Gallagher Premiership 2018/19: Key Summer Transfers Part 1

Danny Cipriani

In preparation for the dawn of a new era for Premiership Rugby, in which American insurance company Gallagher have obtained the sponsorship rights from Aviva, I will do a 3 part series on all 12 clubs where I analyse their new key signings and departures and list what I think would be their ideal starting XV for next season.

Bath Rugby

First up is Bath who qualified for Europe last season by the skin of their teeth: a surprise BP victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm followed by a pretty easy thrashing of relegated London Irish enabled the West Country Club to sneak into the top 6, just about saving Todd Blackadder’s job. In terms of coaching recruitment, Bath have seemingly solved their attacking problem with the signing of Leinster attack coach Girvan Dempsey and I look forward to the guy that was behind all the scintillating tries that Leinster scored bringing his expertise to Bath.

Bath have been quite busy in their quest to challenge for top four with Bruce Craig (probably still reeling from his standoff with Eddie Jones) throwing in some more cash. Let’s have a look:

Key Transfers in:

For Bath the summer signings have been mainly in the backs. The headline grabbing ones have been former England U20 wing Joe Cokanasiga, Welsh stalwart Jamie Roberts and centre Jackson Willison. The signings of Cokanasiga and Roberts add significant bulk and power to the Bath backline whilst Willison is a talented playmaker and supreme offloader.

Key Transfers Out:
To Bath fans this will be obvious, they must be still reeling and getting over the fact that their beloved Matt Banahan has departed for their fierce West Country Rivals Gloucester. To me this clearly emphasises that there is something wrong at the moment within the Club for such a stalwart to exit, and let’s remember that Todd Blackadder is still treading on thin ice in regards of his job…

How will this affect Bath’s 1st choice XV?
Well I can’t see Cokanasiga breaking into the 1st team immediately with internationals Cooper Vuna, Semesa Rokodugini and Aled Brew in the way and I can see Blackadder going with the experience of Roberts over Willison in the centres. Here’s what I think will be Bath’s 1st choice team for next season:

1. Beno Obano
2. Tom Dunn
3. Anthony Perenise
4. Luke Charteris
5. Dave Atwood
6. François Louw (c)
7. Sam Underhill
8. Taulupe Faletau
9. Kahn Fotuali’i
10. Freddie Burns
11. Cooper Vuna
12. Jamie Roberts
13. Jonathan Joseph
14. Semesa Rokoduguni
15. Anthony Watson

Bristol Bears

You’ve got to give it to Bristol, their marketing and rebranding has succeeded beyond any expectation and I do believe they have got a serious chance of staying up next season (so think twice before mocking their new Bears nickname). Out of all the clubs, they have made the most signings (including academy promotions) as well as a hefty departure list, therefore Bristol have changed considerably on the pitch as well since we last saw them grace the Premiership.

Key Transfers In
Unless you have been living under a rock recently, I’m sure that rugby fans are well aware that Bristol’s marquee and front-page headline grabbing signing has been Charles Piutau, reunited with his brother Siale once more in the Premiership. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the supposed salary of the Kiwi, he’s marquee therefore his salary doesn’t count towards the cap. Most importantly however, I’m incredibly excited to see Piutau rip it up in the English game after a sensational appearance for Wasps 3 seasons ago. Welcome back Charles!

Bristol’s other big name signings have been the all-time great George Smith who they have bought in on a 7-month loan as they had several backrow players injured. Just the aura and experience he brings will really boost Bristol’s squad. He may be near the end of his career but he certainly won’t go without a fight, 37 is a just a number to him and I hope that Bears get the best out of him. Another key signing has been World Cup winner John Afoa who will bolster Bristol’s options at tighthead as well as offer a significant ball-carrying option in the loose. Another excellent signing from head coach Pat Lam.

Key Transfers Out
I think Bristol will really miss scrumhalf Rhodri Williams who had a stormer of a season in the Championship but returned to Wales to pursue his international ambitions ahead of the World Cup in Japan. Therefore, they have brought in Harry Randall and Nic Stirzaker but I get the sense that they were quite unwilling to let Williams leave. Plus a lot of Bristol fans will really miss stalwart winger David Lemi who scored a lot of tries in his two stints at the club.

How will this affect their 1st choice XV?
I think all the key signings will be making an immediate impact and start to cement places in Bristol’s 1st team, which you have to admit is mightily impressive and reflects their ambitions:

1. James Lay
2. Harry Thacker
3. John Afoa
4. Joe Joyce
5. Chris Vui (c)
6. Jack Lam
7. George Smith
8. Steven Luatua
9. Nic Stirzaker
10. Ian Madigan
11. Alapati Leiua
12. Siale Piutau
13. Will Hurrell
14. Luke Morahan
15. Charles Piutau

Exeter Chiefs

As you would expect from the Chiefs, not a lot of new signings, a few departures yes but the Chiefs have a ridiculously strong academy core which they can rely on to make up for the departures.

Key Transfers in
There’s only been two signings so I might as well analyse them! Both wingers are of high international quality: Argentinian Santiago Cordero and Welsh (as well as 2013 B&I Lion) international Alex Cuthbert. We have already witnessed Cordero’s talents on the field as he joined the Chiefs on loan last season, and he has extended that loan into a proper contract. His footwork and pace is a joy to behold and he is the perfect long term option for the now retired Lachlan Turner. Alex Cuthbert will also look to reignite his career after a somewhat mediocre couple of seasons since his scintillating 2013, which wasn’t exactly helped by injury. The former Blues winger has his work cut out with the likes of Woodburn, Short and Nowell in his way but that is the kind of challenge that Cuthbert desires.

Key Transfers Out

There has been a reasonable departures list which might slightly worry some Chiefs fans. Morale must suffer when someone of Thomas Waldrom’s stature leaves the club that gave him so much and while they have more than capable successors in Sam Simmonds, Tom Lawday and James Freeman, they will miss the power and persona of the Tank Engine. Chiefs fans must also be reeling from the retirements of other club stalwarts, such as Julian Salvi, Carl Rimmer, Lachlan Turner, stars that have been an essential part of the Chiefs success across the last few seasons.

How will this affect their 1st choice XV
To be honest, I don’t think the signings and departures will have affected Exeter’s first team that much, this is what I think is their 1st choice:

1 Alec Hepburn
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Mitch Lees
5 Jonny Hill
6 Dave Ewers
7 Don Armand
8 Sam Simmonds
9 Nic White
10 Joe Simmonds
11 Olly Woodburn
12 Sam Hill
13 Henry Slade
14 Jack Nowell
15 Santiago Cordero

Gloucester Rugby

Gloucester have had a little bit of a rebrand over the summer with a new Lion-like crest, meaning that many people regard the Cherry and Whites as an Emirates Lions 2.0 with the logo, the former Lions players and of course the head coach. Joking aside however, the Gloucester recruitment has been impressive and they possess a very threatening side for next season that could very well make Top 2.

Key Transfers In
Where do I start, Gloucester have made a lot of impressive key signings, so I have to whittle them down. Franco Mostert has to be their standout signing in the forwards pack. The never-say-die lock has had another magnificent season for both the Lions and the Boks with his staggering work rate, lineout superiority and dogged defence. He was well sought after in the Northern Hemisphere and it is a huge statement from Gloucester in confirming his signing.

Arguably their most significant signing in the backs has been the signing of Danny Cipriani who is fresh off revitalising his England career with an assured and competent performance at flyhalf in the third test against South Africa. It’s another huge statement from Gloucester to sign someone of Cipriani’s quality, and they have already experienced the complications that go with the recruitment of such a personality. Gloucester already possess an impressive counterattack but with Cipriani at the helm they could be unstoppable if the pack dominates.

Key Transfers Out:

I think Gloucester will miss the leadership and experience that former All Black Jeremy Thrush offered and the creativity of flyhalf Billy Burns, but crucially this season Gloucester will miss the two quality hookers Samoan international Motu Matu’u and Welsh/British and Irish Lion Richard Hibbard. Their foreseeable weakness right now is the hookers despite the retention of Wallaby James Hanson and the signing of Franco Marais. I hope that the Cherry and Whites don’t regret letting those two hookers go.

How does this affect their 1st choice XV?

Quite considerably in Gloucester’s case, they have a potentially unstoppable team. Just take a look:

1. Val Rapava Ruskin
2. James Hanson
3. Ruan Dreyer
4. Ed Slater (c)
5. Franco Mostert
6. Jaco Kriel
7. Jake Polledri
8. Ben Morgan
9. Willie Heinz
10. Danny Cipriani
11. Matt Banahan
12. Billy Twelvetrees
13. Henry Trinder
14. Henry Purdy
15. Jason Woodward

By Jacob Bassford (add me on Twitter @jacob_bassford and subscribe to my Youtube channel @FlyingG_Sports)

25 thoughts on “Gallagher Premiership 2018/19: Key Summer Transfers Part 1

  1. From a Glos point of view, was actually most disappointed to see John Afoa leave. Absolute legend, but he has chosen to maximise his earnings from his rugby career and good luck to him. He always gave his all for Glos and will do so for Bristol now.

    Both Hibbard and Moriaty left the club to pursue RWC places next year with Wales and you can’t really blame them. Thrush and Matu’u were really back ups last season – good ones, but weren’t first choices at their position.

    Depth in the back five of the scrum is ridiculous, but we might be a bit light with depth behind the starters in the back division. Vellacott hasn’t really shown the game management yet at scrum half, despite his great talent (hope it comes on this season), and Billy Burns is a massive loss at a key position when I hope (from an England point of view not a Glos one) that DC is in the England squad, and therefore away for a good part of the season. We will see what Owen Williams can do (if not with Wales, and if this is the case, we will be a little light at the most important position).

    Looking at Exeter, I’m not sure that their departures will affect them much. Most of them were squad players only as age caught up with them.

    We will see how the Bristol squad gels due to the massive turnover. Big job for Pat Lam there I think.

    Bath squad on paper is very good, but as you’ve said, something seems not to be right there at the moment. May be they will come good this season, maybe not, but for chunks of last season they appeared to be playing at a level less than the sum of their parts.

    1. Yes the departure of Afoa was huge but as I’d put him in the Bristol section already I thought it was unnecessary to put him again in the Gloucester section.

      By the way as a Gloucester supporter, what’s your opinion of the two youngs props Seville and Knight who played for the U20s, in my opinion Seville really needs to work on his tackle technique as he always seemed to charge for the knees instead of tackling properly during the World U20s

      1. Jacob. I think that with all young front rowers, they are works in progress. It is very difficult to say how they are going to stand up at the coalface until they have had time against more experienced front rows. Both have potential, but also several players in front of them for regular playing time. They will both get run outs tomorrow night, so it will be interesting to see how they go. Both played against Ulster and apparently the scrum was good.

        Haven’t really looked at Seville’s tackling technique to be honest. I imagine that this is something that will be worked on by the coaches if they are worried about it.

  2. Nearly made the comment that DC was to be on loan at Leyhill RFC this season, but thought better of it………………

  3. Part 1 is the West Country contingent. The proper place to start.

    Exeter look the same as last year
    Bath look injury-ridden
    Gloucester look very strong
    Bristol look worth watching, but can’y help think that they are a little light in the front 5.

    1. Not really, might be a little light in the hookers but in terms of locks they look well stocked with the likes of Vui, Ed Holmes, Ali Muldowney, Joe Joyce and in the props they get the Samoan international Lay brothers, Tongan international Sione Faletau, John Afoa and Yann Thomas

      1. I hope you’re right Jacob, and when I typed ‘lightweight’ I wasn’t necessarily being literal, I was referring more to their ability to withstand the ‘stronger’ packs they will come up against.

        Noting of course that there are newcomers this year, the Bristol pack last year did struggle on a few occasions in the Championship, and my concern would be whether it has been sufficiently “beefed up’.

  4. Would anyone complain if Eddie just selected the Exeter back row for England?

    Having said that, both Bath and Glos back rows look pretty tasty as well and im looking forward to watching Luatua for Bris.

    EJ should take advantage of Smith playing here and use him as an advisor for England

      1. A missed opportunity if not. He seemed to be hugely influential at Wasps while he was there and if i remember correctly, was used as an advisor by England during the 2016 grand slam

        Was it Eddie who bought Smith through as a player for the Brumbies and then Aus?

  5. Bath look to have a pretty good, all round team on paper, although I don’t know if the front row will stand up to teams like Saracens or Exeter. Bit surprised to see Banahan’s exit after all these yrs. Don’t see Roberts as a progressive buy. Maybe Bladder is being sucked into a ‘D’ way of thinking over here? If the front row, er, front up, they could challenge for a top 4 posi.

  6. Bristol have a real mixed bag with some radical surgery having been undertaken to last yr’s squad. Some good buys like Luatua & an experienced one in Geo Smith in the pack. However, will the front 5 stand up to the challenge & longevity of the Premiership? Good looking back line overall, especially with Piutau @ the back. Could rip a few up… if they get enough ball from their pack!

    1. Luatua was at Bristol last season as well – in fact he may even have grabbed the Player of the Year award.

  7. Exeter look pretty much as strong as ever, particularly in the front & back rows. Don’t know about the locks. The back line also has a seasoned look about it, although unfamiliar with Simmonds & Hill. Slade could do with more invention this year if he hopes to go to Japan next year. Top 2 again, I’d imagine.

  8. Gloucester, is this their year? Will they flatter to deceive? Decent engine room & back row with an opportunity for Jake Polledri to stand up alongside Ben Morgan, the latter who might have been, or still could be, part of England’s plans if Eddie widens his vision? Just don’t know about the front row, especially now that Afoa has gone. Mostly a decent back line too, if Twelvetrees & Trinder can pick it up… & they must give Jason Woodward plenty of ball! Again!
    Dunno. Top 6?

    1. Afoa would be a loss to any team, but with Rapava Ruskin, Hohneck, Balmain, and Dreyer rotating with Denman and McAllister in the mix as well and the young guns coming through, I think that we will be fine in the prop department. At hooker, it was a toss up as who was the starter between Hanson and Hibbard by the end of last season, and with Marais, who has represented South Africa A, I think that we have a strong one two at the position. So not convinced that we will struggle in the front row.

      I may yet be wrong, of course, as all teams look like champions elect in pre season!

      However, as I stated above, I’m more worried about strength in depth in the backline. We finished last season with several players in the backline playing out of position due to injuries. Hope that doesn’t happen again.

      1. Agreed, Morgan was back playing some good rugby last year, finally looking like he had recovered from that horrendous leg break. Simmonds is really a 7 at international level but I can’t see Baxter playing him there as he does such a good job at 8 for Exeter. Worried that Billy V will be our next Manu T. Looks a world beater when fit but can’t stay fit.

        1. It’s a balance thing isn’t it. You can play Simmonds at 8 when you have the likes of Ewers and Armand on the flanks.

          Would really like to see him at 7. He has speed and strength

          Fingers crossed for Billy V.

  9. Ooops! How could I omit.. Danny Cipriani. Gloucester have moved on after the night club, but can draconian England!? Anyway, Cip has incentive aplenty of to play his socks off which he has to & I expect, he’ll do. Just win & give him the pill!


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