As the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season begins to wind down, it is a time of reflection for the clubs not preparing for a post-season adventure in the playoffs.
It’s been a season in which a number of promising youngsters have broken out and there have been plenty of highlight performances from players at all 12 clubs, but what about the new additions to the competition?
A raft of new signings were brought in for the season from all corners of the rugby-playing world and many of them have had debut seasons to remember in the Premiership.
We have counted down our top six additions of the 2018/19 season, based on the level of their play and the impact they have had on their new teams.
Before we get into the top six, just a few words for some of the players who were right on the cusp of making it.
Up front, John Afoa, Christian Judge and Zurab Zhvania have all shone, helping anchor their respective scrums, whilst back rowers Alex Dombrandt and Guy Thompson have also been very valuable additions.
Dan Biggar has transitioned well to life at Franklin’s Gardens, Piers O’Conor has thrived at Bristol Bears and Ruaridh McConnochie has been a steal from sevens, with the wing showing his worth when Semesa Rokoduguni, Anthony Watson and Joe Cokanasiga were all unavailable for Bath. Charles Piutau has flashed his unquestioned ability, too, although an injury-plagued season meant he falls short of the top six.
In at six is Springbok international Mostert, whose play alongside Ed Slater this season has never fallen short of superb. He has brought physicality, energy and technical skill to the Gloucester engine room and he has been a pivotal part of the Cherry and Whites becoming a more consistent side.
He arrived late, due to his Super Rugby and international commitments, so it is even further to his credit that he’s been able to get to this level without a proper offseason, nor a full season in the Premiership. He has made himself a lynchpin in this new-look Gloucester side.
Naiyaravoro’s season hasn’t been without its lows, that include some moments in defence that he would want to have back, but his attacking play has been sublime, even bordering on unplayable at times. A general rule of thumb this season for Saints has been that when Naiyaravoro goes well, the rest of the team will go well, with very few opposition wingers having an answer on defence for the Australian.
His physical carrying and refined offloading have not only seen him score plenty of tries himself, they have also opened up the game for Saints and created plenty of scoring opportunities for his teammates. If Northampton and Chris Boyd can help him become slightly more consistent in defence, they will be confident he can help spearhead and sustain their charge back up the table.
It’s a shame that injury has curtailed Earle’s campaign, with the rapid wing having been in the mix to top the Premiership try charts this season. The move to Quins has seen Earle thrive as a regular in the starting XV, something which eluded him at Saracens, and the subsequent confidence and form he has gained has helped propel Quins into a dogfight for the final playoff spot.
Alongside Joe Marchant and Marcus Smith in the club’s back line, Earle’s speed has helped make the unit one of the toughest to defend in the competition and he has begun to realise the potential he promised when he came through the England U20s side. Once his rehabilitation is done, Quins will be hoping for even more from their man next season.
How valuable has Weir’s unerring boot been for Worcester and their battle against relegation this season? His level of play for Warriors has been consistently high and he has been the swing factor in a number of matches, not just securing his side important wins, but also picking up the odd bonus point here and there.
His current tally of 188 points is just three less than the league-leading George Ford’s, with two games in the regular season left to go. His impact has not all been with the boot, either, as he has dovetailed nicely with Francois Hougaard in the half-backs and regularly been able to unleash the talents of Bryce Heem and Josh Adams out wide.
- Danny Cipriani, Gloucester
You need no more evidence for this selection than the fact that Gloucester have gone out and renegotiated Cipriani’s contract, handing him a lucrative extension in order to keep him at Kingsholm. Cipriani’s bravery on the gain-line has brought the best out of both Mark Atkinson and Billy Twelvetrees this season in the Gloucester midfield.
He has been unlucky not win an England recall after impressing in South Africa last summer, but that has only maximised his importance to Johan Ackermann and the impact he has been able to have on the playoff-bound side. His playmaking ability as a first receiver has been second to none in the Premiership this season and his almost-languid style should see him continue to thrive in this role for a few more seasons yet.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
It would have taken a gutsy pundit to bet on this man topping these rankings at the beginning of the season, amid the likes of Piutau, Mostert and Cipriani all setting up with new clubs. The hooker is entirely deserving of this spot, though, as his dynamic play in the loose has been tailormade to what Pat Lam is putting together at Bristol.
It’s not just the play in the loose, where he has obviously thrived, but his lineout work has also been very consistent and whilst the Bristol scrum won’t be held up as one of the top two or three units in the competition, it has certainly held its own. Although Lam recently stated that the All Blacks would look at Thacker if he were a Kiwi, an England call-up doesn’t feel as though it’s on the agenda and that is something which should only see his importance to Bristol grow over the coming seasons.
WATCH: The Academy – Part Three
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