Piutau, Bristol Bears

 

  1. Zach Kibirige, Wasps

 

  1. Ollie Lawrence, Worcester Warriors

 

  1. Nick Tompkins, Saracens

 

  1. Taqele Naiyaravoro, Northampton Saints

 

  1. Marcus Smith, Harlequins

 

  1. Cobus Reinach, Northampton Saints

 

  1. Ellis Genge, Leicester Tigers

 

  1. Luke Cowan-Dickie, Exeter Chiefs

 

  1. Vincent Koch, Saracens

 

  1. Franco Mostert, Gloucester

 

  1. Nick Isiekwe, Saracens

 

  1. Jacques Vermeulen, Exeter Chiefs

 

  1. Ben Earl, Saracens

 

  1. Dan du Preez, Sale Sharks

 

Young Guns XV of the Season

 

  1. George Furbank, Northampton Saints

 

  1. Louis Rees-Zammit, Gloucester

 

  1. Fraser Dingwall, Northampton Saints

 

  1. Jacob Umaga, Wasps

 

  1. Ollie Hassell-Collins, London Irish

 

  1. Manu Vunipola, Saracens

 

  1. Jack Maunder, Exeter Chiefs

 

  1. Rhys Carre, Saracens

 

  1. Will Capon, Bristol Bears

 

  1. Joe Heyes, Leicester Tigers

 

  1. Joel Kpoku, Saracens

 

  1. Alex Coles, Northampton Saints

 

  1. JJ Tonks, Northampton Saints

 

  1. Ben Earl, Saracens

 

  1. Ted Hill, Worcester Warriors

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