The twelve teams that make up the 2018/19 Premiership Season will be starting with an increased focus on turnover. Not the kind you get after a particularly good ruck, but rather the financial kind. With combined losses of close to £30 million last year, club owners are looking for sustainability rather than winning by any means necessary. This means that there are less big-name players coming in and more focus on academy recruits. Teams will also have half an eye on next year’s World Cup, and balancing player health with a bruising schedule of domestic and European cup ties is sure to be a headache for coaching staff. However, if you think that this new focus will make the games dull, think again. Last season saw the most tries scored ever (776), the highest total points for the season ever (6,379) and the largest audiences for a televised match (coming in at 10 million). Here’s hoping we see this replicated when things kick off on Friday night, with the newly-promoted and re-branded Bristol Bears playing host to local rivals, Bath.
Bath’s sixth place finish last year was a bit of a disappointment, and this year hasn’t started too well either. Their star prop Beno Obano was injured during an England team training session back in May, and he is joined by Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph on the bench for now. However, new signings Joe Cokanasiga and Ruaridh McConnochie are likely to take the opportunity to shine. Many pundits see Bath in the third quarter of the table by season’s end, but they have a strong team and will be backing themselves for a mid-table finish.
Latest odds: 22/1
For Championship teams, promotion to the Premiership tends to come with a heap of pressure and a length of elastic. London Irish and the newly rebranded Bristol Bears have been yo-yoing around the bottom spot for the last few years. 2018 is Bristol’s year for promotion, and they’re doing all they can to ensure that they stay up. Veteran George Smith and young scrum-half Harry Randall will be doing their best to help things along but already they’ve hit a snag: new signing Charles Piutau was injured in their last pre-season friendly against Connaught. It’s a strong team, and owner Stephen Lansdown is committed to ensuring that the Bears have the best chance possible of success. Can they hold their place in the Premiership?
Latest odds: 100/1
One of the two clubs to actually show a profit for last year’s season, the Chiefs made only one signing this year. Alex Cuthbert comes in from Cardiff Blues and joins a strong back line that includes Santiago Cordero, Olly Woodburn and James Short. With fewer international players than nearest rivals Saracens, they should be in good shape during the latter part of the season to replicate last year’s spot in the final and have a great chance of winning it all.
Latest odds: 2/1
Danny Cipriani has already made a few headlines this year; coach Johan Ackermann will be hoping that’s the last of them. South African Franco Mostert also comes into a side looking to bolster its line-out performance and a host of other news signings mean that there will be plenty of competition for spaces. Having reached three out of the last four European finals, their Premiership performance has been patchy, despite that amazing run of home-game victories last year. They finished last year in seventh, which seemed about right considering their patchy performance, but they’ll be hoping to reach the top four this time around.
Latest odds: 14/1
Quins will be looking to move past last year’s season as quickly as possible, and hope that new Head of Rugby Paul Gustard will be able to start forming the team he needs. Fly half Marcus Smith has new signing Ben Tapuai on the outside now, and there are hopes that his support running and creativity can create something lasting for the team to build on. But unless they can pull something spectacular out of the bag, this is unlikely to be a winning season for them. Considering they were tenth last year, just about any forward motion will be considered a victory.
Latest odds: 66/1
Kyle Eastmond and George Ford were a near-unstoppable team at Bath a few seasons ago. Now that Eastmond is joining the Tigers, it’s an opportunity for that partnership to once again flourish. With world Rugby Junior Player of the Year nominee Jordan Olowofela joining Leicester at full-back and Manu Tuilagi returning from injury, it’s a strong line-up for Matt O’Connor. Their opening game against Exeter should set the tone for a season where they stand a real chance.
Latest odds: 10/1
Newcastle had an amazing season last year, finishing fourth over all and reaching the semi-finals in both cup competitions. Vereniki Goneva was the league’s top try-scorer, grounding the ball 13 times. But this comes with a cost – everyone knows that they must take the Falcons seriously now. In addition, they’ll have to juggle their European duties this year. Hooker George McGuigan has returned to Newcastle after a stint at Leicester, and Dean Richards will be hoping that they can hold steady and aim for a mid-table finish.
Latest odds: 28/1
A ninth-place finish last year will feel like an injustice to Northampton, and they will be keen to make amends this season. As with Quins, it’s a new coaching team, and so they will be looking to build rather than conquer. Director Chris Boyd will be hoping that James Haskell and Dan Biggar bring a bit of brand-name brilliance to the team, and with fewer international players than some teams, they should stay strong throughout the Six Nations.
Latest odds: 40/1
New signing Chris Ashton is both a blessing and a curse for the Sharks. He starts the season with a seven-match ban, meaning that he’ll only have one game to try to gain a place in the England squad. England’s loss will be Sale’s gain if he isn’t picked. Faf de Klerk also misses several opening matches due to his involvement in the Championship, so they will have their work cut out for them early on. Youngsters Sam Moore and the Curry twins will be looking to stake a claim for games in the meantime.
Latest odds: 66/1
Last year’s champions, one of the key dangers for Saracens is being too successful. A long European campaign and the loss of several players to the England team in February could weaken them just when they need to be at their strongest. The addition of David Strettle will help to fill the holes caused by international call-ups, and under Brad Barritt’s leadership, Saracens are once again be the team to beat.
Latest odds: 7/5
With Danny Cipriani heading to Gloucester and Jimmy Gopperth’s pre-season knee injury, Wasps are already on the back foot before a single game has been played. But the addition of Lima Sopoaga should prove a more than worthy replacement, assuming he has no problems settling in. Brad Shields and the Willis twins will add additional strength to the team. It remains to be seen whether they can improve on last year’s third place finish.
Latest odds: 13/2
With 11 new recruits, 15 departures and a whole new coaching set-up, the Warriors are almost starting from scratch again this season. They will have to work hard just to replicate last year’s eleventh place finish, and they will have to battle hard to avoid relegation. Ben Te’o and Francois Venter will be the key to moving the ball around in the midfield, and Wynand Olivier, Carl Kirwan and Niall Annett all return from injury. It likely won’t be enough to climb too high in the table, but they won’t give up their place in the Premiership easily.
Latest odds: 300/1