Bristol Rugby ran away with the Championship this season and rightfully gained promotion back to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
Their closest rivals, Ealing Trailfinders, are making headlines by making high profile signings that makes them firm favourites to gain promotion to the Premiership at the conclusion of the 2018/19 Championship season.
This week, the West Londoners announced the signing of Northampton Saints prop Campese Ma’afu. The 115kg Fijian has been one of Saints’ standout players in what has been a fairly diabolical season.
At the age of 33, Ma’afu will add plenty of experience to the front-row as well as hopefully helping to develop the younger props in the Trailfinders squad.
Trailfinders have also signed Craig Willis from the high-flying Newcastle Falcons. The fly-half came through the Falcons academy, but has been starved of opportunity this season and is probably looking to kick-start his career.
His highlight of this season would have been when Falcons went to The Rec and Willis superbly controlled the game to overturn Bath in their back yard. Blessed with wonderful kicking ability, Willis will be a crowd favourite in London.
Ealing re-signed USA flanker Andrew Durutalo from Worcester Warriors less than a season after the American left for Sixways while 23-year-old Sam Olver will also join from Worcester. Worryingly, Olver will find himself in the same position that he has found himself in during the majority of his young career; surrounded by quality fly-halves.
Elsewhere, Harry Sloan will move from the Stoop to carry on his development as they young centre is looking for more regular first team rugby. Brother of Steffon and Delon Armitage, Guy, will join the club from Wasps. Having experienced in the Top 14, the centre will provide a threat for whoever his opposition is.
As well as Ma’afu, Northampton Saints have also lost Matt Beesley and Jordan Onojaife to Ealing as Saints go through a dramatic squad shake-up before next season. Both players have played the majority of this season in the A-League and will be hungry to get to the Premiership and prove themselves.
Experienced second-row, Tom Denton, will be swapping Gloucester for London. Adding experience to an already talented squad, the former Leinster and Carnegie has been limited to A-League action this season. Leicester tighthead prop Ben Betts will also join after two years in the East Midlands.
In somewhat of a coup, Australian openside flanker Jordy Reid will be joining Ealing from the Melbourne Rebels. The 6ft forward is regularly in the Rebels pack and in 2013, played against the British & Irish Lions when they toured Australia.
Jordy Reid and Pat Howard the latest names to sign for Ealing. The Championship is no one-horse race next season.— Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport) April 24, 2018
Joining from the Pro 14 will be South African centre Pat Howard. Having previously represented the Stormers in Super Rugby, Munster and Northampton Saints, Howard has been a regular for the Dragons over last two years.
Edinburgh prop Elliot Millar-Mills will trade one capital for another. He joined the Scottish club in the November of last year from Yorkshire Carnegie. Millar-Mills’ two sisters have represented both England and Scotland.
Munster utility back David Johnston will be coming to London also. A former Academy Player of the Season for the province, Johnston will probably be playing below his level in the Championship. Meanwhile, former Irish U20 international Ryan Foley will join after a period in the lower echelons of French rugby.
Bristol will lose one of their stalwarts in their Championship victory to Ealing. Loose-head prop Jack O’Connell will join having played the majority of his Bristol career in the Championship. Bedford will lose three players to Ealing as scrum-half Jordan Burns comes to the capital with a remarkable 21 tries in 80 appearances for Bedford. Winger Howard Packman and hooker George Edgson will also join from the Blues.
Brilliant fly-half Laurence May will switch from Cornish Pirates to London to provide more competition at fly-half. The 23-year-old has over 600 points in the Championship. Lock Ben West will provide a lot of Championship experience after joining from Yorkshire while Ben Landry will be joining the club from Glendale Raptors. The USA international recently tried out for the NFL.
We couldn’t be prouder! Fantastic news for @GeorgeSimpson99 & @Ben_Williams96. Great adverts for the rugby programme who will also finish with their degrees behind them. Quality work! @CMetSportTV @CMetSport @cardiffmet @BUCSsuperrugby @AllWalesSport @TalkRugbyUnion @simonrug https://t.co/BhHRRSvhQT— Cardiff Met RFC (@cardiffmetrfc) April 19, 2018
Also joining will be two Cardiff Met students, fresh from the disappointment of losing the BUCS final to Hartpury at Twickenham. Versatile back George Simpson played age-grade rugby for Harlequins as well as for London Irish in the Singha Sevens and Samurai at the Dubai Sevens. Scrum-half Ben Williams has recently represented England Students on their annual tour in France and had played in the A-League for Worcester Warriors.
Anyone can see that Ealing already have a very talented squad and that these additions make the team look quality. Competition for places will make players up their game, meaning that the overall performance of the team will rise.
What will be interesting to see will be whether the coaching staff can accommodate all of these big names as well as nurturing the younger talent and they will definitely be the team to watch next season.
Ealing will conclude their Championship season away to Cornish Pirates on Saturday before bringing their campaign to a close against Leinster in the British & Irish Cup Final on the 12th of May.
Ealing’s Signings for 2018/19:
Campese Ma’afu (Northampton Saints), Craig Willis (Newcastle Falcons), Andrew Durutalo (Worcester Warriors), Matt Beesley (Northampton Saints), Harry Sloan (Harlequins), Guy Armitage (Wasps), Tom Denton (Gloucester Rugby), Sam Olver (Worcester Warriors), Ben Betts (Leicester Tigers), Jordan Onojaife (Northampton Saints), Jordy Reid (Melbourne Rebels), Pat Howard (Dragons), Elliot Millar Mills (Edinburgh Rugby), David Johnston (Munster), Ryan Foley (Rugby Olympique de Grasse), Jack O’Connell (Bristol), Jordan Burns (Bedford Blues), Howard Packman (Bedford Blues), George Edgson (Bedford Blues), Laurence May (Cornish Pirates), Ben West (Yorkshire Caregie), Ben Landry (Glendale Raptors), George Simpson (Cardiff Met) and Ben Williams (Cardiff Met)