The ones to watch
September 3, 2009
Luke Watson could revive Bath's fortunes this season © Getty Images
With the Guinness Premiership season set to kick off on Friday we set aside the summer's controversies and take a look at seven players to watch in England's top flight.
From bruising forwards to fleet-footed backs, this season is set to provide plenty of star-making turns and a few surprise packages along the way.
Luke Watson - Bath
South African No.8 Luke Watson joins Bath following a difficult summer for the West Country club. Five players banned due to drug-related offences is not a pretty picture and on-field results are the only way to restore faith in one of English rugby's heartlands.
Watson is no stranger to controversy after his various protestations over the manner of transformation in South African rugby and joins Bath after leading Western Province and the Stormers in 2009. A player whose headlines usually precede him, many forget that he is a superb exponent of back-row play. Great handling, pace and a big helping of guts and determination make Watson arguably the coup of the summer.
Ryan Lamb - London Irish
After jumping ship from his hometown club Gloucester last season, Lamb has landed on his feet at the Premiership's most enterprising club. Attack-minded but temperamental under pressure, Lamb will work alongside veteran England back Mike Catt, now the Exiles' attack coach, to produce the form that he has shown in glimpses throughout his career.
With a backline including devastating runners Sailosi Tagicakibau and Delon Armitage and the wise head of Seilala Mapusua in the centre, expect Lamb to ably fill the gap left by Shane Geraghty.
Nick Robinson - Gloucester
A mainstay of the Cardiff Blues side for the best part of a decade, Robinson's pursuit of a change of scenery could benefit Gloucester hugely during this campaign. Having carved his new club apart on three occasions last season with the Blues, Robinson showed his new employers plenty of attacking verve and an ability to control play with an extensive kicking game.
Consistency has always been his problem, but last season he produced regularly at the highest level to work himself in to surprise contention for a British & Irish Lions place. With former All Black Carlos Spencer also on the books at Kingsholm, Robinson won't want for competition and should be a Shed favourite come May.
Tom Biggs - Newcastle
A devastating finisher during his time with Leeds in National One, England Sevens star Biggs has headed further north to link up with the Falcons. Linked with several Premiership clubs during his time at Headingley, he now has a chance to prove his worth at the top level.
Kiwi fly-half Jimmy Gopperth will also provide a boost after the departure of Jonny Wilkinson for Toulon, but the finishing power of Biggs could be vital if Newcastle are to continue their upward curve away from the tag of relegation contenders.
Dan Vickerman - Northampton Saints
Signings from Cambridge University rarely carry such weight in the modern game, but Dan Vickerman brings with him 54 Australian caps and a wealth of Super 14 experience. The lock will combine his playing at Saints with studies at Cambridge, who he represented in the 2009 Varsity match.
Vickerman's pace and power will be a vital addition to an improving Saints pack and he will also have plenty to offer in aiding the development of talents such as bruising 20-year-old Courtney Lawes. An intelligent presence at the set-piece and strong ball carrier in the loose Vickerman should help power the Saints towards a semi-final challenge this season.
Ben Cohen - Sale Sharks
Remember him? After re-discovering his appetite for the game during a stint in France with Brive, Cohen has returned to England with Sale. Having won the Heineken Cup with Northampton and the Rugby World Cup with England before his French sojourn, Cohen will struggle to emulate his first successful Premiership spell but will no doubt provide a huge boost to the Sale squad - shorn this season of fan favourites Luke McAlister, Sebastien Chabal and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
An on-form and focused Cohen is one of the top finishers in the world game, as his international return of 31 tries in 57 Tests demonstrates. Under the guidance of his former team-mate Jason Robinson expect Cohen to be firing on all cylinders before too long.
Warren Fury - London Wasps
One of the more low-profile transfers, Warren Fury's move from London Irish back to his first club Wasps is also one of the most interesting. Plucked from obscurity by Warren Gatland to make his Wales debut against the Springboks in 2008, 23-year-old Fury has now slotted in as Eoin Reddan's replacement at the club where he made his first steps as a professional in 2004-05.
His coach at Wasps will be Shaun Edwards, also Wales' defence coach, making this an intriguing club and country switch. Fury failed to secure regular first-team rugby at Irish and will be up against the excellent Joe Simpson for a spot at Adams Park - keep a look out for a possible breakthrough season.
Tom Hamilton reports back from the launch of the Guinness PRO12 where there is a renewed sense of optimism with all of the off-field changes to the league
So much for the great Australian revival, writes Greg Growden. It now has the potential of going off the rails after the capitulation at Eden Park
The latest Week in Pictures takes in photographs from the Rugby Championship, the Top 14 and the southern hemisphere domestic scene
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold