NEWS

Rugby Premiership to give England hopefuls a chance to shine

September 1, 2017

This weekend sees the start of another Aviva Premiership rugby season, and with it a chance for some of England's finest and emerging hopefuls alike to show off their talents.

Exeter Chiefs will be planning a strong title defence after last year's extra time win over Wasps at Twickenham, with the side hoping their first ever Premiership will be followed by a second in 2018. 

Director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Radio Devon the challenge of playing as champions will be something each player might react to differently.

"Some guys, I have no doubt, will love being champions and will deal with it really well, other guys may struggle, some guys will evolve with it - it's us managing that balance that will be the most interesting thing this season," he remarked. 

He added that many of the players have just gone through their toughest pre-season physically, although it is meeting the mental challenge that will be most important.

Baxter observed: "I think what we learnt last season is there's a way you do it, and actually that's the day-by-day grind, taking it into your own hands and making it about you."

Wasps may have been stung by their Twickenham defeat and have since lost Aussie Kurtley Beale, but director of rugby Dai Young told BBC Coventry & Warwickshire the club is still optimistic, saying it just has to be "a little more accurate" than last year. That is an ominous statement of intent for last year's top scorers, who know the way to the try line better than anyone else. 

European champions Saracens may be many people's favourites. The side had been expected to complete a hat-trick of Premiership titles last year, only to finish third. But their European glory has keep spirits sky high, with the squad being boosted by the arrival of French hooker Christopher Tolofua and Australian Test lock Will Skelton. Liam Williams, who had an excellent Lions tour, may help cover the gap left by the departing Chris Ashton, who has moved to Toulon. With Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers in the side, they will have every reason to fancy their chances.

Ashton's departure means he will no longer be available for England, but every season provides a great chance for players to show the national management that they should be in the squad for the Old Mutual Autumn International series at Twickenham. 

At the bottom, teams like Worcester, Gloucester and Sale will be hoping to do far better this term. 

Whoever ends up winning the Aviva Premiership, fans across the country will have their appetites whetted by the prospect of a new season. By the time England take on Argentina, Australia and Samoa this autumn, it may be clear enough who the contenders will be. It should also be evident who is in form and what young players are emerging that could make an impact at international level. 

As the fans prepare to pour through the turnstiles at the Ricoh Arena, The Stoop, Allianz Park, The Recreation Ground and Sandy Park, there is much to look forward to over the coming months.

Image: Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription

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