The Aviva Premiership has attracted a smorgasbord of talent from around the world for the start of the next season
To compare the transfer business of the Premiership to the recruitment drives of the Top 14 would be to liken sherbet lemon to gold-leafed canapés. The galaxy of stars in the French league has expanded almost exponentially over the summer with each side brimming with an embarrassment of riches. Premiership clubs have (we hope) operated within the constraints of a salary cap but have still procured some prestigious talents. We look at the ins and outs so far…
Free-flowing play was not enough for Bath to claim their first Premiership title since 1997, as a power-packed Saracens halted them in the final. In preparation for next season’s campaign, Bath have snapped up creative Fijian Niko Matawulu from Glasgow after a first ever Pro12 crown, 34-cap Wales and Scarlets fly-half Rhys Priestland and highly-rated No 9, Jonathan Evans from the Dragons. There are also strong rumours of Wales and Lions international Taulupe Faletau linking with Sam Burgess and Francois Louw to form an star-studded backrow. However, the West Country club will undoubtedly miss loosehead Paul James (an asset to any scrum), powerful backrow Carl Fearns and veteran scrumhalf Peter Stringer who move to Ospreys, Lyon and Sale respectively.
Key signing: Niko Matawalu – Likely to excite and frustrate in equal measures but will be hard to ignore
Key departure: Carl Fearns – The big Liverpudlian could make the hard yards in tight games and was a fan favourite at The Rec
Exeter came within hours of reaching last years play-offs after a season of undoubted progress. Rob Baxter has recruited two wily Tigers in the form Geoff Parling and Julian Salvi to inject more quality into an already dynamic pack. Michele Campagnaro, who was a delight for Italy in the 2014 Six Nations and should be a welcome addition in midfield. Watch out for league convert Josh Jones after 21 tries in 64 appearances for St Helens. Meanwhile wing Tom James (Cardiff), Ceri Sweeney (Pontypridd) and the influential Dean Mumm (Waratahs) have left Sandy Park.
Key signing: Geoff Parling – Parling brings the leadership and experience of a Lion and obvious lineout expertise
Key departure: Dean Mumm – one of the finest Premiership acquisitions in recent years, his leadership will be missed
With a mixed campaign in the League last season, beset by inconsistencies, Gloucester are in need of significant reinforcements. The Cherry and Whites have invested in a trio of Kiwis with utility back Tom Marshall (Chiefs), All Black lock Jeremy Thrush (Hurricanes) and Willi Heinz (Crusaders) all being drafted by the club. Paul Doran-Jones will once again look to prove his potential, rejoining the side he left two years ago, after unsuccessful forays to Harlequins and Northampton. Dan Robson will be a loss at scrumhalf after providing dependable cover for Greig Laidlaw last season while grizzled England lock Tom Palmer will depart form Benetton Treviso.
Key signing: Jeremy Thrush – The Gloucester engine room has lacked guile in recent years, All Black Thrush should help
Key departure: Dan Robson – Scorer of some sensational tries, Robson was earmarked as ‘one for the future’ at Kingsholm
An absent England contingent and a prolonged injury for fullback Mike Brown hampered Harlequins’ season but a clutch of marquee signings will have bolstered hopes for next year. No side in the Premiership has added more proven quality to their roster as Quins, with Adam Jones (Cardiff) providing significant experience in the front row, Jamie Roberts (Racing 92) muscle in midfield, Tim Visser a proven finisher and ex-Wallaby captain James Horwill (Queensland Reds) leadership qualities. In all they’re bringing over 200 test caps of experience to The Stoop. Departing are Ugo Monye, who has made his final outside break though, retiring after 237 appearances, George Robson, who is off to Oyonnax and wing Tom Williams, who has retired.
Key signing: James Horwill – Horwill will add ballast to the Quins engine room, and will not be missing for Test periods
Key departure: George Robson – an underrated player, Robson was a Quins stalwart with nearly 200 appearances
A chastening defeat by Bath in the playoff semi-finals has prompted a mass exodus from Welford Road, with no less than 19 players leaving the club. Notable departures include Julian Salvi and lineout specialist Geoff Parling, who have moved to Exeter and Jamie Gibson, who has headed for rivals Northampton Saints. All three moves will no doubt infuriate Tigers fans. Leicester have also lost Anthony Allen, Louis Deacon and Brad Thorn to retirement. In response the Tigers have entrusted Brendon O’Connor (Blues), Peter Betham (Waratahs) and Michael Fitzgerald (Chiefs) all experienced Super XV campaigners to fill the void and improve on last year’s third place.
Key signing: Peter Betham – Leggy and powerful, Betham has come off the back of a decent season with the ‘Tahs.
Key departure: Anthony Allen – A talisman for Leicester, Allen was the glue that held the Tigers midfield together. A big loss
Only London Welsh scored fewer points than London Irish last term causing newly appointed chief executive, Bob Casey to demand attacking rugby at the club. A new management team fronted by the Chiefs’ Tom Coventry has been tasked with improving results and despite finishing 11th last season. Irish have still attracted the likes of All Black Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), Brendan McKibban (Waratahs) and Andy Goode (Wasps) to the Madejski. Unfortunately for Irish the talents of Tomas O’Leary (Munster), Kieran Low (Glasgow) and Dan Leo (London Welsh) have departed.
Key signing: Tom Coventry – the ex-Chiefs head coach will set the tone for Irish aided by experienced All Black Ben Franks
Key departure: Kieran Low – A versatile backrow, who will be looking to force Scotland ambitions with Glasgow
It’s a shame that Newcastle Falcons couldn’t cling to young England tighthead Kieran Brookes (Northampton) or the well-regarded lock Dom Barrow as they could have established a spine of real quality. Still, the combination of new recruit Marcus Watson (England Sevens) and hot-stepper Sinoti Sinoti could prove to be lethal in the wide channels. Tongan captain Nili Latu (NEC Green Rockets) will add grit on the flank hoping to rekindle his 2007 World Cup form, while Mike Delany will bring the big-game experience of an ex-Clermont player.
Key signing: Mike Delany – Versatile fly-half-cum-full-back will add a calming presence in the backline
Key departure: Kieran Brookes – Built like a house, Dean Richards was hoping to build a pack around Brookes
Jim Mallinder has opted for long-term investments during this year’s off-season. The Saints head coach has pinched gifted English youngsters Jamie Gibson (Leicester) and Kieran Brookes (Newcastle) whilst acquiring the services of JJ Hanarahan (Munster) who has shown bags of talent at fly-half and Michael Paterson who should replace some outgoing heft in the pack. They have big boots to fill, enormous ones in fact, after the loss of Salesi Ma’afu, and talismanic Samu Manoa, both to Toulon. Long serving flanker Phil Dowson has also left the Saints in favour of a survival challenge at Worcester.
Key signing: Kieran Brookes – Brookes is seen as a ready-made replacement for Ma’afu in the Saints pack
Key departure: Samu Manoa – A hugely influential Premiership player who could be a match-winner.
A modest final flourish from Sale last season has warranted a modest recruitment drive from the club. The Sharks have made just three signings, over the summer, with Peter Stringer (Bath), Neil Briggs (Leicester) and Kiwi Bryn Evans (Biarritz) adding to the squad – Sale fans would have expected more if they were to improve on the club’s mid-table Premiership form. Fans will bid a fond farewell to Michael Paterson (Northampton), lock Nathan Hines and stalwart Mark Cueto, who as the all-time Premiership try scorer.
Key signing: Bryn Evans – With Paterson and Hines departed, Sale will need the much-travelled Kiwi to be at him imposing best
Key departure: Michael Paterson – An all-court lock-cum blindside, Paterson was an invaluable lineout operator and had a decent set of mitts on him
The old adage is, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The Premiership champions have done the least business in the transfer market, signing just three players and getting rid of four. Italian flank Samuela Vunisa (Zebre), South African Michael Rhodes (Stormers) and Joel Conlon (Exeter) have all signed for Saracens, but with talents such as Maro Itoje, Jamie George and George Kruis rising through the youth system, why look elsewhere? Notably, David Strettle (Clermont) is latest player to choose club over country while Eoin Sheriff (London Irish) and James Johnston (Wasps) have also moved on.
Key signing: Joel Conlon – An U20 World Cup winner, Conlon should progress along with a rich seam of Sarries youngsters
Key departure: David Strettle – One half of a prolific double-act with Chris Ashton, Strettle was the consummate finisher
A string of hard-running, crowd-pleasing performances led Wasps to the brink of the play-offs last season. The Coventry-based outfit have added a couple of evergreen talents with Jimmy Gopperth (Leinster) and the seemingly indestructable George Smith (Lyon) joining Dai Young’s side, while adding excitement through Super Rugby flyer Frank Halai and Gloucester’s Dan Robson. Yet most important to Wasps was the sale of retail bonds that allowed them to keep key acquisitions on the pitch. Fans will nevertheless be disappointed to see Tom Varndell (Bristol) leave after six prolific seasons with the club. William Helu (Edinburgh) and Andy Goode (London Irish) also depart.
Key signing: Frank Halai – The big Auckland Blues wing will act as a sizeable foil to Christian Wade on the flank
Key departure: Tom Varndell – With over 80 tries in the Premiership, Varndell would rack up double-digit try-scoring figures, season after season
After inching past Bristol in the Championship play-off final, Worcester have lost no time in recruiting 12 players and offloading 15, as they attempt to establish themselves in the top tier. Phil Dowson (Northampton) will add needed experience while the recruitments of Tom Heathcote (Edinburgh), flanker Sam Lewis and Bryce Heem (Chiefs) will no doubt enthuse season-ticket holders. But the Warriors will have to manage without the outstanding Pumas, Agustin Creevy and Leonardo Senatore, who will go back home to play in Super Rugby.
Key signing: Phil Dowson – Worcester will need players used to the grunt of the Premiership campaign, and Dowson fits the bill
Key departure: Agustin Creevy – A huge loss to Warriors, Creevy was the type of dynamic, all-action hooker the Sixways crowd admired