Players are already back in pre-season training and the 2016/17 Aviva Premiership season is looming large, so who's going where?
Teams have been busy over the off-season strengthening their squads with new arrivals from abroad and their domestic rivals and we take a look at the ins and outs at each of the Premiership clubs this summer. We start with the West Country quartet of Bath, Bristol, Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester, as well as Harlequins and Leicester Tigers, before moving on to the remaining six clubs next week.
The club has certainly been busy recruiting these past six months and having also dispensed with the services of former director of rugby Mike Ford, are facing somewhat of a transitional season.
The pack has been refreshed by the additions of Jack Walker, Luke Charteris and Taulupe Faletau, whilst Elliott Stooke and Michael van Vuuren will provide good competition for places. However, with the likes of Rob Webber, Stuart Hooper, Dom Day, Alafoti Faosiliva and Leroy Houston all leaving the club, the depth of Bath’s pack hasn’t really been improved.
In the back line Kahn Fotuali’i makes the move from Northampton Saints and winger Harry Davies crosses the Severn from Cardiff Blues, but just as it was in the pack, Bath’s back line losses have been significant. Horacio Agulla and Ollie Devoto have both departed The Rec, as has, if reports are to be believed, Kyle Eastmond. Bath had one of the smaller squads in the Premiership last season and based on their recruitment so far, it’s not got any larger during the offseason.
The side from the South-West boast one of the better squads to have been promoted from the Championship in recent years but they have not rested on their laurels, strengthening in key areas ahead of their Premiership return. Sunwolves and Samoa fly-half Tusi Pisi has been snapped up after impressing in Super Rugby this season, whilst former Northampton Saint Soane Tonga’uiha has been lured back from France. Both players provide experience and make up for the departures of Matthew Morgan and Ellis Genge respectively.
Players with Premiership experience have also been added to act as stabilising influences, with Jordan Crane and Luke Arscott arriving at Ashton Gate, boasting over 280 Premiership appearances between them. Powerful centres Will Hurrell and Thretton Palamo could have an impact this season, as could the twinkle-toed Jordan Williams in the back three. Back rowers Jon Fisher and Nick Fenton-Wells and Welsh scrum-halves Martin Roberts and Rhodri Williams complete Bristol’s haul of summer recruits.
A mass of players extending their deals with the club aside, it’s been a quiet off-season for the Chiefs. The Australian duo of Greg Holmes and Dave Dennis have been brought on board as the club looks to improve the starting XV to the point where they can once again challenge for domestic and European honours in the coming season. Holmes will push Tomas Francis for playing time, whilst Dennis will have his work cut out trying to break into the highly successful back row of Dave Ewers, Don Armand and Thomas Waldrom.
As mentioned earlier, Ollie Devoto has left Bath for Exeter and joins a highly competitive group of midfield options that already boasts Henry Slade, Sam Hill and Michele Campagnaro. With Hill and Devoto both specialist inside centres and Slade publicly stating that it’s also the position he would like to play in, the playing time dynamic in Exeter will be interesting to watch this season.
The Cherry and Whites continue to recruit heavily from Super Rugby and the PRO12 in their attempt to return to competitiveness in the top half of the Premiership. Jeremy Thrush’s former Hurricanes teammate Motu Matu’u will join him at Kingsholm, providing competition for Richard Hibbard at hooker. Highlanders prop Josh Hohneck also makes the move from New Zealand to Gloucester this summer as the club tries to eradicate its scrummaging inconsistencies.
Former Edinburgh centre Matt Scott will add to the Celtic influence in the Gloucester back line, likely featuring prominently alongside Greig Laidlaw and James Hook. The club have also added to their EQP quota, bringing in promising back rower Charlie Beckett from Leicester, lock Tom Denton from Leinster, centre Andy Symons from Worcester Warriors and former Australia U20 prop Cameron Orr.
After erring a little from their DNA and recruiting heavily last summer, Harlequins have been more selective this offseason. Former Wasps fly-half Ruaridh Jackson replaces Ben Botica as Nick Evans’ understudy in West London, whilst Mark Reddish adds experience to a young – save for James Horwill – engine room.
Scrum-half Charlie Mulchrone arrives from Worcester, filling the void left by Tito Tebaldi, and Junior World Championship-winning full-back Aaron Morris makes the relatively short move from Saracens. With Mike Brown often away with England and Ollie Lindsay-Hague currently involved with the Great Britain 7s teams, there are high hopes for Morris at The Stoop.
The boat has been well and truly pushed out at Welford Road these past few months. Matt Toomua and JP Pietersen arrive from the Brumbies and Sharks respectively, adding test-calibre options to the Tigers back line. The ever-dangerous Vereniki Goneva has moved on but combined with the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs and Peter Betham, Pietersen and Toomua will make Leicester’s back line a force to be reckoned with this season.
George McGuigan and Pat Cilliers arrive in the front row, where loaned loosehead Ellis Genge has made a permanent switch from Bristol. With formidable first, second and even third options across the entire front row, Leicester aren’t willing to give up their reputation as a physical, tight five-led team just yet. Wing Tom Brady, back rower Luke Hamilton and Ireland U20 tighthead Ben Betts complete Leicester’s summer haul and it is one which makes them a very appetising pick for silverware this season.