Gallagher Premiership 2019/2020: All clubs analysed ahead of the restart

Football has returned. Formula 1 has returned. Finally, it’s the turn of rugby union to come back. Tonight, we will have the first fixture of the Gallagher Premiership since the league was suspended back on the 8th April. The first game back is Harlequins hosting Sale Sharks at the Twickenham Stoop.

In this article, I will preview the remainder of the season, giving you all the details you need to know about each team in the Premiership, as well as some analysis on how I think they have done so far and will do in their remaining games.

The teams are listed in alphabetical order. When it comes to the stats for each team, I have only included the top player from that club in that category, and only players still at those clubs.

Bath Rugby

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Stuart Hooper (ENG)

HEAD COACH: Neal Hatley (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Charlie Ewels (lock, ENG)

STADIUM: The Recreation Ground (also know as The Rec)

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 6th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 6th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Zach Mercer (number 8)

Sam Underhill (flanker)

Jonathan Joseph (centre)

Semesi Rokoduguni (wing)

Anthony Watson (full-back)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Rhys Priestland – 4th most points (111)

Zach Mercer – joint-2nd most tries (5)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Bath have been a team in transition this season, with Stuart Hooper in the middle of his first season as Director of Rugby after replacing Todd Blackadder in the role, and Neal Hatley, the former England scrum coach, being appointed as Head Coach only yesterday. On the pitch, the performances have been solid, and they look like they will be in the top half of the table, but not in the play-offs at the moment. They are always a good team to watch.

They have made some notable additions to the team, such as experienced lock Will Spencer from Leicester Tigers, and scrum-half Ben Spencer from Saracens, and Ben Spencer in particular has been one of Sarries’ best players in recent seasons. With regular scrum-half Will Chudley now 30, Spencer, who is 28, will be good cover and competition in that position. The highly-rated centre Cameron Redpath has also joined from Sale, and could be one to watch.

Bristol Bears

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Pat Lam (NZL)

HEAD COACH: Pat Lam (as DoR) (NZL)

CAPTAIN: Steven Luatua (back row) (NZL)

STADIUM: Ashton Gate

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 9th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 3rd (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Nathan Hughes (back row)

Ben Earl (flanker)

Callum Sheedy (fly-half)

Piers O’Conor (centre)

Luke Morahan (wing)

Charles Piutau (full-back)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Callum Sheedy – 2nd most points (122)

Luke Morahan – joint-most tries (7) and 2nd most clean breaks (18)

Charles Piutau – most metres made (1223) and most defenders beaten  (62)

Harry Randall – 4th most passes (542)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Bristol have been my favourite team to watch this season, mainly because they have so much quality across the team. If you take out any player, there is another who is equally as good waiting to take their place, which is really impressive, and shows how well Pat Lam has recruited. I have no doubt that they will be in the top 4 at the end of the season, but they will need to work for it.

They have made some very promising additions to the team, with England prop Kyle Sinckler, Saracens flanker Ben Earl, Fiji winger Semi Radradra and another Saracens player, full-back Max Malins, all joining. Sinckler and Radradra are permanent deals, whilst Earl and Malins are season-long loans. However, all four will bring added quality to the Bears. Earl has proved himself to be a forward with an eye for the try line, whilst Radradra is a player who will really excite the fans.

Exeter Chiefs

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Rob Baxter (ENG)

HEAD COACH: Ali Hepher (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Jack Yeandle (hooker) (ENG)

STADIUM: Sandy Park

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 1st (out of 12) – eventual runners-up

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 1st (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Sam Simmonds (back row)

Ollie Devoto (centre)

Henry Slade (centre)

Tom O’Flaherty (wing)

Stuart Hogg (full-back)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Joe Simmonds – 5th most points (93)

Sam Simmonds – joint-2nd most tries (5) and 3rd most tackles (163)

Tom O’Flaherty – joint-3rd most clean breaks (17)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Exeter have been as good this season has Exeter usually are, and, without the fight from Saracens for top spot, you could be forgiven for thinking it has been easy for them. However, teams such as Bristol, Northampton and Sale have all stepped up, showing the quality they have, ensuring Exeter are constantly having to play well to stay at the top of the league. The thing about Exeter is the depth in their squad, much like with Bristol, because one player could come out, or a chunk of players can come out for something like the Six Nations, and they still have others who can come in and adequately replace them.

The addition of Stuart Hogg has also solved a small problem they had a full-back, as I talked about in a previous article last year, and we all know how good he is when on top form. They have brought in another Scotland international during lockdown, lock Jonny Gray from Glasgow Warriors in the Pro 14, and he has shown over the years how good he is, and what he can add to the Chiefs’ forward ranks. If they can keep pushing, there’s no reason why they can’t finish in top spot at the end of the regular Premiership season.

Gloucester Rugby

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Vacant

HEAD COACH: George Skivington (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Willi Heinz (scrum-half) (ENG)

STADIUM: Kingsholm Stadium

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 3rd (out of 12) (play-off semi-finalists)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 9th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Jake Polledri (back row)

Danny Cipriani (fly-half)

Mark Atkinson (centre)

Chris Harris (centre)

Louis Rees-Zammit (wing)

Ollie Thorley (wing)

Jonny May (wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Louis Rees-Zammit  – joint most tries (7) and 2nd-most clean breaks (17)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

It has been a poor season for Gloucester, by the standards they set themselves over the last couple of seasons. Ultimately it has cost former head coach Johan Ackermann and Director of Rugby David Humphreys their jobs, with both stepping down (Ackermann moved to take charge of Japanese side Red Hurricanes). I don’t want to single out individuals for the slight slump at Kingsholm, but we have previously lauded fly-half Danny Cipriani for being the driving force behind Gloucester’s good form over the last few seasons, constantly making passes to teammates in space and creating scoring opportunities.

This season, however, he hasn’t been on good form, and that has been a major factor in Gloucester’s bad form, because they have lost this creative edge in their play. New head coach George Skivington has already made a few signings to his squad to give them a boost in the final games of the season, such as experienced Samoa and former Newcastle and Leicester prop Logovi’i Mulipola, and it will be interesting to see whether there are any changes in playing style or fortunes as the games go on.

Harlequins

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Paul Gustard (ENG)

HEAD COACH: Paul Gustard (as DoR) (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Chris Robshaw (flanker) (ENG)

STADIUM: Twickenham Stoop

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 5th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 7th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Alex Dombrandt (number 8)

Marcus Smith (fly-half)

Michele Campagnaro (centre)

Joe Marchant (centre)

Cadan Murley (wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Marcus Smith – most points (126)

Cadan Murley – joint-2nd most tries (5)

Danny Care – 3rd most passes (614)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Harlequins have been another team undergoing a change of playing style and trying to rebuild after a few disappointing seasons. When Paul Gustard came in, things needed to change, and he has made a lot of good alternations. They might not be challenging too much for honours at the moment, but that will come if they keep pushing and keep playing as they are. This season, if they can secure a top half finish, then that will be a good result for them.

They have a lot of exciting players in their team, with the capability of scoring some really good tries, and are definitely going to be a team to keep an eye on in these last games. Certainly going forward, the signs are positive for Harlequins that they can make their way back up the league and challenge again. They are two places lower than they finished last season, but there is still some time for them to make up that difference. Whether they can or not depends on whether they can get the right level of performance quickly, because a slow start could cost them any hopes of storming the play-off party.

Leicester Tigers

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Geordan Murphy (IRE)

HEAD COACH: Steve Borthwick (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Tom Youngs (hooker) (ENG)

STADIUM: Welford Road

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 11th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 11th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Ellis Genge (prop)

Jordan Taufua (flanker)

George Ford (fly-half)

Matias Moroni (centre)

Nemani Nadolo (wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Jordan Taufua – joint-5th most tries (2)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Leicester Tigers have been a shadow of themselves over the last few seasons, and no-one can work out why. Defensively they lack any kind of confidence, and in attack, their biggest weapon, England winger Jonny May, has left to rejoin Gloucester. Now, we have to wonder where their threat will come from.

If we look at their squad, they have made some very promising signings, such as Georgia hooker Shalva Mamukashvili, South African back row forwards Cyle Brink and Jasper Wiese, Argentina centre Matias Moroni, Scotland centre Matt Scott, Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo, and another Fiji international, full-back Kini Murimurivalu, and all of those have come as they look to rebuild and try and regain a place at the top of the table. That won’t come this season, but fans are hoping that the arrival of highly-rated former England assistant coach Steve Borthwick will get Tigers moving in the right direction once again from next season.

The Tigers have had to make some emergency signings, with Murimurivalu a replacement for Telusa Veainu and Moroni a replacement for Manu Tuilagi, with Veainu, Tuilagi, prop Greg Bateman, fly-half Noel Reid and centre Kyle Eastmond all leaving after a dispute over wages at the club. This has not helped, but now we could see the start of a new era at Leicester, which could be interesting to see.

London Irish

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Declan Kidney (IRE)

HEAD COACH: Les Kiss (AUS)

CAPTAIN: Blair Cowan (back row) (SCO)

STADIUM: Twickenham Stoop

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 1st (in Championship, promoted to Premiership) (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 8th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Agustin Creeby (hooker)

Blair Cowan (back row)

TJ Ioane (flanker)

Sean O’Brien (flanker)

Ben Loader (wing)

Ollie Hassell-Collins (wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Ollie Hassell-Collins – joint most tries (7) and joint-5th most clean breaks (15)

Blair Cowan – 2nd most tackles (188)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

It has been a solid if not spectacular return to the Premiership for London Irish this season, with the club currently sitting in 8th place. However, they have done a lot better than last time they were in the Premiership, when they tried but ultimately departed with a bit of a whimper. This season, they will be staying up, and I think they would have anyway even if Saracens’ exit had not been confirmed, because they have played good enough rugby to earn a place in the Premiership next season.

There have been several players who have helped them do that, such as captain Blair Cowan and star winger Ollie Hassell-Collins, but the team as a whole, and the coaching staff, have all had a part to play in their fortunes this season. They have updated their squad ahead of the restart, bringing in experienced Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy from Buenos Aires-based Super Rugby side Jaguares, and the hope is that he will help them over the line in these last few games.

The club have had to cope with finding a new home, with their tenancy at Reading’s Madejski Stadium running out during the lockdown, but construction on their new stadium, Brentford Community Stadium, which will also host Brentford’s home matches from next stadium, has been halted. They have been taken in by Harlequins, who have allowed them to play their remaining home matches at the Stoop before they move back to London for next season.

Northampton Saints

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Chris Boyd (NZL)

HEAD COACH: Chris Boyd (as DoR) (NZL)

CAPTAIN: Alex Waller (prop) (ENG)/Teimana Harrison (number 8) (ENG)

STADIUM: Franklin’s Gardens

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 4th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 4th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Mikey Haywood (hooker)

Nick Isiekwe (back row)

Teimana Harrison (number 8)

Lewis Ludlam (flanker)

Fraser Dingwall (centre)

Taqele Naiyaravoro (wing)

George Furbank (full-back)

Harry Mallinder (full-back)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Taqele Naiyaravoro – joint-3rd most tries (4), 2nd most metres made (923) and 3rd most defenders beaten

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Northampton have been a team on the rise since Chris Boyd took over, and this season they are looking like they could gain a second consecutive play-off place when the regular season is over. Saints play some really good rugby, and their playing style is really appealing to rugby fans. They have some exciting players in their team too, with full-back George Furbank and centres Fraser Dingwall and Piers Francis all earning their places in England squads over the last couple of seasons, and Rory Hutchinson has caught Scotland’s eye.

They have also added players to the squad since rugby was called to a halt, bringing in Harlequins prop Nick Auterac and raiding Saracens to sign back row forward Nick Isiekwe on loan, and both of these have the quality Saints are looking for in their team. Isiekwe in particular can score tries, so adds an extra try scoring threat in the forward ranks. He also has title-winning experience, which may help Northampton as the season comes to a close.

Sale Sharks

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Steve Diamond (ENG)

HEAD COACH: Steve Diamond (as DoR) (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Jono Ross (flanker) (RSA)

STADIUM: AJ Bell Stadium

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 7th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 2nd (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Tom Curry (back row)

Jono Ross (flanker)

Faf de Klerk (scrum-half)

Sam James (centre)

Rohan Janse van Rensburg (centre)

Marland Yarde (wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Rob du Preez – 3rd most points (116)

Marland Yarde – joint-2nd most tries (5)

Byron McGuigan – joint-4th most clean breaks (16)

Rohan Janse van Rensburg – 5th most defenders beaten (47)

Jono Ross – most tackles (201)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Sale have been one of the teams of the season, rising from a 7th placed finish last season to 2nd place at the time of writing. They have quality across the team, and this has definitely helped them in their rise up the table. It does help when you have a player like Jono Ross in the team, who just loves colliding with people and tackling them, but as a team they just play really good rugby. England have also taken notice of this, capping star back row forward Tom Curry over the last couple of years.

As well as this, they boast like South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk, his countryman and centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, and English centre Sam James, whilst full-back Simon Hammersley was signed from relegated Newcastle Falcons last season, and has been arguably one of their most important players this season. However, like with Exeter and Bristol, they have players who can step in when others are on international duty or are injured, and that is important to any team challenging for a top four place.

They have also added to their team, snapping up Manu Tuilagi following the England centre’s departure from Leicester Tigers after 11 years over a wage dispute, and they look set to continue their good form, and seal a place in the top four at the end of the season.

Saracens

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Mark McCall (IRE)

HEAD COACH: Mark McCall (as DoR) (IRE)

CAPTAIN: Brad Barritt (centre) (ENG)

STADIUM: Allianz Park

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 2nd (out of 12) (eventual champions in the playoffs)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 12th (out of 12) (already relegated to the Championship)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Maro Itoje (lock)

Manu Vunipola (fly-half)

Juan Pablo Socino (centre)

Alex Lewington (wing)

Elliott Daly (full-back/wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Rotimi Segun – 3rd most tries (4)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

There isn’t much to say about Saracens, to be honest, because it doesn’t matter what happens. They are already relegated, and have been busy slimming their squad and adding new players, with Ben Earl, Nick Isiekwe, Nick Tompkins, Max Malins, Jack Singleton, Liam Williams, Alex Lozowski, George Kruis, Ben Spencer, Matt Gallagher, Rhys Carre, Joe Gray, Titi Lamositele, Will Skelton and Alex Goode all leaving on loan or permanent deals.

They have added several players, however, ahead of their season in the Championship, with former Scotland lock Tim Swinson coming out of retirement, Welsh scrum-half Aled Davies, USA fly-half Will Hooley and Argentina and former Newcastle centre Juan Pablo Socino all among those joining the team for the remainder of this season and next season. Sarries are still putting in good performances, but nothing will come from them. It’s about preparing for next season with them now.

Wasps

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Vacant

HEAD COACH: Lee Blackett (ENG)

CAPTAIN: Joe Launchbury (lock) (ENG)/Dan Robson (scrum-half) (ENG)/Thomas Young (flanker) (WAL)

STADIUM: Ricoh Arena

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 8th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 5th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Jack Willis (flanker)

Dan Robson (scrum-half)

Jacob Umaga (fly-half)

Malakai Fekitoa (centre)

Zach Kibirige (wing)

Matteo Minozzi (full-back)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Zach Kibirige – joint most tries (7) and most clean breaks (21)

Dan Robson – most passes (804)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Wasps started the season badly, and their defensive issues seemed to have stayed with them over last summer. Ultimately, the signing of Italy back Matteo Minozzi did help to shore up these gaps a little, as I thought it would, having watched Minozzi in the Six Nations over the last few years, but it wasn’t enough to keep former Director of Rugby Dai Young in his job, as he left by mutual consent earlier this season. He was replaced, initially temporarily, by Lee Blackett, who had been on their coaching staff.

Under Blackett, there has been an upturn in performances, and they now look much better, and defensively are more secure, but there is still a lot of work to do before they get back to where they were. They are 5th at time of writing, so it isn’t completely out of the question that they could sneak into the playoffs, but with the quality of the teams in those positions, it seems unlikely this will happen unless one of those teams has a collapse in form in this last part of the season.

They have also made an addition to their team, bringing in former Worcester centre Ryan Mills, and he will add some much needed quality to their defence. For Wasps, it will be a good end to a season of change for them, but next season they could be an interesting team to keep an eye on.

Worcester Warriors

DIRECTOR OF RUGBY: Alan Solomons (RSA)

HEAD COACH: Alan Solomons (as DoR) (RSA)

CAPTAIN: Ted Hill (flanker) (ENG)

STADIUM: Sixways Stadium

2018/2019 FINAL LEAGUE PLACING: 10th (out of 12)

2019/2020 PLACING WHEN LEAGUE SUSPENDED: 10th (out of 12)

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Cornell du Preez (back row)

Matt Kvesic (back row)

Francois Hougaard (scrum-half)

Duncan Weir (fly-half)

Ashley Beck (centre)

Ed Fidow (wing)

Perry Humphreys (wing)

KEY PLAYER STATS:

Perry Humphreys – joint-2nd most tries (5)

Francois Hougaard – 2nd most passes (636)

Cornell du Preez – 5th most tackles (154)

TEAM ANALYSIS:

Worcester have been a team who continually struggle at the foot of the table, but that is not to say that they are a bad team. I have seen improvement in their performances since Alan Solomons took over right at the end of 2017, and they are causing problems for opposing teams, making like difficult for them. However, that is not enough to see them challenge near the top of the table, and they seem to be in a constant battle with Leicester to not finish at the bottom of the table.

They have appointed flanker Ted Hill as their new club captain over the break, and he is a very promising young flanker who is one of the future stars of English rugby, having impressed when he has played for Warriors. As far as signings goes, they have brought in Wasps fly-half Billy Searle in the break, and he is a player who made an impact in his two seasons with Wasps, playing a lot of games, but ultimately Wasps have other fly-halves ahead of him, such as Lima Sopoaga, Jacob Umaga and the experienced Jimmy Gopperth, so it made sense for both sides that Searle moved on. Worcester lost Ryan Mills to Wasps in the break, and Mills was a kicker, so bringing in Searle, who is a proven kicker, was a smart move in replacing Mills in this way.

Their other signing was back row forward Matt Kvesic, who signed for the Warriors after three seasons with Exeter Chiefs, and he has been a brilliant player to bring in with his experience, having played a big part in Exeter’s good form over the last few seasons.

 

What this article has done is to preview all the action coming up in the Premiership over the next few weeks, giving you all the club information you need, as well as giving my thoughts on each side, their season so far, and where their season could go from here. Now, we just need to sit back and watch as all 12 teams return to the field, and battle commences to see who will finish where.

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