Aviva Premiership: Players to Watch XV

With the beginning of the Aviva Premiership just around the corner, the time is right to examine the young and talented players who are primed to become household names in the upcoming seasons.

1. Nahuel Lobo (Newcastle Falcons)
A recent arrival from Montpellier, Lobo has every chance of starting for Newcastle, and could become a key component in a pack which could surprise some people this year. Lobo has already represented Argentina on three occasions, as well as making nine appearances for a fairly star-studded Montpellier side last season, and his proficiency at the scrum could be a difference maker for the Falcons this season.

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)
Fresh from collecting a World Championship with the England U-20 side, where he looked a class above at the age-grade level, Cowan-Dickie is ready to return to Exeter and earn himself a place in the first team. Equally adept at loosehead as he is at hooker, Cowan-Dickie may find himself starting the season from the bench, but inevitably injuries will give him his opportunity, and I’d expect him to grab that opportunity with both hands. If he can continue to develop as he has over the last couple of seasons, he is a future England star without doubt.

3. Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)
A risky selection, as Sinckler could be sent out on loan to gain experience, but if he stays at The Stoop this season, he could make a significant impact, although most likely from the bench. Paul Doran-Jones has arrived at Harlequins as the replacement for James Johnston, and will understandably be the first choice tighthead, but Sinckler has all the potential in the world, and if he can start to realise that potential this season, Doran-Jones’ place could come under threat.

4. Dominic Barrow (Newcastle Falcons)
Another of England’s World Cup winning U-20 side, Barrow arrives at Newcastle with a very real chance of making an immediate impact, despite facing competition for his place from international duo, Carlo Del Fava and Scott Macleod. You can’t help but compare the young lock to Danny Grewcock in his playing style, and his physicality and passion could have a big influence on whether or not Newcastle can avoid relegation this season.

5. Charlie Matthews (Harlequins)
Matthews began to make a name for himself last season, and should continue to do so this season, especially with the retirement of Olly Kohn. George Robson and Nick Kennedy will most likely be Conor O’Shea’s preferred second row pairing at the start of the season, but if he finds himself yearning for Kohn’s size and power, Matthews could offer an intriguing ‘heavyweight’ option, standing at 6”8 and weighing in at over 19 stone.

6. Jamie Gibson (Leicester Tigers)
The former London Irish openside faces a daunting task trying to displace Julian Salvi from Leicester’s starting line-up, but his ability to play across the back row should help him considerably in at least securing a place on the bench. He should also provide good cover during international periods, when Tom Croft will likely be with the England squad.

7. Sam Jones (London Wasps)
Luke Wallace of Harlequins is unlucky to miss out, but Jones gets the nod, as he will be Wasps’ first choice openside this season, whilst Wallace will probably spend another season playing behind Chris Robshaw. Wasps will be hoping that with a fully-fit James Haskell, a rampaging Ashley Johnson, and a developing Jones all in the same back row, they will have one of the most dynamic units in the Premiership.

8. Jack Clifford (Harlequins)
Like Sinckler, Quins may choose to loan Clifford out, given the strength of their playing squad, but the England U-20 captain could be an important asset for them this season. Not only would another year of playing behind Nick Easter be helpful to Clifford’s development, but he also offers the club a speedier alternative to the power game of Easter, particularly off the back of the scrum, and as part of pre-planned moves from driving lineouts.

9. Jack Moates (London Wasps)
As with many others, Moates will have to make his impact from the bench, and during the international periods, with Joe Simpson firmly entrenched as Wasps’ number one scrum half. A good player with plenty of potential, London Irish’s loss with Moates should prove to be Wasps’ gain.

10. George Ford/Tom Heathcote (Bath)
Expectations are that Ford will be Bath’s fly half this season, but it’s hard to rule out Heathcote, who improved considerably over the course of last season. The fact that one of these two players will be playing regularly, was enough to give them preference over the highly-talented Henry Slade at Exeter, but questions remain as to whether or not they are (yet) capable of leading Bath into the top six.

11. Jamie Elliott (Northampton Saints)
Elliott impressed last season with a number of eye-catching performances, and could prove to be the perfect foil to the physicality of George North on the opposite wing for Northampton. The young winger will, however, have to see off competition from Ken Pisi and Paul Diggin first.

12. Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs)
Another player unlikely to start the season in the first XV, Hill could benefit from a relative lack of depth in the centres at Exeter. If he plays like he did for England in the U-20 World Cup, Hill could push himself into contention with the likes of Sireli Naqelevuki, Phil Dollman and Jason Shoemark in the Chiefs’ midfield.

13. Guy Armitage (London Irish)
After an unfruitful spell in Toulon, Armitage has returned to London Irish, and given the player exodus they have suffered through this year; his return is all the sweeter. A very talented centre, Armitage adds to an intriguing blend of power and pace in Irish’s back line this season.

14. Miles Benjamin (Leicester Tigers)
Benjamin is a slight contradiction to this piece, as he is already firmly established as a Premiership player, but a serious neck injury in his first season for the Tigers, prevented him from playing at all last season. The winger was a fine try scorer during his time at Worcester, and imagining what he could do in a squad as talented as Leicester’s is a truly salivating prospect.

15. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
The winner of the LV= Breakthrough Player award last season, Nowell is now ready to step up and perform regularly at the Premiership level, and has already been named in the England Saxons squad for the upcoming season. Anyone who saw him play at the Junior World Championships will know how talented of a player he is, and the damage he can do to defences on the counter.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images