The new season of the English Premiership is almost here, with plenty of new players, a returning team, a new format (with one team sitting each week out in turn) and a mixture of different tactics to get used to. However, to condense all of the pre-season hype into one piece, this guide will preview all the action and give you a comprehensive look at all 13 teams, providing the key details and some analysis of what to expect from them this season.
Director of Rugby: Stuart Hooper (ENG)
Stadium: The Recreation Ground (“The Rec”)
Players In: Johannes Jonker (Ealing Trailfinders), D’Arcy Rae (Glasgow Warriors), Jaco Coetzee (Western Province), Danny Cipriani (Gloucester)
Bath will be looking to improve on last season’s mid-table finish and hopefully break into the top four, but have not made many new signings. Instead, they have looked for quality here and there, and one player who could make a big impact is South African back rower Jaco Coetzee, who has been added as a direct replacement for Zach Mercer, and will be a handful in attacking and defensive situations. Danny Cipriani will also be hoping to reignite his career at the Rec, following his departure from West Country rivals Gloucester. A top four finish might be a push, but it is not out of the question.
Director of Rugby: Pat Lam (NZL)
Stadium: Ashton Gate
Players In: Tom Whiteley (Saracens), Antoine Frisch (Rouen), Joe Cotton (NSW Waratahs), Theo Strang (Melbourne Rebels)
Bristol have been one of the leading teams in the league in recent seasons, with a squad capable of taking on and beating every other team on their day. However, the Bears still haven’t won a Premiership title, despite finishing in the play-offs in each of the last two seasons, and that will be their target this season. However, their competition has increased this season, with Saracens back in the top flight, so they will need to be at the top of their game every week and can’t afford bad results. A top four finish is expected, and a final is possible.
Director of Rugby: Rob Baxter (ENG)
Stadium: Sandy Park
Players In: Josh Iosefa-Scott (Waikato), Sean O’Brien (Connacht), Ryan McCauley (Western Force), Sam Nixon (Bayonne)
Exeter will go into this season as title favourites, despite being surprisingly beaten by Harlequins in last season’s final and not having a good campaign overall. The Chiefs will have added competition this season, with Bristol and Saracens both likely to challenge them, so it will be interesting to see how they go about the fight. Their biggest problem last season was leaving too much space open on the wings, allowing their opponents to play around them, so sealing those gaps will give them a better chance of returning to their high standard of rugby.
Director of Rugby: George Skivington (ENG)
Stadium: Kingsholm Stadium
Players In: Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), Andrew Davidson (Edinburgh), Kirill Gotovtsev (Krasny Yar Krasnoyarsk), Will Britton (Doncaster Knights), Wian Conradie (New England Free Jacks), Harry Elrington (London Irish), Ben Meehan (London Irish)
Gloucester began in really poor form last season, and took a long time to get going. However, in those games, there were glimpses of promise, so they will be looking to string those together and get going quicker this season, avoiding another fight at the bottom of the division. They have brought in a variety of new players, with Scotland fly-half Adam Hastings perhaps the standout name. He has arrived at Kingsholm to replace Danny Cipriani, following the influential Englishman’s departure and eventual move to Bath, and Hastings has shown himself to be a good understudy for Finn Russell at international level, and a fairly consistent kicker. Little things like that could be what decides where Gloucester end the season, but a top half finish is not beyond them.
Director of Rugby: Billy Millard (Director of Rugby Performance) (ENG), Tabai Matson (Head Coach) (NZL)
Stadium: The Twickenham Stoop (“The Stoop”)
Players In: Hayden Hyde (Ulster), Nick David (Worcester Warriors), Tommaso Allan (Benetton), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Jack Walker (Bath), Christian Scotland-Williamson (unattached), Viliami Taulani (Chiefs)
Defending champions Harlequins will be hoping to put on as strong a title defence as possible, and have made some really good signings to help them do that. The player that will perhaps excite the fans the most is Italy fly-half Tommaso Allan, who we know from Six Nations tournaments is a consistent kicker and a good player to have in the middle of the field. Scotland centre Huw Jones will also add different attacking and defensive options in the back line, so it could be a good season ahead for Harlequins. Another play-off finish is not beyond them.
Director of Rugby: Steve Borthwick (Head Coach) (ENG)
Stadium: Welford Road
Players In: Eli Snyman (Benetton), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Francois van Wyk (Northampton Saints), Freddie Burns (Toyota Industries Shuttles Aichi), Juan Pablo Socino (Saracens), Bryce Hegarty (Queensland Reds), Dan Richardson (Jersey Reds), Dan Lancaster (Leeds Tykes), Hosea Saumaki (Yokohama Canon Eagles), Gareth Evans (Ospreys), Tom Cowan-Dickie (Cornish Pirates)
Leicester Tigers are a club in transition, much like Gloucester, and are attempting to climb back up the league after several seasons of struggle. They made huge improvements last season, both in terms of personnel and tactics, and this season could see them make yet more steps in the right direction.
They have added plenty of new players, overhauling the squad and bringing more strength in depth in all positions, and some of the more notable signings include the return of fly-half Freddie Burns, the arrival of experienced Argentina and former Newcastle Falcons centre Juan Pablo Socino (who helped Saracens win the Championship last season) and exciting Tonga back Hosea Saumaki, who is a proven try-scorer. Another top half finish should be the minimum for the Tigers, but we could see them challenge further up the league at stages too.
Director of Rugby: Declan Kidney (IRL)
Stadium: Brentford Community Stadium
Players In: Mike Willemse (Edinburgh), Ben White (Leicester Tigers), Benhard Janse van Rensburg (Green Rockets Tokatsu), Marcel van der Merwe (La Rochelle), Hugh O’Sullivan (Leinster), Rory Jennings (Clermont Auvergne), Kyle Rowe (Edinburgh), Ryan Bower (Leicester Tigers), Jamie Dever (Old Glory DC)
London Irish have gone under the radar a little bit in the last couple of seasons, going about their business and staying relatively clear of danger. Last season, they finished ninth in the league, losing 14 games, so being on the winning side more often will no doubt be their main focus this season. They have made a raft of new signings to help them achieve this, but one departure, that of Scotland flanker and last season’s captain, Blair Cowan, could be significant, as he was the one who tended to keep the team together at their lowest points. It will be interesting to see how they replace his influence, and a low to mid-table finish looks likely for them.
Director of Rugby: Dean Richards (ENG)
Stadium: Kingston Park
Players In: Mike Brown (Harlequins), George Merrick (Worcester Warriors), Richard Palframan (Worcester Warriors), Conor Kenny (Connacht), Matthew Dalton (Utah Warriors), Nathan Earle (Harlequins), Ollie Lindsay-Hague (England Sevens)
Newcastle had a slightly nervous season last time out, struggling to win many games, and only claiming five bonus points (the least in the Premiership last season). Their aim this season will be to win more games and climb the table, trying to secure a top-half finish, and the arrival of experienced full-back Mike Brown will give them more defensive protection, as well as a try-scoring threat from the back, whilst winger Nathan Earle is always a threat when in form. The Falcons do need to show signs of progression this season, and, whilst a low to mid-table finish is likely to be where they will end up, it will be the level of their performances that will be what most keep an eye on.
Director of Rugby: Chris Boyd (NZL)
Stadium: Franklin’s Gardens
Players In: Juarno Augustus (Stormers), Brandon Nansen (Brive), Chris Cook (Bristol Bears), Frank Lomani (Melbourne Rebels), Courtnall Skosan (Lions), Karl Wilkins (Beziers)
Northampton ended last season in fifth place, but were 14 points behind Harlequins, so making up that difference and trying to break into the top four will be their primary target this season. They won 11 and lost 11 of their games in 2020/2021, so winning more and losing less will no doubt also have been a discussion point in the Saints’ camp over the last few months. Their signings will all make a big impact, adding to a squad that already has plenty of quality, but needed bolstering to help them match their ambitions. A top four finish is not beyond them if they can put a run of form together.
Director of Rugby: Alex Sanderson (ENG)
Stadium: AJ Bell Stadium
Players In: Tommy Taylor (Wasps), Simon McIntyre (Wasps), Nick Schonert (Worcester Warriors)
Sale changed leadership during last season, with long-serving Director of Rugby Steve Diamond stepping down and being replaced by former Sharks back rower Alex Sanderson. The ex-Saracens coach oversaw a period of change that saw them tighten up in all areas and become one of the form sides during the second half of the campaign, eventually securing a third-place finish at the end of the regular season. It is widely expected that they will be one of the trickiest teams to play against this season, with a well-rounded and well-coached squad. Another top four place is not out of their reach, if they can take points off teams like Bristol, Exeter and Saracens.
Director of Rugby: Mark McCall (IRL)
Stadium: StoneX Stadium
Players In: Ruben de Haas (Cheetahs), Ivan van Zyl (Bulls), Marco Riccioni (Benetton), Ethan Lewis (Cardiff), Theo McFarland (Moamoa Roosters), Joe Simpson (Gloucester)
Saracens make their return to top flight English rugby this season, after just one campaign away, and there are huge expectations for them to challenge for the play-offs. They have a good squad, with plenty of pace, power and strength throughout, and have made several intriguing signings, such as Italy prop Marco Riccioni, a familiar name to Six Nations fans. Joe Simpson’s signature on loan from Gloucester will give Sarries another option at scrum-half, with fellow new signings Ivan van Zyl and Ruben de Haas suspended and on international duty respectively at the beginning of the season.
Director of Rugby: Lee Blackett (Head Coach) (ENG)
Stadium: Ricoh Arena
Elliott Millar-Mills (Ealing Trailfinders), Ali Crossdale (Saracens), Francois Hougaard (Worcester Warriors), Elliott Stooke (Bath), Robin Hislop (Doncaster Knights), Dan Frost (Cornish Pirates), Pieter Scholtz (Scarlets), Nizaam Carr (Bulls), Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes), Luke Mehson (Exeter Chiefs), Sebastian de Chaves (Austin Gilgronis)
Wasps failed to build on an outstanding 2019/2020 campaign, struggling to maintain those high performance levels and only won nine games last season, eventually finishing in eighth place and outside the Champions Cup places. This season, they have made plenty of new signings, with former Saracens winger Ali Crossdale and ex-Hurricanes back row forward Vaea Fifita particularly exciting players for the fans to watch, and their versatility will give Wasps options tactically. The return of flanker Nizaam Carr after one season with South African side Bulls will also add valuable experience, so we can expect them to be a better, more dangerous this season. A top half position is a good prediction for them, if they can improve their win to loss ratio.
Director of Rugby: Alan Solomons (RSA)
Stadium: Sixways Stadium
Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh), Jack Owlett (Wasps), Christian Judge (Bath), Will Chudley (Bath), Willi Heinz (Gloucester), Scott Baldwin (Harlequins), Sione Vailanu (Wasps), Owen Williams (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes Osaka), Harri Doel (Scarlets), Jack Johnson (Hartpury University), Matt Garvey (Gloucester), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh)
Worcester have had one of the busiest summers of all the clubs, making no less than 12 signings, and have brought in plenty of international experience. Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe is one of the most dangerous players to leave in open space, and toured with the British and Irish Lions this summer, whilst England scrum-half Willi Heinz’s control of the game from the midfield will be also be crucial to their hopes of avoiding another last-place finish.
The Warriors are a club in transition, with head coach Jonathan Thomas continually speaking about their rebuild being a long-term project, so this season is likely to see them take a few more steps in the right direction. They will be one of the sides worth watching this season, given the players they now have in the team, but their finishing place depends on how long it takes them to settle in.