The beginning of another season of Premiership rugby is suddenly upon us and I’ve compiled a list of my top ten new or up-and-coming players to watch out for in this year’s Premiership (in no particular order). I haven’t counted new signings/prospects that have played the Premiership before, so the likes of Charles Piutau and George Smith don’t feature.
Lima Sopoaga (Wasps)
Replacing the talent of Danny Cipriani is no mean feat, but Wasps have done well to get a fitting replacement in the shape of All Black Lima Sopoaga from the Highlanders. A pragmatic playmaker, he was a crucial part of the Highlanders Super Rugby win back in 2015 and has been running the show ever since. He might take a while to settle in, but once he does he could really light it up for Wasps and get that gorgeous backline ticking.
Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers)
Yes he did feature for the Tigers in the Premiership last season, in which he came on for a minute and didn’t touch the ball. Therefore I think I can be forgiven for adding him to this list. If you don’t know who this young back is, then you soon will do. He was a star for England in the World Championships and for Tigers in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season. Quoted by Tigers defence coach Brett Deacon to be “faster than Jonny May”, he has stunning footwork, will ghost through defences and has already caught the attention of Eddie Jones with a training squad call up. With Tigers’ rumoured hefty injury list, it’s very possible we’ll be seeing this lad a lot this season and I can’t wait.
Brad Shields (Wasps)
Most people are very aware of the signing of the former U20 All Black as it made him available for selection for England during their unsuccessful tour of South Africa. We did only get a brief cameo, but we have seen from his countless Super Rugby appearances for the Hurricanes that he has a tireless work rate and leadership skills which means he will soon become a big hit in the Wasps colours.
Jaco Kriel (Gloucester)
One of my favourite South African players, at his best probably one of the most robust players in the World, his famous demolition of 6/7 Sunwolves players two years ago caught him much attention. He’s has since struggled a little with injury, hampering his chances of cementing a place in the Springbok side. Therefore he has opted to rejoin head coach Johan Ackermann at the Cherry and Whites. He adds another option to a jaw-dropping backrow and could be powering his way onto the Premiership scene very soon.
Taqele Naiyaravoro (Northampton Saints)
When this winger first hit the scene back in 2014, he was tipped as being the next Jonah Lomu with his speed and size, with two stints at the Waratahs and a stunning season with Glasgow Warriors. While he does struggle with inconsistency, there’s no doubt that he is coming into the Saints side off his best season for the New South Wales Waratahs, scoring 15 tries and setting up a few more with his powerful runs. He could very well become a hero at the Gardens if he replicates this form in the black, green and gold.
Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints)
Northampton’s other high-profile signing has been Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar, the 62-capped international (meaning he’s still eligible for Wales) could spark Northampton back from the dark ages with his direct style of play as well as his unrivalled ability to kick the ball, chase and receive, something which Saints could turn into a potent weapon. Sure he gets a little stroppy sometimes but Saints need someone of his character in their squad at the moment.
Alex Cuthbert (Exeter)
Cuthbert has joined Exeter in the hope of reigniting his somewhat stagnant career and there are few better places to join at the moment: the competition with the likes of Jack Nowell, Olly Woodburn, new signing Santiago Cordero and James Short as well as the fact that Exeter still remains one of the best coaching environments in the Northern Hemisphere. But Cuthbert has the class and finishing ability to prove a big hit and make his mark on the Devonian Club.
Michael Fatialofa (Worcester)
After the high-profile departures of locks Will Spencer (to Tigers), Christian Scotland-Williamson (switching codes to the NFL) and captain Donnacha O’Callaghan (who has finally hung up his boots after an amazing 20 years in the sport), the Warriors were left a bit bare in the locks. However they have recruited well with the signing of big Maori lock-forward Michael Fatialofa. At 116kg he will set the tone with big carries in the tight and big hits in defence. I’m sure that the Super Rugby winning player will soon make his mark on the pitch for the Warriors.
Franco Mostert (Gloucester)
Arguably the best signing of any Premiership club this summer, World Class lock Franco Mostert is arriving at Kingsholm and could be an instant hit. His work-rate, defensive capability and leadership is second to none and coming off a sensational season for both club and country, the three times Super Rugby finalist is already being touted as a future Captain for Gloucester!
Joel Kpoku (Saracens)
Another product from the 2018 World U20s, he is a huge unit and was England’s main ballcarrier during the World Championships. With international locks aplenty in his way, it’s certainly going to be a tough challenge for the youngster, but with Nick Isiekwe and Maro Itoje likely to be away with England for periods this season, it’ll be an opportunity for the youngster to develop and put his mark on the defending Premiership champions. George Kruis who?
A few notable mentions that could be hits but I thought were too risky to predict. Ehren Painter of Northampton is a very talented scrummager and had an excellent World U20s, while fellow U20s tighthead Joe Heyes of Leicester looks the real deal too. Alex Dombrandt, looks like a really good prospect signing by the Quins, while I’ve been impressed with their late additions of USA bulldozer Paul Lasike and Fijian Beast Semi Kunatani.