After a long time away, the Gallagher Premiership’s return is almost upon us. With the football season over, it means that rugby union can have our full attention until the start of September, when the season is scheduled to come to a conclusion.
In this article, we will give you a preview of sorts into the return of the Premiership, but in a different way. We have gone through the squads of each of the 12 teams, picking out one forward and one back to keep an eye on, as they have been either the best players or the most influential players in the team, or are simply the players who can make a difference to their teams’ tactics when needed. We have included in this analysis their key statistics for this season, which are then discussed and analysed. Therefore, essentially, here is our list of 24 players for you to keep an eye out for over the next few weeks. The teams are listed in alphabetical order.
FORWARD: Zach Mercer
Zach Mercer has been one of Bath’s best players this season and in the last few seasons. If we see his statistics above, then we can see how well he has done. For a forward to score five tries shows how comfortable he is with the ball and in running through defences to get the ball over the line. You can also see how he has made 77 tackles, and has a tackle success rate of 83%. Therefore, it is clear that he is a player who can attack but also defend well, and this is why he is so important for Bath.
BACK: Anthony Watson
Anthony Watson can be one of the most destructive backs when he is on top form, and whilst his statistics are not the most impressive, his versatility lends itself to Bath and to England. His tackle success rate is 75%, which comes from when he plays as a full-back, and this is a good value to have, especially when you consider he has only played three games this season so far. That shows his potential when he is playing regularly. The fact that he has only made nine tackles is perhaps more due to the players in front of Watson, or alongside him if he’s on the wing, tackling the opposing attacker before they reach the England international’s position.
FORWARD: Ben Earl
There is no doubt that Bristol Bears have found themselves an outstanding player in Ben Earl, who has joined on loan from relegated Saracens. Earl has proven himself to be a serial try scorer, and yet is still only a flanker. Normally, their main role on the pitch is to tackle opposing players and work hard at rucks, but Earl’s pace means he gets through opposing defences with relative ease. His statistics support this, as Earl, who made his England debut in this year’s Six Nations tournament, has made 13 clean breaks, 479 metres and 79 carries; all statistics that indicate a player who is very mobile. However, he is also good at tackling too, and has made 112 tackles, with a success rate of 90%, winning 12 turnovers too. Overall, his statistics suggest he is an excellent all-rounder who can add pace, strength and a try threat to Bristol’s already impressive squad.
BACK: Charles Piutau
For their most impressive back, there is only one that we can pick; Charles Piutau. The New Zealander has easily been one of Bristol’s most important players this season, and his standout statistic is his metres made, which is 1223 – the most of any player in the Premiership this season. This, along with his 205 carries and 62 defenders beaten, show us how he is an attacking full-back who likes to get forward as much as possible. He may have only scored two tries, but his role with the Bears is not to score tries necessarily, so this doesn’t matter.
FORWARD: Sam Simmonds
A back row forward, normally a Number 8, Sam Simmonds is another player who has featured for England in his career, but only a few times, and his last international appearance was in the 2018 Six Nations match against Italy in Rome. However, his form this season means that another call up surely can’t be too far away. The standout statistics for him are the number of metres he has made, which is 519, and the number of carries he has made, which is 135. This suggests that Simmonds is a forward who likes to have the ball, and then likes to make things happen when he does have it. One other statistic that is impressive is his tackle success rate, which is 95%, with 163 tackles made. If we add this together, then Exeter and England have a forward who can defend well, and then take the ball forward into dangerous areas, and is therefore one to watch for the remainder of the season.
BACK: Stuart Hogg
Stuart Hogg, the current Scotland captain, has proved himself to be one of the best full-backs on the planet when he is in form, and Scotland play better with him in the team. In his first season at Exeter, we see how he attacks from deep positions, with 580 metres made, supporting this point. His tackle success rate is only 63%, but this is perhaps because Hogg advances so far up the pitch that he doesn’t make so many tackles, or because the Chiefs’ players ahead of him tackle any attackers before they reach him. However, there is no doubting his importance to the team, both in defending and in attacking, and his signing last summer was one that has given Exeter more creative freedom on the pitch.
FORWARD: Jake Polledri
Gloucester have not had the best season as a team, with some of their key players going missing in action at times. However, Italy flanker Jake Polledri has been one of their better players this season. If we look at his statistics, we see how he has made 194 metres, which shows you how he likes to run, and modern day flankers have to be able to carry the ball forward a lot, often grinding out these metres for their team, as Polledri does for Gloucester. However, they also have to be able to tackle, which is their main role, and you can’t argue with Polledri’s tackle success rate; 100%, with 59 tackles made. This is why he is such an important player to Gloucester, and could be the difference between them winning and losing games at times.
BACK: Louis Rees-Zammit
For the choice of back for the Cherry and Whites, there could only be one person; their young star Louis Rees-Zammit. The 19-year-old caught the eye of new Wales coach Wayne Pivac this season, and was part of their Six Nations squad. For Gloucester, he has been one of their most lethal attacking players. His seven tries make him the joint top try scorer in the Premiership this season, and, given this is the main role of the wingers, this has been a positive for the Cherry and Whites. His extraordinary pace and desire to score tries is the reason behind the 327 metres he has made. The other statistics, such as turnovers won, and passes made, lend themselves to more centrally positioned players, whereas when Rees-Zammit gets the ball, his only thought is to sprint towards the try line and score tries. He is without a doubt an exciting player for now and the future.
FORWARD: Alex Dombrandt
When it comes to the best or most influential forward for Harlequins, there is one that really springs to mind; Number 8 Alex Dombrandt. He has been one of the most destructive players in the Premiership this season, and has been another who is really unlucky to be missing out on England selection, given the level of performance he puts in every game. If we look at his statistics, we can see how he made 372 metres and 84 carries, which, given he plays in the forward line, shows you how dangerous he can be, constantly gaining ground for his team. To that end, he has made 16 clean breaks this season, so again, whenever he gets the ball he always looks to take it forward, and that is why he has been such a weapon for Quins this season.
BACK: Cadan Murley
In the backs, Cadan Murley has been one of the best wingers in the Premiership this season, and he is still only 21, so there is plenty of time for him to become even better. He is the joint-second top try scorer in the league, with five to his name, and if we look at his statistics, we see how he has made 39 carries this season, but only eight passes. This tells us that when he gets the ball, he tends to run with it, rather than looking to offload it to a teammate. This is the sign of a good winger, and the fact that he has made 233 metres this season supports this. All-in-all, Murley has shown this season that, when he gets the ball, he can make things happen. He is also a versatile player, able to play at full-back or centre, as he has done a couple of times, as well as on either wing, so that also gives Quins extra options.
FORWARD: Jordan Taufua
Leicester Tigers have not had the best season, and have looked a shadow of their historical selves so far, but they do still have some individually good players, even if the team as a whole is not doing so well. One of those, who we have chosen as the forward to look out for, is back row forward Jordan Taufua. The New Zealander has scored two tries this season, one of which came when he was in space on the wing whilst Leicester’s usual wingers were inside the pitch, helping at the breakdown. This shows Taufua’s versatility, and ability to see where the space is on the pitch, and ensure that he fills it. His other statistics are not standout, however, overall, he is a player who can help Leicester out in the moments when they need it.
BACK: George Ford
If we look at Leicester’s backs, there is one who has arguably been the Tigers’ best player over the last couple of seasons; England fly-half George Ford. With his outstanding kicking ability, he has been able to set up many of Leicester’s attacking moves, often orchestrating play from the middle of the pitch. As he likes kicking the ball and passing it, he has not made too many metres this season, with his value for this only reading 76, and he has only made 20 carries, but then, as the fly-half, his role is not necessarily to score tries or take the ball forwards, but to ensure that the rest of the team have a constant source of balls into dangerous areas, and that is what Ford gives to Tigers.
FORWARD: Blair Cowan
London Irish have had a solid season back in the Premiership after their promotion last summer from the Championship, and a number of players have made an impact this season. One forward who has made a name for himself is flanker Blair Cowan, and if we look at his statistics, we see that he has made 156 metres, which is a good number, as we would expect from a flanker, but his most notable statistic is the number of tackles he has made, which is 188. This is the second-highest number of tackles made this season by any player in the Premiership, which makes Cowan an incredibly valuable player to have, especially when the team is defending.
BACK: Ollie Hassell-Collins
If we look at the backs, then there is one player we have to include as the player to watch; Ollie Hassell-Collins. The 21-year-old winger is the joint top try scorer in the Premiership with seven tries, and that includes getting four in one game against Gloucester. He has also made 614 metres this season, which shows you how much ground he covers when in possession of the ball. Again, like with all wingers, his passing statistics are not high, because when he gets the ball he tends to keep it, running towards the try line and looking to score. There isn’t much we can say about Hassell-Collins that hasn’t already been said, but he is definitely one to keep an eye on, and one for the future of English rugby.
FORWARD: Teimana Harrison
Northampton have some excellent forwards, who have all contributed to their increasingly impressive performances since New Zealander Chris Boyd took over as Director of Rugby at Franklin’s Gardens. One of those has been their co-captain Teimana Harrison, who plays normally at Number 8. His defensive statistics are what stands out, with the Kiwi winning 10 turnovers, making 148 tackles, and having an impressive tackle success rate of 89%. As a Number 8 in the modern game, he needs to be able to pick up the ball and gain ground for his team, and he has made 357 metres and 114 carries this season, so we can see how, in every aspect, Harrison leads from the front and has been one of Saints’ most crucial players this season.
BACK: George Furbank
At the back, we have to mention George Furbank, the full-back who has played his way into England contention, starting the Roses’ first game against France. In the Premiership, his statistics show how consistent a player he is, but the thing that stands out is that Furbank has made 495 metres this season, which tells us one thing; he is an attacking full-back who plays a little like Stuart Hogg does, in that he can operate in the wing positions when his team are attacking, and this is a good thing to have, as it gives the team an extra element in attack which can prove to be the difference in tight situations. In defence, he has a tackle success rate of 84%, which is good, but as we saw when he played against England, when he struggled slightly, this is perhaps the one area where he can make some improvements, but he is still a very impressive player who is one to watch in the remainder of the season.
FORWARD: Jono Ross
When you think of hard-hitting forwards who love making tackles, you immediately think of Sale captain Jono Ross. The South African has consistently been among the top tacklers in the league, and this season has made the most tackles, with 201. Even more impressive than this is his 95% tackle success rate, which shows that he is very accurate and precise when colliding with opponents, to the extent that he rarely fails to bring players down. When he gets the ball, he also leads from the front, having made 146 carries so far this season, which shows how his first instinct in possession is always to get forward and gain ground for his team. There is no doubting Ross’ importance to Sharks, and that he is always a player to watch.
BACK: Manu Tuilagi
Manu Tuilagi only signed for Sale during lockdown, after leaving Leicester Tigers over a dispute about reduced wages after 11 years at Welford Road, establishing himself as a fan favourite whilst there. His statistics for this season whilst at Leicester are low overall, but this is perhaps a reflection on Leicester’s performances than Tuilagi’s. However, he has made 104 metres this season with his forward runs, which shows how he is a quick centre who can always make a difference, and this is the thing about him; he is an impact player. When his team needs someone to make a difference to the match, or to add a little bit of quality where it was missing, he will do this. It will be interesting to keep an eye on how he fits in at the AJ Bell Stadium in this season’s remaining games.
FORWARD: Maro Itoje
England have always rated Maro Itoje, and Eddie Jones is a big fan of him. When we look at his statistics, it’s not hard to see why. He doesn’t make too much ground for Saracens, but what he does do well is tackling. For a lock – the players who are usually the tallest players on the pitch – to get his body down that far and make 50 successful tackles this season is very impressive, and shows you what Itoje gives his team. 50 may not seem many, but as a lock, his role is not necessarily to tackle like it is with the flankers, and also his tackle success rate is, as you can see, a commendable 89%, and this has all come from just four appearances in the Premiership this season so far.
BACK: Manu Vunipola
Saracens may have already been relegated, but in their backs they have a very exciting and talented player for the future, who already looks to be the long-term successor to England captain Owen Farrell in the 10 position at Allianz Park. Manu Vunipola is the latest talent to come off the Vunipola conveyor belt, following England players prop Mako and back row forward Billy, his cousins. His main job is kicking penalties and conversions, which he has shown himself to be very successful at, but he has also done well at passing, making 143 this season, and the fact that he has made 10 appearances for Sarries this season shows you how highly-rated he is at the Allianz Park.
FORWARD: Jack Willis
Wasps have many good forwards, but the one who always seems to be wherever he is needed to be at the right time is flanker Jack Willis. When Wasps break through opposing defensive lines, Willis is usually the one making the run, or has set up the run, and his statistics support this. He has made 329 metres and 127 carries so far this season, beating 25 defenders. These all show how good he is when Wasps are on the attack, and how crucial he is in ensuring Wasps can break through organised opposing defensive lines. Defensively, he is also as good, with 102 tackles made and 28 turnovers won, so he is a handy player to have in the team, and can do everything that is asked of him. He has been a large part of Wasps’ upturn in fortunes under new head coach Lee Blackett, and is one to keep an eye on as the season makes its long-awaited restart.
BACK: Dan Robson
Dan Robson has been unquestionably one of the best scrum-halves in the Premiership over the last few seasons, and is another who fans have been surprised has been overlooked by England. He has made 804 passes, and whilst some might say that, as a scrum-half, he is expected to register a lot of passes in a season, his value is the highest in the Premiership. That tells us that Robson is involved in everything on the pitch. His defensive statistics are not as high, but as a scrum-half, he is not expected to be involved in too much on the ground, because his role is to take the ball off the ground and play it out to a teammate. Therefore, his one turnover won and 48 tackles made, with a tackle success rate of 79%, are not unexpected, and also nothing to be concerned about.
FORWARD: Cornell du Preez
Worcester have a gem in their side, in South African-born Scotland international back row forward Cornell du Preez. The Warriors do not have too many players who can be picked out, but du Preez’s statistics make it difficult to not have him as a player to watch. He has made 168 metres, showing how he can gain ground for his team when on the ball. However, for a flanker, as we have already said in this article, their main role is in tackling opposing attackers, and du Preez does not disappoint in this area. He has made 154 tackles, with a success rate of 90%, and this is the fifth-highest in the Premiership this season, which is a very impressive statistic to have. There is no doubting that, if du Preez is fit and playing, Worcester play better.
BACK: Francois Hougaard
Another South African, Francois Hougaard, has been at Sixways Stadium for four and half years, establishing himself as one of their best and most consistent players in his time there. Like with Robson, his passing statistics are what we need to look at, as Hougaard is a scrum-half by trade, although he can play on the wing if necessary too. He has made 636 passes this season, the second-most in the Premiership behind the Wasps scrum-half. That shows you again how Worcester rely on him to create chances with his work on the ball. He also does a lot of good defensive work too, with 77 tackles made, which doesn’t sound a lot, but his tackle success rate stands at the moment at 90%, which is very good. He has also won 11 turnovers, so he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when his team are not in possession, and this is another reason that he is one of the best and most important players in the Worcester squad.
We have shown in this article how individual players for each team can make the difference, and this has given us a chance to preview the return of the Premiership in a different way. We have analysed one forward and one back from each team, who we feel are players to keep an eye on, or are significant players in their team. By looking at their individual statistics this season, we have been able to see what each player excels in, and what each brings and will bring to their team for the remainder of the 2019/2020 campaign.