The new Gallagher Premiership season kicks off with a tough act to follow after Leicester’s gripping title triumph last term.
The Tigers took Premiership silverware for the first time since 2013, courtesy of Freddie Burns’ late drop-goal that sunk Saracens at Twickenham.
Here, the PA news agency identifies five players to watch as the competition prepares for action.
Ellis Genge (Bristol)
𝗚𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗼 𝗸𝗻𝗼𝘄: @EllisGenge 💫
🦸♂️ Rugby idol growing up?
🎧 Pre-match music?
🎤 Karaoke song? pic.twitter.com/FiVYWlMM8X
— Bristol Bears 🐻 (@BristolBears) August 29, 2022
Powerful prop Genge was arguably English rugby’s player of the season last term, delivering sustained excellence for club and country. He captained Leicester to the Premiership title in his final campaign with the Tigers before joining home-town club Bristol. An individual who drives standards on and off the pitch, Genge’s arrival at Ashton Gate is likely to spearhead an upturn in form and results after the west country club finished 10th last season, with only Worcester, Newcastle and Bath below them. The 27-year-old looks poised for another huge campaign.
Anthony Watson (Leicester)
England star Watson is due a considerable change of fortune after suffering more than his fair share of serious injuries. The 28-year-old recently returned to action for his new club Leicester during Tigers’ pre-season schedule, having been sidelined for 10 months because of a serious knee problem. Watson had previously been affected by Achilles’ issues, but class is permanent, and the prospect of him lining up in a Leicester back-three alongside the likes of England full-back Freddie Steward is a mouthwatering one for Tigers fans.
Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester)
— Louis Rees-Zammit ⚡️ (@LouisReesZammit) August 18, 2022
Gloucester provided one of the feelgood stories of last season as head coach George Skivington continued making considerable strides with a squad that finished just two points outside the play-off places. Skivington has made just one new signing – London Irish number eight Albert Tuisue – and there can be little doubt that Gloucester’s pack will be a match for most. They also possess the backs to cause damage, with no one more dangerous than Wales wing Rees-Zammit. He excelled during his country’s summer tour of South Africa and is a try-scoring machine.
George Ford (Sale)
𝗙𝗢𝗥𝗗𝗬 – 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝗖𝗵𝗮𝘁
🤩 We sat down with @George_Fordy this week to discuss all things northern.
We talked winning the Premiership, dealing with injuries, what it's like being back 'Oop Norf' and everything else in between.
Watch the full interview here 👇
— Sale Sharks 🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) August 9, 2022
It will be a while before Sale fans see their new high-profile signing in action due to Ford suffering an Achilles’ injury during Leicester’s Premiership final victory over Saracens in May. Latest estimates are that he will not be back until December, but when Ford does return to action, the influential fly-half has every attribute required to help make Sale title play-off contenders. Ford will also renew a midfield partnership with his former Tigers team-mate Manu Tuilagi, and when Ford’s goalkicking prowess is added to the mix, he is a signing that Sharks rightly have huge expectations of.
Chris Cloete (Bath)
Here's what to expect from new signing Chris Cloete 💪 pic.twitter.com/6zyNApJyKO
— Bath Rugby (@BathRugby) March 30, 2022
When former Munster boss Johann Van Graan was announced as Bath’s new head of rugby, speculation quickly rose as to which players might follow him across the Irish Sea. South African flanker Cloete has done exactly that, leaving Limerick for a first stint in the Premiership and he is set to be a key ingredient in Bath’s back-row mix. A powerful ball-carrier and renowned expert at the breakdown, Cloete could prove a huge asset for Van Graan as he sets about rebuilding a club that finished bottom of the table last term.