After a summer hiatus, Premiership Rugby gets back underway this weekend. With a year to the Rugby World Cup, it promises to be an epic 12 months as players stretch every sinew for their clubs and country. At Twickenham, RugbyPass+ spoke to England players with nearly 300 caps between them to tip who they think will surprise a few fans in the coming months. A few names may surprise you…
Ollie Hassell-Collins (London Irish)
Paddy Jackson was a talisman for us last season and I expect him to be a key player again for us this time out. He brings real consistency when he plays, but he’s also a really good coach on the field, and off it. He really helps the young lads throughout the squad, and from a personal basis, I know he’s really helped me a lot, with regards to positioning, tactical stuff and generally little snippets. You certainly notice when he’s not around.
Of the younger lads, Will Joseph is electric. Similar to Henry Arundell, he can just create magic whenever he gets the ball. He’s so unpredictable and I think he’s really going to push for that 13 shirt that Curtis (Rona) has. Curtis isn’t going anywhere but I expect Will to improve massively this year. Similar to his big brother, Jonathan and you don’t want to have to defend him one-on-one because he can make you look foolish. In training, if he breaks the line, most of us start worrying.
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints)
We all look up to big Courtney Lawes in the squad. He’s so calm in the high-pressure situations. He’s a laid-back character, and I’ve learnt a huge deal from him over the years. I know he’ll be with England at times, but I think we’ll see a lot of him at Franklin’s Gardens. He’s not a big shouter but on the pitch, but he leads by example. Once he crosses the whitewash, he’s a competitive animal and knows how to switch on.
At Saints, we’ve always had a rich seam of young players. One player I think could surprise people is Kayde Sylvester. He’s struggled with injuries in recent seasons but as a third-year academy player, he’s really impressed us in training and when he’s played. He plays in the backrow and definitely has something about him. I keep a close eye on his development and expect him to be a fantastic player.
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
I know he’s not exactly senior member of playing staff at just 23, but Tommy Reffell was fantastic for us last season, the way he developed, slowed the game down or pinched the ball was invaluable. He was rewarded with a brilliant first Wales tour in South Africa and it won’t be the last. I think he’s going to go from strength to strength.
Another youngster I think will have a big season is George Martin. He’s only 21 and has been capped for England but he’s really maturing. He had a few injuries last season but he’s a big physical lump and he hits people hard. I can see him kicking on this season, with his carrying game and lineout work. He’s going to be a big asset to our back row this year.
Jamie George (Saracens)
Of the old boys, I think Billy Vunipola is going to carry on from where he left off for us last season. He was in serious form for us and England and he reminded people how good he can be. He’s an incredible player.
I think our recruitment team have done a great job in picking up Hugh Tizard from Harlequins. He was really impressive for them last year and I think he will add a huge amount to our forward pack. He gets his head down, works hard and he’s made that position his own. Training with him, you don’t realise how skilful he is, either. He looks like the full package.
Jonny May (Gloucester)
I’m really looking forward to seeing Jake Polledri running out at Kingsholm. I think he told me the other day, he’s been out for more than 600 days. He’s an absolute legend of a bloke, and I know he played against Hartpury in a pre-season game, so he’s going to be like a new player for us. He’s had a challenging time personally and professionally, so I’m chuffed he’s back.
Of the younger lads, Arthur Clarke, the Cherry & Whites second row could be in for a big season. He won the Coaches Award last season. He’s a big unit, something like 6ft 7ins, and works hard. He has that Gloucester DNA built into him and I’m a big fan.
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
We have a lot of leaders in the Chiefs squad, the likes of myself, Nowellsy and Hoggy (Stuart Hogg) but when the chips are down, we definitely look to Dave Ewers to give us some go-forward. He’s pretty quiet vocally but he’s at the heart of everything good in the squad. He is a real talisman for us, an immensely strong man who goes down as a legend in these parts.
Of the youngsters, in the backline, we saw a bit of him last year but I’m hoping to see Josh Hodges go well. He had a shoulder operation and he’s used the time to put a bit of size on, so he’s got all the skills to light up the Premiership. In the forwards, I’d also keep an eye on Dafydd Jenkins. He’s a big boy at 6ft 7ins, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders and is going to be a special player.