With the Aviva Premiership 2017/18 pre-season training in full flow, each of the twelve clubs have been busy recruiting ahead of the new season. Marquee signings, as well as internal club promotions. Knowing this, the 2017/18 season could be the most exciting yet in the championships history.
Here is your Aviva club-by-club guide for the new faces joining clubs in 2017, beginning with your 2016/17 champions:
Despite winning their first Premiership title last season, the Chiefs continue to strengthen. Most notably, England back row Matt Kvesic (see image below) joins from Gloucester. Kvesic was a prominent figure for the Cherry and Whites. But his switch to the south-west signals an intent by Exeter that they won’t be resting on their laurels.
Former Brumbies and Wallabies scrum half Nic White has also been added to the ranks. Exeter are renowned for their attacking rugby and as White showed at Montpellier, will only add to that. A sniping scrum-half, White is a quick-ball player who knows how to find a gap at the breakdown.
Also heading to the south-west is Tom O’Flaherty. The 22-year old winger only made a handful of appearances for Ospreys last season. But O’Flaherty will be welcomed under the tutelage of Jack Nowell, James Short and Olly Woodburn.
Joining them also, will be Toby Salmon and James Freeman from Championship sides Rotherham Titans and Jersey Reds respectively. There’s also promotion from the academy for Sam Simmonds.
Perhaps Bath’s biggest recruit – Freddie Burns, comes in following a club switch with George Ford. Burns enjoyed three seasons at Welford Road, falling just short of a hundred appearances. Following Bath’s slow start last season, Burns will be keen to utilise the attacking threat at his disposal early on.
Burns will also be joined by Sam Underhill (see below picture), one of England’s emerging back-rows. Joining from Ospreys, Underhill has been highly regarded by England’s head coach Eddie Jones. The dynamic 20-year old will add another dimension to Bath’s forward pack. A blend of youth and experience should contribute to his development into a world-class flanker.
Welshman Darren Allinson is also added to Bath’s ranks following a successful loan spell in November 2016. The scrum-half joins Chris Cook, Kahn Fotuali’i and Will Homer in an already strongly contested position.
Bath have also brought in prop Shaun Knight from the Dragons. Josh Lewis and James Phillips will provide fly half and back row cover respectively. There’s also promotion for prop Beno Obano from the academy into the senior side.
Gloucester had a much improved season last time out, falling just short of European glory and finishing a respectable ninth in the league. Newly appointed head coach Johan Ackermann will have a number of new recuits to work with. Arguably their best, in Owen Williams, recently broke into the Wales team following his form at Leicester Tigers.
Close behind is Jason Woodward. The winger, who can also play full back, enjoyed a good first season with Bristol. Despite Bristol’s relegation, Woodward scored tries and picked up vital points with the boot.
Gloucester have gone big on their front row options for the new season. Props, Georgian Val Rapava-Ruskin, Englishmen Fraser Balmain and Gareth Denman will bolster a strong front row.
Added to the pack will be young back row Jake Polledri. The English-born Italian player has featured for Bristol in the A-League since 2014. There are also academy promotions for Ben Vellacott, Freddie Clarke and Lloyd Evans.
Former All Black Francis Saili is Quins’ most notable signing. Saili scored the winning try for Munster against Glasgow to secure a Champions Cup quarter final place last season. He’ll bring an attacking flair that could elevate Quins to a top four finish.
Following Nick Evans’ retirement, Demetri Catrakilis comes in to provide fly half cover. The South African joins, having spent two seasons at Montpellier.
Likewise with Karl Dickson retiring, Quins have opted to bring in Exeter scrum half Dave Lewis. His Premiership experience will compliment Quins’ half-back options.
Also heading to the Stoop are Renaldo Bothma (Bulls) and Phil Swainston (Wasps). They’ll also be joined by Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie), Josh McNulty (Gloucester) and Ben Glynn (Bristol).
Leicester will have George Ford, and his brother Joe on their books this season. Both fly halves will give the Tigers an attacking threat that was lacking at times last season.
With Australia Sevens star Nick Malouf (see below image) incoming also, the Tigers could well be a contender for the title. His power and pace has seen him feature in every round of the previous two seasons of the HSBC Sevens Series circuit.
— Nic Darveniza (@NicDarveniza) July 1, 2017
The Tigers pack will be complimented with Tongan number eight Sione Kalamafoni. He made over a hundred appearances for Gloucester in a period that saw him pick up ten tries along the way. Similarly, flanker Dominic Ryan joins from Leinster to offer valuable support in the loose and disrupt the breakdown.
A key area to fill will be in the back line. Particularly, with JP Pietersen and Peter Betham having left. In doing so, Gareth Owen and Jonah Holmes both come in. Two players who know how to find the try line.
Newcomers London Irish haven’t been shy when it’s come to recruitment. Big name arrivals include Jake Schatz, Petrus du Plessis and Gordon Reid. Irish have opted to bring in experience to avoid being dominated up front.
Veteran Super Rugby hooker Saia Fainga’a (see above image) arrives with the Australian influx. He’ll provide a steady hand at the lineout and at the scrum. Fellow Australian Ben Meehan will be the man to provide the quick ball off the base and at the breakdown.
Napolioni Nalaga and Manasa Saulo will bring the muscle from Lyon and Toulon respectively. There’s no denying that London Irish could finish the season in a very respectable position. Georgian Lasha Lomidze and Italy international Luke McLean round off what will be a superb Premiership squad for the season.
The Falcons’ back line this season could well be the most exciting. At the helm will be Toby Flood, returning to Kingston Park following his move away to Toulouse, back in 2014 .
CONFIRMED: Toby Flood signs for Newcastle Falcons. pic.twitter.com/VPxdIgqeon
— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) May 9, 2017
Flood returns a more experienced, and reliable pivot. Joining him to make the Falcons realistic contenders will be hugely talented Frenchman Maxime Mermoz and Fijian Josh Matavesi. Both centres will be vying for regular starts to offer real attacking threats. Matavesi’s brother Joel will also be heading to the north-east following spells at Exeter and Ospreys.
Canadian DTH van der Merwe will provide the speed on the wing. His try scoring success in the Pro12 should hold him in good stead for the Premiership. Fellow Fijian Tevita Cavubati offers greater depth at the set-piece and in the loose.
Falcons head Dean Richards also gives openings for Ryan Burrows (Yorkshire Carnegie) and Sami Mavinga (Lyon). Gary Graham (Jersey Reds), Sam Stuart (Richmond) and Cameron Cowell (England Sevens) to complete the 2017/18 squad.
The majority of the Saints’ business has been in the Super Rugby franchises. Newly capped in Argentina for England, Piers Francis (see below picture) could partner Stephen Myler in the midfield, despite his fly half capabilities.
Australian Rob Horne will slot into a reshuffled back line. Particularly following the departures of George Pisi and James Wilson. Both his Super Rugby and international experience should give the Saints greater attacking threat out wide.
South African Cobus Reinach comes in at scrum half for Lee Dickson, who departs after 256 appearances. Dickson leaves a huge hole [and a legacy]. The Saints will be hoping this new signing can transfer his exceptional game awareness so often seen at the Sharks.
Fellow South Africans David Ribbans and Francois van Wyk will bolster the pack. Mitch Eadie and Jamal Ford-Robinson will provide cover up front through the Aviva Premiership 2017/18 season.
Sale are another team that have brought in key players that can certainly improve on previous season finishes. Marquee signing James O’Connor will give Sale a real attacking edge and will also look to utilise his kicking skills.
— Sale Sharks (@SaleSharksRugby) June 20, 2017
South African rising star Faf de Klerk has arguably been the Springboks’ best player since his introduction in 2016. De Klerk joins from Super Rugby’s Lions, who narrowly missed out on the title in the 2016 final and are looking likely in 2017.
Scot Josh Strauss is brought in for his ball carrying and breakdown work. The back row is another player that could be influential to where Sale finish in the table.
Sale also bring in WillGriff John, Marc Jones, Alexandru Tarus, Jono Ross and Will Cliff to the squad.
Sarries will have arguably the best forward pack in the league, following recent additions to the squad. The European champions couldn’t quite replicate their Champions Cup form in the league.
Will Skelton’s successful brief spell at Saracens last season has led to a permanent deal. The Australian showed the impact his ball carrying skills had and getting on the front foot. Similarly, his defensive skills are literally match winning.
— Sky Sports Rugby ? (@SkySportsRugby) April 28, 2017
Also heading back to the Aviva Premiership 2017 competition is is Welshman Dominic Day (see above image). Day will add to Saracens’ strong second row with his lineout prowess and formidable work rate. Another hard worker is Calum Clark; a back row who gets round the pitch with ease who’ll tackle his heart out. Christopher Tolofua provides cover at hooker, with newly recruited Kieran Longbottom making his second appearance for the club.
British and Irish Lion Liam Williams (see below image) compliments one of the most attacking back-lines in the league. However, he’ll have to compete with Alex Good for a spot at full back.
There are also promotions from the academy, for Tom Whiteley, Tom Griffiths and Hayden Thompson-Stringer.
With the strength already in the squad, last season’s Premiership finalists haven’t needed to bring in as many new players. But where they have, it’s been more so to add experience. Perhaps most notably is the Stormers’ Juan de Jongh (see below image). Despite the Springbok and Olympic Sevens players abilities, de Jongh is a line breaker and will suit Wasps’ attack well.
Another centre brought in to the mix is Fijian Gabiriele Lovobalavu. The two-time World Cup veteran will also give Dai Young another option on the wing. However, it’s difficult to see how the Fijian will break into a side already strong in the back line.
Newcomer Marcus Watson could be the man to fill the void left by Kurtley Beale. Watson’s experience in the England Sevens squad shows the impact he has in attack. Like his brother Anthony, Watson has a keen eye for the try line and could well be one of the most exciting young players this season.
Paul Doran-Jones will give the front row greater experience by joining his fifth Premiership club and a second spell at Wasps. It’s likely Doran-Jones will end his career at Wasps. There are also welcomes for Ben Harris, Antonio Harris and David Langley.
Worcester have opted to strengthen their squad with youth. The exceptions being Scotland international David Denton and Irish veteran Peter Stringer. Denton’s Bath career perhaps didn’t go as planned, but will be hoping his strong ball carrying will see him hold down a starting spot. For Stringer, a twentieth season and fifth Premiership club beckons. A six-month contract will likely lead to something more longer term.
Preseason number 20 began today.Delighted to have signed for @WorcsWarriors and looking forward to the challenge ahead
— Peter Stringer (@stringer9) July 20, 2017
All of Gary Gold’s young recruits fall under the age of twenty-five. After an impressive career at the Saints, Ethan Waller will be key player in the front row. With title winning experience, Waller’s work in both attack and defence could give them the edge over his new front row colleagues.
Similarly arriving from Franklin’s Gardens is young fly half Sam Olver. Olver put in a number of excellent performances in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season. He’ll be looking to replicate that form in the top flight this season.
2⃣1⃣ days till first pre-season game..
4⃣1⃣ days till @premrugby season..
Signed up for the new campaign?!
— Worcester Warriors? (@WorcsWarriors) July 22, 2017
With the fixtures for Aviva Premiership 2017/18 fast approaching, and with a number of departures, Gold has recognised the front five as key positions to fill. In doing so, Simon Kerrod comes in with USA international Joe Taufete’e to the front row. Young second row Pierce Phillips will provide cover, arriving from Jersey Reds with Kerrod.
Michael Dowsett will come in as understudy to Francois Hougaard and Stringer at scrum half. Former England U20 world champion Tom Howe will provide a useful option out wide. Gold also offers academy call-ups for Jamie Shillcock, Josh Adams, Jack Singleton and Huw Taylor.
With over a month still to go before the start of the new Aviva Premiership 2017/18 season, there’s still time for clubs to bring in extra personnel. With rumours such as Damian McKenzie pondering a move to Leicester Tigers, underlines that ‘business isn’t quite done yet’ at some clubs.
Whatever happens between now and then, one thing for sure is, the new season could be the most exciting one yet!
“Main photo credit”