Ade Bourne reviews some of the previous biggest news, transfers, results, standout performances and more notable stories from the final week of the regular Premiership season.
Johan’s Cherry and Springboks
The first confirmed signing this last week was a very impressive announcement from Gloucester’s point of view, with the announcement that Springbok backrow Jaco Kriel is on his way to Kingsholm over the summer. Gloucester's backrow options next year are going to be phenomenal with the likes of Jake Polledri, Kriel, Ruan Ackermann, Lewis Ludlow, Jacob Rowan, Ben Morgan and Freddie Clarke all competing for a starting role. Gloucester are going to be leaving out some top-level talent next season purely on the standard of their teammates, a pleasant, if not difficult position for Head Coach Johan Ackermann. The only man likely to be away with international duty at the moment will be Polledri, who broke into the Italian set up during the 2018 Six Nations, looking well suited to Test rugby. The Cherry and Whites’ pack that is going places.
With their backline in such fine fettle of late, I genuinely believe Gloucester could push for a top-four finish next season. The English Premiership is a very physical domestic competition and with the Ackermann’s South African influence seemingly still on the rise around Kingsholm, the notoriously abrasive rugby nation could play a heavy hand in Gloucester’s success.
Steve Diamond’s rugby rehabilitation programme continues
As is now seemingly traditional, Sale have been linked with the potentially controversial signings of former Irish internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were acquitted of rape last month. Despite Sale themselves denying their interest in the Ulsterman, their statement had a very familiar ring to it. The Sharks’ media release was nearly word for word the same statement they made about signing James O’Connor and Faf De Klerk last year, and we all know what happened there. Sale, and in particular Steve Diamond, have a good record of reinvigorating players so I really wouldn’t be surprised to see the former Ulster pair turn up at the AJ Bell next season. I also think they would be good signings and well worth the media circus they will undoubtedly bring with them.
Irish stripped of prime assets
When London Irish’s relegation was confirmed last weekend the Premiership’s predatory talent scouts were already starting to circle, with a number of big names already destined for more stable shores. Star winger Alex Lewington will be a Saracen next season and is joined at the Allianz by hooker Tom Woolstencroft, who only last week signed on the dotted line for Nigel Wray’s side.
Another player expected to confirm his imminent departure is the u20’s star winger Joe Cokanasiga, who is set to go on loan to Bath next season. Irish have done very well to be able to keep him at all, for all talk, the monstrous winger was set to become a third name to swap Irish for Saracens. If Irish can secure a quick return to the Premiership for the 2019/20 season, they will still have Cokanasiga on their books, a shrewd bit of contract work from Les Kiss and Declan Kidney. That being said, Irish’s promotion is not a foregone conclusion. For years the Premiership’s relegated side was almost guaranteed to brush the Championship aside and return at the first time of asking, but the rumblings coming from Ealing will be sure to give the Exiles a run for their money. The Trailfinders have really caused a stir in recent months with a handful of signings stating their intent. The quality of players they have signed ahead of next season is enough for any English fan to take note, with the likes of Sam Dickinson making the move from NorthamptonSaints and Jordy Reid coming over from Australian Super Rugby outfit the Melbourne Rebels, Ealing are clearly not messing around.
Northampton Saints cull
Northampton’s seemingly never-ending clear out has also continued over last week with the announcement that club legend Ben Foden will be leaving the club after making his 250th appearance in the Saints victory over Worcester on Saturday. It was a very fitting ending for Foden; scoring two tries himself whilst also playing his part in setting up Tom Collins for an easy run in.
The significance of Saints player cull is not just the amount of players leaving Franklins Gardens, of which currently stands at 18, but also the quality of individuals being allowed to leave. The likes of England international prop Kieran Brookes and Kiwi lock Michael Paterson came as real surprises to me. Another player that won’t be at Franklin Gardens next season, and sadly not of his own volition, is Rob Horne, who succumbed to sudden retirement after his terrible injury at Welford Road last month. Another man to hang up his boots for one last time is club stalwart Christian Day, who has decided to call time on his career.
With all these players leaving it will be a very interesting off-season, as Saints fans eagerly anticipate the club’s replacements. With some fairly big names leaving, it will free up some much-needed wages, something that may come in handy considering the financial aspects of English clubs being looked into more and more these days.
Bath finish with a flourish
At the weekend’s conclusion, Bath’s huge victory over London Irish has allowed them to pinch themselves 6th place and a spot in the Champions Cup for next season. There was also a fairytale ending at the Rec for a much-loved club icon. Matt Banahan went on to score a hat-trick and leave himself on 99 tries in his career for Bath, a fitting farewell.
Another boost for Bath fans last week was the re-signing of British and Irish Lions number eight Taulupe Faletau for the next three seasons. A pleasant surprise considering he was very much expected to return to Wales.
Ford and Cipriani turn up the heat
After Saturday’s fixtures, there must have been a smile on England coach Eddie Jones' face with the massive return to form of George Ford. The 25-year-old was back to his scintillating best in Tigers victory over Sale on Saturday, guiding his side to a 22-point victory at the Aj Bell. However, whether this was a one-off performance is yet to be seen. I hope not, I’m a fan of his and seemingly so is Jones.
That being said, for me Danny Cipriani is still England’s best fly-half, if Owen Farrell is only being considered at twelve. Cipriani ran rings around a very good Newcastle defence over the weekend, pulling the strings for 45 minutes before succumbing to injury. The 30-year-old scored a try and assisting another two. In particular Cipriani’s kick for Bassett’s first try really was a thing of beauty. Hopefully the knock he took to his ankle won't be anything serious and with the two-week break, he will be fine to continue his season in the semi-finals.
Saracens vs Wasps
Saturday 19th May
Exeter Chiefs vs Newcastle Falcons
Saturday 19th May
I think the home advantage of the two sides may just be enough but I am more than happy to be proved wrong and have the other two sides in the final. Two very close games that I am really looking forward to watching in two weeks time