Ollie Phillips: My predictions for the new Premiership season

 
Ollie Phillips
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New Zealand v British & Irish Lions
British and Irish Lions back Liam Williams is a superb signing for Saracens (Source: Getty)

I'm so excited for the new domestic season and I cannot wait for the big Premiership kick-off on Friday night.

This is such a crucial period in the context of the wider rugby calendar, mainly because we are two years out from a World Cup and this is where nations have to stop hiding behind the notion of building or developing a side.

This is the time when international teams start cutting their teeth, so when they enter the final year prior to the 2019 tournament in Japan, they are very focused and are refining their plans rather than piecing them together.

It will be interesting to see how some Premiership teams fare off the back of a gruelling season last term, coupled with certain players having represented the British and Irish Lions in what was a relentless tour of New Zealand. There’s bound to be a hangover.

Harlequins v Sale Sharks - Aviva Premiership
It will be interesting to see how new laws involving scrums and rucks pan out (Source: Getty)

I’m also intrigued to witness how the six new law amendments, which are designed to make our game faster and more expansive, will play out. There are always teething problems with new laws so that will be fascinating to watch.

I cannot look beyond back-to-back European champions Saracens for the Premiership title. Losing wing Chris Ashton but replacing him with Liam Williams, who has been fantastic for Scarlets, Wales and the Lions, typifies their recruitment.

Neil de Kock, Jim Hamilton and Kelly Brown have all retired but Northampton flanker Calum Clark, a fantastic player who is on the verge of the England set-up but never gets the nod, and Will Skelton from Waratahs are potent replacements.

Contrast that to Wasps, who have lost Frank Halai and Kurtley Beale. I’m not convinced Wasps have replaced those players with the same quality. I still think Dai Young’s side will be competitive but I can see them slipping out of the top four.

Wasps v Leicester Tigers - Aviva Premiership Semi Final
Kurtley Beale will be a big loss for Wasps (Source: Getty)

Wing Marcus Watson, signed from Newcastle, is an exciting prospect. I played with him for England Sevens and he lit up the field. He’s subsequently starred in the Premiership and having him and Christian Wade on the flanks is exciting. However, I don’t feel Wasps will possess the same level of dynamism with Halai and Beale gone.

To an extent, the same can be said of defending champions Exeter and the loss of four players could have a destabilising effect, although shrewd operator Rob Baxter has made an absolutely tremendous signing in flanker Matt Kvesic from Gloucester.

Second row Geoff Parling has joined Melbourne Rebels and Matt Jess, Tom Johnson and Haydn Thomas have all retired. Those four were crucial in setting the tone and the standards at Sandy Park and I think it could take time for things to settle down there.

Some of the best business has been done by Leicester, specifically fly-half George Ford and wing Jonny May. It is crucial for a club to have players capable of plugging the gap left by international call-ups and while Leicester have lost a few, they have enough.

Leicester Tigers Media Session
England fly-half George Ford will boost Leicester (Source: Getty)

Don’t be surprised to see the Tigers come of age this season, while I think Bath, who have brought in Freddie Burns, will be in the top four along with Saracens, Leicester and Exeter come May.

My tip for relegation is London Irish, while I can see Gloucester and Harlequins under-performing compared to their level of expectation. Northampton have also failed to adequately replace the quality which has left Franklin’s Gardens.

Conversely, I believe Newcastle, Sale and Worcester, sides who have traditionally been fighting to stay in the top-flight, could surprise a few. Shrewd signings have been made by those three clubs and they’ll be eager to progress.

Players to watch: Liam Williams (Saracens), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Jonny May (Leicester) and Matt Kvesic (Exeter)

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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