By James Tennant
With the start of the new 2013/14 Aviva Premiership season nearly upon us with Newcastle Falcons hosting Bath at Kingston Park on Friday September 6, here is a summary of five key players to look out for throughout the season. Three Englishman, a Welshman and a New Zealander complete the list. Expect sizable contributions from this exciting quintet.
1) Matt Kvesic: Gloucester Rugby; 21 years; 6ft 2in; 16.4 stone
Following a summer switch to Kingsholm from Worcester, big things are expected of Matt Kvesic in a Gloucester jersey. Having shone on England’s successful summer tour to Argentina, the openside flanker will be hoping to showcase his skills on the European stage in the hope of impressing Stuart Lancaster. His abrasive, no-nonsense playing style is sure to be at the heart of Gloucester’s efforts, but he faces stiff competition in the back-row, though, from the likes of hard-hitting Fijian blindside Akapusi Qera and Gloucester stalwart Andy Hazell.
2) George North: Northampton Saints; 21 years; 6ft 4in; 17 stone
Jim Mallinder pulled off a coup in luring George North to Franklin’s Gardens, with the former Scarlet having moved to Northampton in an attempt to challenge for European silverware. The considerable talents of the Welsh winger were unleashed in the summer as the British and Irish Lions secured an historic test series victory over Australia. His 60 metre first-test try and Israel Folau ‘carry’ are two moments of sheer sporting brilliance. He’ll be a marked man, but this Lomu-esque powerhouse has all the credentials to be an immediate success in the Premiership.
3) Daniel Braid: Sale Sharks; 32 years; 6ft; 15.7 stone
The six-cap All Black, Daniel Braid, has been appointed Sale Sharks’ new captain, and having targeted a top-six finish, all eyes will be on him to see if he can steer Sale clear of a successive relegation dogfight. Everyone knows Steve Diamond’s men underperformed last season, but back-row forward Braid made a big impact at the Salford City Stadium following his arrival from the southern hemisphere. His hard-nosed winning mentality should rub off on his club colleagues – Diamond entrusting Braid as his trusty on-field lieutenant appears to be a masterstroke.
4) Kyle Eastmond: Bath Rugby; 24 years; 5ft 7in; 12.9 stone
The versatile Kyle Eastmond had a big impact for Bath of late. Following his switch from the 13-mqn code, Eastmond’s progression was initially slowed by a spate of niggling injuries, but the England international certainly found his feet last season. The inside-centre earned rave reviews for his displays – even being compared to Jason Robinson for his quick-feet, searing pace and undoubted natural talent. Capped on England’s summer tour to Argentina, he has looked comfortable in the midfield channel and will hope to kick on at The Rec.
5) Nick Kennedy: Harlequins; 32 years; 6ft 8in; 18 stone
After Olly Kohn’s premature retirement from the game, Harlequins filled the void with Nick Kennedy and his Aviva Premiership return looks a shrewd move by director of rugby, Conor O’Shea. Having won the Heineken Cup out in France with Toulon, the former London Irish man has returned to the capital with the long-term aim of pulling on an England jersey again. A line-out specialist with a good engine, Kennedy’s footballing ability and set-piece presence make him an immeasurable threat this season.