The 2016/17 Aviva Premiership season is fast approaching, so we take a close look at which teams are bolstering their roster, and with who...
By Alex Shaw
Following on from our look at the ins and outs at the first six Aviva Premiership clubs this off-season, we now turn our attentions to Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints, Sale Sharks, Saracens, Wasps and Worcester Warriors.
Reigning champions Saracens have been busy refreshing their squad in an attempt to retain their title, whilst both Newcastle and Worcester have been looking to make the savvy signings which they hope will once again keep them out of the relegation spot in the Premiership table.
The side from the North-East have had a busy offseason, albeit without signing too many household names. Winger Vereniki Goneva arrives from Leicester, bringing with him proven try-scoring ability, whilst Kyle Cooper (Sharks) will look to fill the shoes of influential hooker George McGuigan, who has taken the well-trod path south to Leicester. The North American trio of Nick Civetta (RC I Medicei), Evan Olmstead (London Scottish) and David Tameilau (San Francisco Rush) all arrive at Kingston Park, as do former U20 notables Andrew Davidson (Glasgow Hawks) and Harrison Orr (Ealing Trailfinders). The club’s English-qualified quota has also been boosted by the signings of Sam Egerton (England 7s), Joel Hodgson (Yorkshire Carnegie), Sam Lockwood (Jersey) and Ben Sowrey (Worcester).
There has been plenty of upheaval in Newcastle ahead of the new season, with the Italian duo of Joshua Furno and Giovanbattista Venditti (both Zebre) joining McGuigan in departing the club. Todd Clever and the two Tuilagi brothers, Anitelea and Alesana, have all been released, whilst Kane Thompson, Gonzalo Tiesi, Scott Macleod and Rob Hawkins have all retired. Eric Fry (Sacramento Express), Ruki Tipuna (Rangataua) and Richard Mayhew (Yorkshire Carnegie), all of whom provided valuable depth for the Falcons last season, have also left the club.
There’s been relatively little business of note in Northampton ahead of the 2016/17 season, with the signing of Louis Picamoles from Toulouse the clear standout addition and one which is already being billed as potentially the signing of the season. The Frenchman will add to the wealth of options in Northampton’s back row and help guarantee them the front-foot ball they missed at times last season following the departure of Samu Manoa.
Scrum-half Nic Groom arrives from the Stormers, filling the void left by Kahn Fotuali’i’s move to Bath. The South African will compete with Lee Dickson for playing time and given the age of Fotuali’i, should be seen as a positive move for the future. Promising loosehead Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi has left for London Irish, whilst Jon Fisher heads to Bristol, with opportunities few and far between for the two players in Northampton’s deep pack. Hooker Charlie Clare arrives from Bedford Blues and will help Saints during Dylan Hartley’s duties with England.
Every year Sale have to deal with a high turnover of players and it’s been no different in 2016. Standout players Danny Cipriani and Tommy Taylor have both left for Wasps, whilst experienced heads Chris Cusiter and Mark Easter have both retired from rugby. AJ MacGinty (Connacht) and Rob Webber (Bath) are the men tasked with filling in for Cipriani and Taylor, and Mike Phillips (Racing 92) will be the latest in a long line of stellar scrum-halves to ply their trade in the North-West. Kieran Longbottom (Saracens) and Halani Aulika (London Irish) have been brought in to bolster an impressive scrum from last season and help mitigate the loss of Vadim Cobilas to Bordeaux.
Rugby League convert Joshua Charnley (Wigan Warriors) will hope to replicate his impressive try-scoring record in the 15-a-side code, alongside the likes of Nev Edwards and Will Addison, and comes with big expectations, with the last man to make the Wigan-to-Sale move none other than Jason Robinson. Lou Reed (Cardiff Blues), Dan Mugford (Nottingham) and Laurence Pearce (Leicester) complete Sale’s cadre of summer recruits.
The reigning Premiership and European champions have made some eye-catching additions this summer and if they can gel quickly, the men from North London look a strong candidate to retain their titles. Veteran Springbok Schalk Burger (Stormers) will replace the retiring Jacques Burger, with his leadership and versatility making him invaluable for periods when Saracens have to do without Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje. Likewise, full-back Sean Maitland (London Irish) and fly-half Alex Lozowski (Wasps) should show their worth when Alex Goode and Owen Farrell are on international duty. Lozowski will also have to fill the sizeable shoes of retiring fly-half Charlie Hodgson.
Vincent Koch (Stormers) replaces the departing Kieran Longbottom after a stellar 2015 Super Rugby season, whilst incoming Fijian Savenaca Rawaca (Fiji 7s) has all the potential in the world, whether that’s in the midfield or out on the wing. Lock Mark Flanagan (Bedford Blues) wraps up Saracens’ summer signings, with highly-promising youngsters Aaron Morris (Harlequins) and Biyi Alo (Worcester) completing the notable departures.
The Coventry-based outfit have gone all out to show they are no longer shopping in the budget section of the supermarket, bringing in Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Danny Cipriani (Sale) and Kyle Eastmond (Bath) to spearhead their new-look back line. Charles Piutau has completed his long-awaited move to Ulster, whilst George Smith has returned to Australia, meaning that two of Wasps’ star performers last season will not be at their disposal in 2016/17. The freed up resources have been ploughed into the tight five, with Marty Moore (Leinster), Tommy Taylor (Sale) and Matt Symons (London Irish) all arriving at the Ricoh Arena.
Bradley Davies (Ospreys), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Lorenzo Cittadini (Bayonne), Carlo Festuccia (Zebre) and Ruaridh Jackson (Harlequins) have all moved on, with Andrea Masi, Ben Jacobs, James Downey and Ed Shervington all retiring. The multitude of openings these moves have created have resulted in the arrivals of Tom Woolstencroft (Bath), Marcus Garratt (Cornish Pirates), Craig Hampson (Bristol), Guy Armitage (London Welsh), Tom Cruse (London Irish) and Nick de Luca (Biarritz).
Having successfully avoid relegation upon their return to the Premiership in 2015/16, Worcester have taken strides this year to further distance themselves from a return to the Championship. The signing of Ben Te’o from Leinster has been the marquee piece of business from the Warriors this year, but the additions of Jackson Willison (Grenoble) and Biyi Alo (Saracens) should also bolster their chances of having a successful 2016/17 season.
Francois Hougaard’s deal has been extended, whilst on-loan back rower Marco Mama (Bristol) made his move a permanent one. Will Spencer (Bath) and Matt Williams (Northampton) also arrive at the club, with the former helping make up for the departure of Darren O’Shea to Munster. Other losses this summer include Charlie Mulchrone (Harlequins), Andy Symons (Gloucester) and Ben Sowrey (Newcastle).