With just under a month until the new Gallagher Premiership season begins, Joe Harvey has pulled together a starting XV made up of new additions to English rugby's top division.
1. Lucas Noguera Paz (Jaguares – Bath)
At the age of 24, Noguera Paz has an enormous amount of international experience and guile. The 43 times capped prop has essentially abandoned his international career to be with Bath and will hope that he hasn’t made a mistake.
Admittedly, the prop joined Bath at the end of last year but didn’t feature much for the club. A long-term injury to Beno Obano means that the loosehead prop position is vacant at the club and it wouldn’t be difficult for the Puma to make the shirt his own.
Blessed with fantastic handling and a very good scrummager, there is a chance that Bath’s forward pack will be more competitive this season.
2. Franco Marais (Sharks – Gloucester)
With Richard Hibbard returning to Wales in order to join Dragons, Gloucester were in need of a hooker. Franco Marais comes to the Cherry and Whites with plenty of Super Rugby experience and is a dependable player.
A strong carrier of the ball and a good operator at the lineout, Marais would probably be closer to the Springboks squad if it wasn’t for a certain Malcolm Marx pulling up trees. In addition to this, the impending announcement that Schalk Brits will not retire from rugby in an attempt to play for South Africa at the World Cup meant that Marais’ chances at an international career are essentially over.
He’s come to a Gloucester side that has plenty of South Africans in it’s ranks and is likely to settle in quickly. He will probably challenge James Hanson for the starting berth at the club and play in the majority of games, whether he starts or is on the bench.
3. Kieran Brookes (Northampton – Wasps)
Brookes has had an interesting career so far. Leaving Newcastle in his formative years for Leicester and then returning just two seasons after, only to set sail once more for Northampton, Brookes has certainly struggled for consistency.
The England international has completely dropped off Eddie Jones’ radar and there is no sign of an international recall coming any time soon for the prop. Whilst playing consistently for Northampton for just over a season, a series of injuries lead to Brookes losing his name on the teamsheet, with this lack of playing time resulting in poor form from the prop.
His move to Wasps this summer has given him a unique opportunity. For the past two seasons Wasps have had, arguably, the most potent back line in northern hemisphere rugby. However, as is the way in rugby, talent in the backs means nothing if you have a poor forward pack.
In addition to this, the Coventry-based side haven’t had a nailed-on tighthead for some time. Marty Moore failed to live up to expectation and Jake Cooper-Woolley has had some injury trouble and not always scrummaged well. This is Brookes’ opportunity to nail down a starting spot at a club and make the number three shirt his own at Wasps.
4. Gerbrandt Grobler (Munster – Gloucester)
To suggest that Gerbrandt Grobler has had an interesting career would be an understatement. Aged only 26, the South African lock was banned from rugby in 2014 for two years after testing positive for Drostanolone, an anabolic steroid.
Returning to top-class rugby straight away in 2016 to play for Parisians Racing 92, Grobler was outstanding in the Top 14, earning him a controversial move to Munster. The Irish press didn’t forget the fact that Grobler had a drugs ban.
The South African must have been on the radar of countryman Johan Ackermann who needed to beef up his forward pack with players that he would have known from his time with the Lions.
5. Aly Muldowney (Grenoble – Bristol)
English lock Aly Muldowney returns to the Premiership at the grand old age of 34 to play under Pat Lam for the second time in his career. Enjoying Pro 12 success before leaving Connacht in 2016, Muldowney was a key figure in Connacht’s first ever title.
Following the success in Galway, Muldowney travelled to Grenoble, where in his first season at the club, they suffered relegation to D2. Staying in Grenoble to regain promotion, the lock was approached by his former Connacht coach Lam to come to the Bristol Bears’ revolution.
Possessing previous Premiership experience with Exeter Chiefs, Muldowney will be a senior figure in the Bears’ changing rooms. With Bristol strengthening in every position ahead of the new season, Muldowney’s experience will be valued by Lam, who will want to avoid relegation on the Bears’ return to the Premiership.
6. Brad Shields (Hurricanes – Wasps)
Despite never having played a club game in England, Shields has already got an England cap and a fair amount of negative press in England. A massively talented rugby player who did play for the Baby Blacks and the Barbarians, Shields is essentially moving to the UK to pursue an international career.
It was the signing of Shields that essentially meant that James Haskell had to move elsewhere to continue his club career. This already means that Shields has massive expectation on him from the Wasps faithful.
Built in the mould of a traditional backrow, Shields is athletic and perhaps England’s answer to their blindside flanker problems with his breakdown ability.
7. James Haskell (Wasps – Northampton)
Undoubtedly a Wasps legend, Haskell’s career with his first club has ended with the England flanker making close to 200 appearances for the side. Having to take a pay cut to join Northampton, Haskell is going to a club that will probably do better than last season.
With a wealth of club experience gathered at Stade Francais, the Ricoh Black Rams and the Highlanders, Wasps may rue the day that they decided to let Haskell go. Saints have gained a massively experienced player for less money than he is probably worth.
With his amazing commitment to get on the plane to Japan, this can only be good for Saints, whose forwards haven’t impressed since they last won the Premiership. Haskell’s inclusion to the Saints squad will give them both leadership and a very good international player.
8. Nizaam Carr (Stormers – Wasps)
When Nathan Hughes picked up a long-term injury at the tail end of last year, Wasps turned to Stormers’ ginormous number eight, Nizaam Carr, as injury cover on a short-term deal. Playing incredibly well in his first stint in the Premiership, Carr earnt himself a full-time contract at Wasps.
Finally giving Hughes competition for the number eight shirt, the South African international can also play at flanker. He is one of several additions that Dai Young has made to his forward pack in an attempt to match the likes of Saracens and Exeter.
It will be fascinating to see who, out of Carr and Hughes, gets the nod on the opening day of the season against Worcester. Carr will get plenty of playing time regardless when Hughes is away on international duty.
9. Nic Stirzaker (Rebels – Bristol)
Born in England to South African parents, raised in Australia and having plied his trade in Manawatu, Stirzaker has had an interesting path to Bristol. With good Super Rugby experience, the 27-year-old is coming into the prime of his career.
He will easily become the most experienced scrum-half at the club and likely to start Bristol’s first game of the season. Muscled out of Melbourne by Will Genia, Stirzaker is a quality operator who is a good kicker from hand.
Playing for Saracens as injury cover, Stirzaker is clearly regarded as a good nine. He could even be the difference for Bristol this season, dictating the pace at which they play and when to strike.
10. Dan Biggar (Ospreys – Northampton)
Arguably bereft of a quality fly-half for some time, the Franklin’s Gardens faithful will be delighted to see the Welsh star in a Saints shirt. Dan Biggar possibly didn’t have the best domestic season for the Ospreys last season, largely due to an injury that also saw him miss most of the Six Nations, so he will be raring to go in the Premiership.
When completely fit, Biggar is one of the best players in the world. Probably playing most of Saints’ games when available, this will be the first time in Biggar’s career that his playing time isn’t being closely monitored by the Welsh Rugby Union.
This could result in Biggar’s performances for the Welsh not being as solid as we remember. However, this is massively good news for Northampton. It could mean that the new look Saints will be catapulted up the table with a new midfield maestro.
11. Chris Ashton (Toulon – Sale)
There’s something just right about Chris Ashton returning to the north-west to play for Sale Sharks. The former rugby league star’s return to the Premiership will give Eddie Jones and Steve Diamond selection issues.
Returning from the Top 14 with the leagues try scoring record for one season, Ashton only seems to be improving as he gets older.
Deployed at fullback for most of last season by Toulon, it’s unclear where Ashton will ply his trade next season in a Sale side with some very talented backs. Mike Haley’s move to Munster has left the 15 shirt up for grabs. Byron McGuigan put in a few good performances in that position, whilst Ashton has proved to be a capable operator there too.
Regardless of what position Ashton ends up, he will contribute to Sale’s campaign with tries and plenty of assists. Already back in the England squad, Ashton still has the opportunity to get the Premiership try scoring record as well as get on the plane to Japan.
12. Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders – Wasps)
This signing really was a statement of Wasps’ intent next season. It’s difficult to say whether Sopoaga will be a success in the Premiership when considering his lack of experience playing in the northern hemisphere. However, saying that, bad players don’t become All Blacks.
Like Shields, the arrival of Sopoaga meant that a crowd favourite, Danny Cipriani, was pushed out of the door. This means that Sopoaga will have to prove himself early on to get the fans on side.
Aged only 27 Sopoaga comes to the Premiership in his prime. Contributing to the Highlanders’ 2015 Super Rugby win and only narrowly missing out on selection for the 2015 World Cup, Sopoaga is a top-class player who may be the difference between Wasps winning a Premiership title.
13. Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Lions – Sale)
Sale Sharks fans will be delighted that centre Van Rensburg will be returning on a permanent basis to the AJ Bell where he impressed so much in his short spell at the club.
Van Rensburg’s inclusion to the Sale squad vastly improves their options at centre. Will Addison moving to Ulster left a big hole and Diamond seems to have got the perfect player to fill the void.
Extremely physical and combative, the South African is perfect for the Premiership. Along with Sale’s other summer signings you can actually see Sharks having a really good season and Van Rensburg being one of the best centre’s in the Premiership
14. Taqele Naiyaravoro (NSW Waratahs – Northampton)
How do replace George North? A 100kg winger who has just broken Super Rugby’s try scoring record for one season sounds about right. The two-time Wallaby is an absolute threat on the wing.
Performing well when putting on a Barbarians shirt, Naiyaravoro is a welcome addition to Northampton’s backs. Having lost North and Ben Foden, this winger is an exciting ball carrier and finisher who will be worshipped by the Northampton fans.
Also, Naiyaravoro does have experience in the northern hemisphere having played for Glasgow in the 2015/16 season and been relatively successful during his time in Scotland.
15. Charles Piutau (Ulster – Bristol)
The return of Charles Piutau to the Premiership has been a long time coming. When he played for Wasps in the 15/16 season, the former All Black was pipped to RPA Player of the Year by now Bristol teammate George Smith.
His move to Bristol has seen Piutau reportedly sign the most lucrative contract in World Rugby. Immensely talented, Piutau will undoubtedly be one of the best players in the Premiership next season as he prepares to line-up alongside Ian Madigan, Luke Morahan and Alapati Leiua amongst others.
Bristol have relatively few options in the backs so Piutau could be expected to play every game, meaning that his performances are likely to dip at some stage in the season. Regardless, Piutau’s inclusion to the Premiership will be a bonus to fans
Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the world...it can only be the Gallagher Premiership.
12 teams compete in the league over a season, playing every team both home and away, before four move into the playoffs and one is relegated.
The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?
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