Premiership rugby resumes on Friday after a long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a hatful of squad changes across the league. Austin Healey runs through each of the 12 teams ahead of an unusual second chapter to the campaign.
The more stable squads are most likely to be successful. Rob Baxter has a lot of guys like Henry Slade and Jack Nowell fully fit again and I think Exeter will finish top. But will they go all the way? You would not want to be travelling down to Sandy Park for a semi-final, that’s for sure. Exeter have to be the favourites.
Final position: 1st (currently 1st)
Massive signings. Sale already have real quality in midfield, but Manu Tuilagi is a step up on all of them, so the question is how quickly he’ll gel into that backline. The pack is enormous, with Lood de Jager now available. This is their best chance to win it all. I could see them going to Twickenham and beating Exeter, but it would be a coin toss.
Final position: 2nd (currently 2nd)
Probably the best signings of any club. They had good young talent but were not going to win the title before with that squad. Now there is a chance they can. Max Malins is exciting, Kyle Sinckler will really help them, Ben Earl is fantastic in the back row and of course there is Semi Radradra. Do they have enough experience at half-back though?
Final position: 3rd (currently 3rd)
On a hell of a run before lockdown under Lee Blackett, scoring plenty of points with Malakai Fekitoa improving. Sometimes when you lose a coach you get an immediate response, and Wasps were the one team who didn’t want lockdown to happen. They were playing with so much freedom. If they can rediscover that, they can force their way into fourth.
Final position: 4th (currently 5th)
If you believe the rumours, there were a lot of knives out and people trying to get their own way. If you get your own way if you’re a player, you have to perform. There will be a huge amount of pressure on Danny Cipriani to deliver, but we all know how good he can be. With the players they have, there’s an opportunity.
Final position: 5th (currently 9th)
Currently fourth, but I am not sure they will stay there. Nick Isiekwe is a good signing for them, but they have lost Cobus Reinach, who was immense. Purely on the fact that Reinach is now in France, and given how he turned games on their head all on his own, I could see Northampton slipping out of the top four.
Final position: 6th (currently 4th)
Ben Spencer and Will Spencer are both very good players and excellent signings, but there have been a lot of outgoings and it really feels like a new team. Bath were not a particularly exciting team to watch before lockdown and need to change their style. Top four feels beyond them at this point, having been suited stylistically more to wet-weather rugby.
Final position: 7th (currently 6th)
A tough one to predict, having lost a lot of players. They’ve gone down the South African route signing prop Wilco Louw and centre Andre Esterhuizen, but have lost some senior guys and will miss Kyle Sinckler. The summer weather and the way that they play might suit Quins, but I can see them losing out physically in tight games.
Final position: 8th (currently 7th)
You just do not know what to expect with Worcester. Sometimes they are absolutely brilliant and then they lose concentration. Ryan Mills is a loss, he was an influence for them in midfield, but Matt Kvesic is a good signing and the positives after lockdown outweigh the negatives, meaning they could climb up the table.
Final position: 9th (currently 10th)
You will see some of their academy kids getting an opportunity over the rest of the season. In their first campaign back they have been impressive in fits and starts, not always for a full 80 minutes though. Tom Homer was playing well for Bath but there are no new names who immediately jump out at you.
Final position: 10th (currently 8th)
If there was ever a good season for another club to break the salary cap. Leicester have lost a boat load of players, over 20, while making some good signings. I hope head coach Steve Borthwick performs wonders but I can’t see it this season. Nemani Nadolo is at the end of his career but will score tries, and we can expect some magic from Harry Potter.
Final position: 11th (currently 11th)
Their whole season hinges on Europe, with even the Lions tour already on the minds of some players. It’s almost an empty season otherwise. What else do you have to play for other than pride? It’s a good opportunity to give some youngsters Premiership experience, so that when they probably come back from Championship in 2021, the young guys will be ready.
Final position: 12th (currently 12th)