The 2022/2023 English Premiership season may still be in its infancy, but, after five rounds of rugby, fans have seen enough to gain a picture of how their teams are shaping up. Players have also had a chance to show what they can do, with some starting well and others needing improve in aspects of their games, and this tactical analysis will identify five who are currently in really good form, showing the importance that they have in their teams and what role they play when it comes to their tactics.
Ruben van Heerden (Exeter Chiefs, lock)
Exeter Chiefs lost plenty of major names in the summer, with some areas of their team needing to be rebuilt and new partnerships needing to be formed. One of those who has come in, South African forward Ruben van Heerden, has made an immediate impression on the Sandy Park faithful, with his physicality adding power and strength to the second row and ensuring that the Devon side can push up the field and go through phase after phase of carrying as they look to make dents in opposing defences.
This is something that head coach Ali Hepher has really focused on since taking over matchday duties from director of rugby Rob Baxter, and their game against Harlequins was an early indication of how much it can help them to hurt opponents. van Heerden, for his part, has already made 40 carries this season, putting him joint-sixth on that list and showing why having him on the field will be important in helping Exeter to climb back up the table after a disappointing 2021/2022 campaign.
Theo McFarland (Saracens, flanker)
When it comes to players who offer a lot and yet don’t claim the headlines, Saracens’ Theo McFarland undoubtedly comes to mind. Last season, the Samoa international was part of a back row composing of him, Ben Earl and Billy Vunipola that helped Saracens to constantly break opposing defences down, finding and exploiting gaps and helping Mark McCall’s side to win all kinds of matches, and he is continued that into this season too.
What is especially good about his play is the fact that he doesn’t hesitate when in possession, with him always knowing where the spaces are and how he can cause problems for opponents, and he brings a range of skills too, having demonstrated both clever passing and decisive movement, and that is shown by the fact that he has beaten five defenders and won two turnovers to date, so he can attack and defend with equal measure. He was named as September’s Player of the Month, and it is not hard to see why when considering how much he brings to the table at the StoneX Stadium.
Mateo Carreras (Newcastle Falcons, winger)
Newcastle Falcons have over the last few seasons been a team who start well and then falter away as the season progresses, with a finish near the bottom of the table generally the case. This time around though, they might have a chance of improving on that, purely because they have two of the best wingers in the top flight as things stand.
However, whilst Adam Radwan is always difficult to stop when moving up the pitch, he has so far been arguably outplayed by teammate Mateo Carreras, with the Argentina international in red hot form, having scored four tries in the Falcons’ first four league matches of the season. As the introduction to this analysis said, the players on this list have been integral to their team’s tactics, and Newcastle’s focus is to move the ball towards the wings and allow their quicker backs to run at opponents and force them onto the back foot. In the Falcons’ third match of the season, they managed to dismantle a poor Bristol Bears team with this game plan, and, whilst that was their only league victory so far, there is a lot that Newcastle fans can be happy about.
It will take time for the players to properly adjust to the change of leadership at Kingston Park this season, with head coach Dave Walder taking over from Dean Richards, but the fact that Carreras has made 246 metres, four clean breaks and beaten 12 defenders shows that he has really hit the ground running this season and is central to what they are building.
Luke Northmore (Harlequins, centre)
Harlequins have experienced a tricky start to the campaign, with them not quite finding their rhythm and having periods when they have been really good and periods when they have been far too easy to beat. They have often had to fight back from deficits as a result, so more consistency is definitely what head coach Tabai Matson will be looking for as the season goes on.
However, whilst the team has at times been struggling, individual players have not, and centre Luke Northmore is one of those who shines almost every time he steps out onto a rugby pitch. He has formed a fearsome midfield partnership with Lennox Anyanwu at the Twickenham Stoop this season which has given Harlequins a lot of pace that has allowed them to make quick transitions when they win possession in their own half, and this was really important in their game against Exeter when they had to fight back after a disappointing first half, and they only succeeded in getting back into the match due to Northmore spotting gaps in the defensive line and constantly exploiting them.
At the time of writing, Northmore has three tries to his name, whilst he has also made 264 metres, five clean breaks and has beaten 10 defenders, so there is no doubt that he is a difficult player to face when in form, and these numbers will only increase if he keeps playing with the same amount of quality as the season goes on.
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, scrum-half)
Northampton Saints may have started the season slowly under new director of rugby Phil Dowson, but matches at Franklin’s Gardens are always worth watching, due to their fast style of rugby that the Saints play which serves to excite their fans.
Scrum-half Alex Mitchell has been central to that, with him being a dynamic, forward-thinking, explosive player who can dictate games and make good decisions on the ball, and he has built a reputation at Franklin’s Gardens for taking the initiative when the ball hits the ground and often starting attacks himself rather than waiting for his teammates to get into position. The fact that he has scored two tries this season, made 297 metres, carried 46 times, broken through opponents on seven occasions and has beaten 15 defenders demonstrates the threat that he possesses and why he is always a dangerous player to face.
He was included in the latest England training squad by Eddie Jones, and there is no doubt that he is someone that England would really benefit from having in their squad on more occasions, purely because he does things that most other scrum-halves don’t. With Bristol’s Harry Randall now out of action due to injury, this really is his chance to establish himself in Jones’ plans ahead of next year’s Six Nations and World Cup, and, if he continues to impress on a domestic stage, then he will have every chance of securing a seat on the plane to France.