Rugby Union

Players to watch in the 2015/16 Aviva Premiership

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Whilst all eyes will be rightly turned towards the World Cup, we shouldn't forget that there is also the small matter of the Aviva Premiership on the horizon.

Clubs' strength in depth will be tested while players who were included are recovering from an arduous World Cup campaign.

Some clubs have gone fishing for big signings since last season, others will rely on their existing squads and academy youths. Saracens came out as Champions last season in the most competitive Premiership ever and to prelude the start of their defence here is a list of each teams' player to watch this season.


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Sam Burgess (Bath)

Amidst rumours of his return to League, Sam Burgess can't help but be the hot topic. His time with England at the Rugby World Cup will certainly have been an experience, and the type of person he is will make it a positive one.

He can't help but to have learned a lot; simply just through spending more time playing Union. He might not have been what England wanted him to be in 2015, but to be at the stage he is at is a remarkable achievement itself. Maybe it's time to let the hype train cool off slightly and allow him some space to find his way.

Bath have a number of highly talented (and English) midfielders and resorted using Burgess at six late on last season. It will be interesting to see where he fits in this season where Bath will be looking to raise silverware.

Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

The Chiefs have one of the most exciting squads in the country right now. They have a plethora of young English talent, and in Parling they have gained an English veteran from Leicester. He will sure up the Exeter set piece and allow the outstanding back division the play.

Second row is a position of particular strength for England so it will be interesting to see what sort of impression Parling makes in a new squad.

Exeter play the expansive brand that England aspire to play so this could be an opportunity to prove his worth. Moving south did wonders for Thomas Waldrom; will the same happen for his former Leicester teammate?

Matt Kvesic (Gloucester)

Gloucester were comparatively quiet on the singings this summer after the big names brought in last year. As a whole, they will hope to match their talent in their performances but the spotlight will be on this man.

Given the mini-crisis of England Openside selection, one name that enters most conversations is Matt Kvesic. He is a true Openside specialist and new coach or not, England will be wanting someone to stand up in that position.

Jack Clifford (Harlequins)

Quins have been one of the busiest shoppers over the summer, signing some marquee names. Many eyes will be on the international signings of Roberts and Horwill, but this could be a big year for a born and bred talent.

Clifford was a standout at age group rugby and has impressed with sporadic appearances in the first team. With ageing teammate Nick Easter, and a beaten down Chris Robshaw, this season could see a more prominent role for the young back rower. He is athletic and powerful and full of potential.

Opeti Fonua (Leicester Tigers)

Leicester had a very poor season by their high standards last season. When Manu Tuilagi went off injured, along with several others, they found themselves without the same raw power that a Tigers side bases its game upon.

Well, if it's size and power they want, they did a pretty good job securing this behemoth after he left London Welsh. Fonua made his name in the Top 14 where he was one the biggest in a league of very big men. You can expect him to be running riot in the premiership for months to come, and for him to became a Tigers' fan favourite.

Alex Lewington (London Irish)

Lewington finished last season on fire. He could not stop scoring, and despite being in the wrong half of the table with the Exiles, talk of England inclusion picked up. Irish haven't looked threatening to the top of the table in recent years, but a number of strong performances against the top sides last year will have turned some heads.

If Lewington can bring his form into this season Irish could get off to a very quick start.

Todd Clever (Newcastle)

The first American to play Super Rugby will now ply his trade in the north of England. Clever will bring grit, physicality, and energy into a Newcastle side that showed big signs of improvement last year. His leadership will be valuable as will his work rate.

The Falcons under Dean Richards have been employing a more expansive brand of rugby as of late and that high tempo will suit Clever as he smashes opponents with a vigour few can match.

Victor Matfield (Northampton Saints)

Saints have spent the summer bulking up their already formidable pack. Their strength in depth in the second row is enormous now as they welcome the impressive Paterson from Sale, but the headlines will be drawn to former World Cup winner Victor Matfield.

In what may be his final season of rugby, Saints will look to get the most out of the remaining mileage of the legendary Springbok. A combination of him and Courtney Lawes will give Northampton fantastic balance in the engine room and a Hooker's lineout dream.

Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks)

Beaumont burst onto the scene last year with a surname that will always bring high expectations. He was very raw in his first few performances but he improved and learned at a frightening rate. He may not be top of the list to fit into a new-look England side, but by the end of the season he might be.

Sale have built a fantastic culture of determination and teamwork under Steve Diamond, and the bullish Beaumont embodies that ethos. His size and rugby pedigree will draw attention, and hopefully his performances will continue to back it up.

Maro Itoje (Saracens)

Saracens have made the fewest overall changes to personnel in the off-season, and when you have a crop of youngsters that includes the likes of Itoje it's easy to see why. The young man came fresh from the Junior World Cup victory into the Saracens set up where has already experienced captaincy at the highest level of domestic rugby.

He seems destined for great things with his attitude and work rate on and off the pitch. It also helps that he has every physical tool a rugby player could want. He can play Lock or Second row which will make him a versatile prospect for club and country for years to come. 

Charles Piutau (Wasps)

Whenever you sign an All Black, it's a good thing. Wasps may not be wanting for pace when looking at their squad, but a little more can't hurt, right? Amongst a number of Super Rugby stand outs Piutau is arguably the most exciting signing this season.

Along with Christian Wade and Frank "The Tank" Halai, Wasps will have one of the most devastating attacking back three's in Europe.

Cooper Vuna (Worcester Warriors)

Cooper Vuna joined Warriors late last season and made an immediate impression in their bid for promotion. With experience in League and Super Rugby, Vuna has played a lot of high-quality rugby, and will be one the players to watch for defence coaches all season long.

Worcester will want to be clear of the relegation battle early on, and X-factor players like Vuna will need to perform to make that a reality.

They have also signed a number of talented midfielders so their bolstered backline is likely to be able to give Vuna the quality of ball he needs to impress.

Exeter Chiefs
Northampton Saints
Rugby Union
Aviva Premiership
England Rugby
London Wasps
Leicester Tigers
London Irish
Sale Sharks
Newcastle Falcons

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