The new season of Aviva Premiership rugby is nearly upon us — even though it feels like the last one has only just finished — so here, in the spirit of blind optimism, are five wishes for the upcoming campaign.
1. Manu Tuilagi plays a whole season
How wonderful would it be if we actually saw a whole season of Manu Tuilagi playing rugby? A novelty, perhaps, but the last time he actually got the majority of a campaign under his belt seems an eternity ago. He has long been the distant rumbling noise when it comes to Test rugby, his name always hovers as the potential missing ingredient but fitness, or more recently discipline, lets him down.
He has battled groin problems since 2014 and has started just five Premiership games in the last three seasons. His last knock was back in January when he was ruled out for the rest of last year’s campaign after damaging his knee ligaments. The groin held up, the rest of the body did not. So if he manages to stay clear of any indiscipline, and his body holds up, then here’s hoping he manages to get a whole campaign under his belt. And from there, gets a solid run with England. And then, we will know whether he really is the catalyst to take Leicester and England to another level.
2. London Irish start well
Last year Bristol’s first Premiership win came in December. By that point, they were already cut adrift at the foot of the table; clawing back their nearest basement dwellers proved to be too much of an ordeal. London Irish, promoted back to the top flight at the first time of asking, need to start well. There are too many cautionary tales of Premiership new boys starting poorly, and then leaving themselves too much to do.
Nick Kennedy is an astute, talented coach. He has been around the block enough times to know a good start is essential for survival. Looking at their first month, they have Harlequins at Twickenham, then travel to Exeter and Sale, before hosting Northampton and then finishing September with a trip north to Newcastle. Taking 10 points from those five games should be their target and that would give them a solid platform to build upon.
3. Gloucester re-find Kingsholm roar
For the past couple of seasons, those in cherry and white have been underwhelming. Kingsholm, for so long an intimidating place, has lost its fear factor. For travelling supporters, matchday at Kingsholm is a delight, with The Shed a wonderful feature in the Premiership and its proximity to local pubs and the atmosphere created there a superb experience.
Last season they lost half of their domestic home games. The aura was slipping away but a good start to this season, and The Shed finding their full, bellowing voice could see that fear factor return. How wonderful it would be to have that little nuance back in the Premiership. The appointment of Johan Ackermann is inspired and if he dovetails well with David Humphreys then they will be on the right track to returning Kingsholm to their Castle Grim moniker.
4. New laws don’t confuse matters
Exeter coach Rob Baxter fears that the latest tweak to rugby’s laws will see more and more fans turning their backs on the game. And he is right. Rugby is sometimes its worst enemy when it comes to tinkering, with confusion inevitable. The new laws see the referee no longer signalling for the scrum-half to put the ball in, the No. 8 can now pick the ball up from the second-row’s feet, a tackler must now get up to play the ball and two changes to the ruck law.
So here is hoping that the players, officials and supporters get used to the laws early on, and confusion is kept to a minimum.
5. Saliva tests for concussion remove grey area
Concussion is rightly at the forefront of rugby’s concerns, but these new tests will hopefully bring further knowledge and clarity over the unknowns with concussion.
Any attempt to further understand the effects of concussion and detecting it should be applauded. These latest steps, taking in analysing saliva, are a good step forward for the game. Here’s hoping they help prevent any confusion over whether a player should continue in a match or not.