Following Sale’s blockbuster signing of Chris Ashton and with most clubs starting pre-season already RugbyPass looks at the top-10 Premiership signings for the 2018/19 season.
1. Chris Ashton, Sale Sharks
Shifted to full-back at Toulon and responded by grabbing the Top 14 try-scoring record, crossing 24 times, five times more than closest rival Nemani Nadolo. With Marland Yarde and Denny Solomona taking up the wing berths, 15 is where he appears to be staying. Sale now look like they have the most potent back three in the Premiership. If full-back is where Ashton is targeting internationally, he faces fierce competition from Mike Brown, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell, but as he illustrated in his three-try performance for the Barbarians against England in May, he’s more than capable of matching those four.
2. Charles Piutau, Bristol Bears
Reportedly the highest paid player in the game after signing from Ulster. Piutau was an impressive performer while at the Kingspan, winning PRO12 Players’ Player of the Year in 2017, but last season was somewhat injury interrupted. He has 16 caps for the All Blacks, a number that would have been far greater had he remained at home. He excelled in his season with Wasps too and was nominated for the 2015/16 Premiership player of the season. His transition to the West Country club will be helped by the fact that his brother Siale is already on their books.
3. Lima Sopoaga, Wasps
If you’re going to let Danny Cipriani go, there has to be a reason – a 16-times capped All Black is a good place to start. Sopoaga is just 27 and would most certainly have been in the New Zealand squad at next year’s World Cup had he not chosen to venture to the Northern Hemisphere. He’s a trophy winner; he lifted the U20 World Championship with New Zealand and combined with All Black scrum-half Aaron Smith to help the Highlanders to their first Super Rugby title in 2015. His halfback partnership with Dan Robson at Wasps will be one of the most potent in the Premiership next year.
4. Danny Cipriani, Gloucester Rugby
A first international Test start for England in ten years last month and his crosskick for Jonny May’s try in the third Test against South Africa illustrated what he can do. The 30-year-old will be determined to follow up his fine form at Wasps by hitting the ground running at Kingsholm. Gloucester are showing signs of progress under Johan Ackermann and are back in the Champions Cup, so that will provide a good shop window for Cipriani to impress Eddie Jones.
5. Brad Shields, Wasps
Born in New Zealand to English parents, the Hurricanes captain was subject to a bit of a tug-of-war in the build-up to England’s tour to South Africa, with the NZRU eventually relenting and releasing the flanker who went on to win two caps. The 27-year-old can also slot in at second row and that versatility is always invaluable. Buckets of Super Rugby experience, having made his debut for the Hurricanes in 2012 and won the title in 2016 with the club.
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6. Nizaam Carr, Wasps
Impressed while on a three-month injury cover deal at the Ricoh last season, with the number eight scoring four tries in 11 appearances. There was a huge clamour to get the five-times capped Springbok back on a full-time basis and a deal was finally agreed last month, moving from the Stormers.
7. Zurabi Zhvania, Wasps
This teak-tough Georgian loosehead is just 26 years old. He’s hugely experienced, a French Top 14 winner in 2015 and a Challenge Cup winner in 2017 with Stade Francais. He made over 100 appearances in his six seasons at the Parisian club. Fond of scoring a try too, with a quite exceptional 10 in 34 caps since he made his debut for the Lelos in 2013. The 125kg prop can shift the gears and is useful in the loose, which will suit Wasps’ playing style.
8. Jaco Kriel, Gloucester Rugby
Captained the Lions to two successive Super Rugby finals, which were lost to the Hurricanes and the Crusaders. He made his Springboks debut in June 2016 and has picked up 11 caps so far. He would certainly have been in Rassie Erasmus’ thoughts had injury not curtailed him this season, a shoulder problem has meant he’s played no Super Rugby. He will be playing under his former coach Johan Ackermann at Gloucester, part of the South African revolution at Kingsholm. A modest 1.86m and 101kg, but don’t let that fool you, he’s a menace at the breakdown.
9. Dan Biggar, Northampton Saints
The Wales international has crossed the Severn to try his hand in the Premiership after spending his entire career at the Ospreys. He is the PRO14 all-time leading points scorer with 1,585. Biggar has 62 caps to his name, but he was rested for the tour to Argentina which should have him refreshed for the new season. However, Warren Gatland has warned that Biggar’s place in the international team is in “jeopardy” following his move to England, noting the progress of Rhys Patchell at the Scarlets. With the World Cup on the horizon, the 28-year-old will need a big season at the Saints and he’ll be central to the rebuild under Chris Boyd.
10. Taqele Naiyaravoro, Northampton Saints
Replacing George North is not going to be an easy task, but the Saints have plumped for a Fiji-born Australian international. At a beefy 123kg and 1.95m Naiyaravoro will take some shifting. He has northern hemisphere experience too, having spent a season with Glasgow Warriors scoring nine tries in 22 games in the 2015/16 season. Alan Gaffney has certainly talked him up, “He’s an excellent ball carrier and I think he’ll be the sensation of Franklin’s Gardens next season.” – no pressure then Taqele.
(One to watch – Joe Cokanasiga, Bath)
Signed from London Irish on a three-year deal. He is a player that Eddie Jones rates, participating in various training camps and toured to Argentina in summer 2017. He was also called up for the training squad ahead of the Barbarians game in May, but didn’t make the 23-man squad. The Fiji-born England Under 20 international has senior honours on his mind. “The environment at Bath is exactly what I need to develop and achieve my international ambitions”, he said after signing on at the Rec. The 2018/19 season could be a big one.
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