For the uninitiated, the Aviva Premiership is also known as the English Premiership and is essentially the NFL of rugby in England (not the UK). One of the top leagues in professional rugby, this upcoming season promises to be jam packed with action. The 2016 English dominance of the rugby world will only bleed through to the domestic league.
There are 12 teams in the Premiership, which features both relegation AND salary caps (you hear that, soccer leagues?). The 12 teams are scattered across the country of England but feature some of the best players in the world due to a higher average salary (70,000 GBP so about $100,000) than most professional leagues. Sure, they don’t make the kind of money that NFL or NBA players would make but with endorsements and everything, these guys do very well for playing a game for a living. Anyhow, I’ll be looking at the week 1 match ups across the Premiership. And we go
Gloucester Rugby vs Leicester Tigers
This will be Gloucester’s first match in the top 12, having been promoted at the end of the last season. They’ve been scraping along the bottom of the Premiership for the past few years, shuffling back and forth through relegation and promotion but they’ve been busy in the offseason. The Cherry and Whites (Gloucester’s nickname) lost a tough preseason match to Leinster, an Irish provincial team, last week. Recent additions to the team were front rowers Paddy McAllister, 26, and youngster Cameron Orr, 21, who played for Australia’s U20 team before heading to Gloucester. This team is just starting to come together but the sky’s the limit if they keep injecting young talent.
Leicester was recently named the sporting capital of the UK, probably because of the perennial powerhouse that is the Tigers, not that fraud soccer team. The Tigers are like the Alabama of the Aviva Premiership. That said, this is the perfect trap game for Gloucester to capitalize on. My feeling is that Leicester will roll right over them because their hooker is their captain and forward-led teams don’t lose (shouts out to CU rugby). Then again, I’ve been wrong before. Either way, this’ll be a solid match up, although probably just a tune up for Leicester.
Newcastle Falcons vs Sale Sharks
Sale is very much on an upwards trend starting in 2013, where they were firmly at the bottom of the barrel. Avoiding relegation, the Sharks have been flirting with the playoffs for the past few years but now it seems like they have a real shot at doing something big. They just signed two veterans, center Sam James and back row Cameron Neild, to 4 year deals and continue locking in new studs like fullback Dan Mugford and hooker Curtis Langdon. The Sharks are a very serious potential contender but just like football, anything can happen between week 1 and the championship.
Newcastle isn’t exactly starting from scratch but they did swap in quite a few new names. They signed lots of new talent that was discovered from the 2015 Rugby World Cup, especially players from Tonga, in the hopes to strengthen their back line. They’re only a few years removed from their most recent promotion, so let’s hope that there are enough guys around that remember the shame of what its like to play at a lower tier. This match will be an excellent showcase for the new players that want to go out and make a name for themselves.
Saracens vs Worcester Warriors
The Saracens are the reigning Premiership champions and aim to keep it that way in 2017. They’re a dominating squad with a TON of guys who play for national teams (England, Argentina, South Africa). Not much else to speculate on here as they re-signed most of their squad that wasn’t locked down. Expect big, big things from the Saracens again this year.
2 years ago, the Warriors came roaring out of their relegation after owning the lower tier and went on last year to have a successful season for a newly promoted team. Since 2013, their focus has been on developing new in-house talent (in England and other countries, there are rugby academies where kids play until their old enough to be drafted. Kinda like a minor league team that you start playing for when you’re 15. Child labor laws were never really enforced in merry old England), as well as signing new overseas players, like star back rower Alafoti Faosiliva of Samoa. Talk about an awesome test of your team’s strengths and weaknesses to open up against the Saracens. I’d take the over on this one, though.
Northampton Saints vs Bath Rugby
Northampton finished in 5th place in 2016, a down year for the Saints. If its been the Saracen’s show, then the Saints have been the goofy sidekick that always wants more of the limelight. They recently had a big signing of Juan Pablo Estelles, a center for Argentina, who hopes to bring a boost to their back line. With their preseason training coming to a close, talking heads are all saying that the Saints are the team to watch.
Bath has a swarm of new players and a new coach (who had interest from the top team in the French league). They seem to be gelling together nicely throughout the preseason and rookies and newly acquired veterans are becoming one team. Not to mention that they apparently have the strongest scrum in the Premiership
Harlequins vs Bristol Rugby
The Harlequins, of Suicide Squad fame, had a decent season last year. The immediate highlight of it was handing the Saracens a loss at home, the first time they had beaten them in 4 years AND the first loss for the Saracens of the 2015 season. A new prop coach and new additions hopefully provide a spark plug to the team to keep them consistent. Just take Joe Marler’s word for it: “everything is hunky dory”
The latest team to be promoted to the Aviva Premiership, Bristol picked up some solid new players from the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby and added a slew of new coaches. Hopefully they all learn to work as a cohesive unit but only time will tell. There will for sure be some growing pains in store for Bristol. Another prudent time to have the over. Oh, and a guy on Bristol was suspended a game for gouging another player’s eye. Ain’t no helmets in rugby, Dwayne Allen.
Wasps vs Exeter Chiefs
So the Wasps won the 7s title over the summer, which means nothing except that they don’t like to tackle very much. Aside from that, they recently signed Springbok superstar Wille Le Roux, who is a bad man (despite being a wing)
Exeter, on the other hand, finished second last year and are out for blood. Always beware a wounded animal. The Chiefs boast one of the toughest defenses in the Premiership and will need it if they want to return to the top of the league. The Wasps won’t be looking to do Exeter any favors in the season opener, as they finished right behind the Chiefs in 3rd place.
Hopefully this guide will help to clarify how rugby leagues operate overseas and cmon on back for insider looks at Top 14 (the French league) and the Guinness Pro12 (another European rugby league, based in multiple countries) to really understand and appreciate European rugby. Check out Planet Rugby for more info as the opening kickoff grows closer. And of course, follow me @ColtMcAdams for more rugby related nonsense!