After a career spanning 10 years and with over 200 caps, Austin ‘The Leicester Lip’ Healey is considered something of a stalwart at Welford Road, so it may come as a bit of a surprise that he doesn’t believe his old club will be able to defend their crown this coming season.
“I think Leicester may have a difficult year ahead,” states Healey. “Teams normally gun for them anyway but now they’re champions, people will be gunning for them even more so. It’s going to be hard for them.
“I can’t look much further than Saracens to finish top. They have a good home advantage and they’ve made good signings; Billy Vunipola is a gainline player that they missed last season and because of the new laws, James Johnston is going to make the scrum rock solid and absolutely destroy opposition.
“[Northampton] Saints have made some amazing signings and Bath or Gloucester will manage to force their way into the top four. At the other end of the table, I expect Newcastle will go straight back down.”
Austin is also excited at the prospect of watching Englishmen battle each other for a place in Stuart Lancaster’s international side. He knows that competition is fierce, especially for the openside flanker spot.
“[Chris] Robshaw has to have a big season and he has to have re-invented himself over the summer. There are a lot of players who want that seven shirt and I just can’t see him getting picked over Tom Croft, but Matt Kvesic also has the potential to take it.
“I’m also really looking forward to watching Luke Cowan-Dickie for Exeter. He looked amazing for the England under-20s – he’s a pinball that’s impossible to stop.”
New signings are something that rugby fans love to watch to see what impact they can make at their club, and Healey is no exception. According to him, it’s been an amazing season for new players.
“Everyone talks about Alex Corbisiero and George North to Saints but Kahn Fotuali’i is a great player. Kvesic to Gloucester is a huge signing and if Andy Saull manages to stay fit all season, he and Mike Blair could keep Newcastle up.
“Matt Garvey at Bath is another massive signing, – literally – and Bath have now got real attacking flair in that backline and they’ve got it in quantity as well as quality, but is their tight-five strong enough? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Since retiring from rugby, Healey has tried his hand on a number of TV shows but now new channel BT Sport has come calling, as their new rugby analyst Healey is hoping to do more than just present.
“If I have one achievement over the next few years, it would be to help more people watch the game, understand it and appreciate it. I hate sitting in a bar and hearing the conversation ‘I love watching football but I just don’t understand rugby.’ I want to change that.
“It’s a huge responsibility. Lots of people who have never watched the sport will be doing so, and my main job is to try and demystify issues within the game and increase the novice watcher’s knowledge of rugby.”
BT Sport are introducing a whole new range of coach and player interviews and new camera angles for this season’s coverage, and speaking from past experience, Austin knows that it could turn into some interesting viewing.
“You always try and compare it to when you were a player. It’s going to be dependent on how the first half has gone. You’re going to see raw emotion – either someone who’s in full control or someone who’s totally whacked and just wants to get back to the changing room to speak to the coach.
“It’s going to be fascinating, especially when we speak to someone who has just been subbed off. From a broadcaster’s view, we should get some good stuff.”
All innovations aside, it’s set to be another special Premiership season. We can’t wait.
By Calum Gillon (@C_Gillon)
Austin Healey is the rugby expert for BT Sport’s coverage of 69 live games of the Aviva Premiership which starts on Friday September 6 with Newcastle Falcons versus Bath Rugby