The ones to watch
September 1, 2010
Bath's Luke Watson is set to lead from the front during this year's Premiership © Getty Images
The new Premiership season is just around the corner and having already brought you our pick of the summer signings - we now offer our players to watch throughout the new campaign courtesy of the latest Scrum Seven.
Luke Watson (Bath)
The no-nonsense South African landed in the Premiership last season following a colourful career in his homeland and wasted little time in making an impact. A significant presence at the breakdown and often elusive in the loose, he helped Bath into the play-offs, where they were denied by old rivals Leicester. He has since been handed the captaincy of the west country giants but will benefit from a glut of leadership material including the likes of England skipper Lewis Moody. "When you are new to a club, you have to earn the respect of the players, you have to train hard, you have to play hard," insisted coach Steve Meehan, "and I believe Luke has done that." Expect him to continue to hit the headlines for all the right reasons driven by a desire to succeed and an equally inspirational Christian faith.
Mikaele Pesamino (Sale)
Should the Samoan speedster ever clock in at Edgeley Road, we are convinced he will light up the Premiership stage as he did on the IRB Sevens circuit last season on his way to the Player of the Year honour. Granted, he may have a little still to learn about the 15-a-side game, having had limited exposure at Auckland in New Zealand and made just five appearances at Test level, but seven tries in those few international appearances demands attention - even if two were against Papua New Guinea. Anyone who has ever seen 'Lightning' in full flight will need little persuasion as to his game-breaking ability, which is why it was such a piece of dealing by Sale boss Mike Brewer. Now, if only he could get him to show up to work.
Matt Stevens (Saracens)
The former Bath star tumbled from the upper echelons of the game after testing positive for cocaine last year and, as a result, is not even scheduled to return to the Premiership stage until the new year - but with a reputation to restore and the small matter of the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, you can expect big things from the 32-times capped tight-head. Saracens boss Brendan Venter is convinced the 27-year-old can rediscover his best form and was quick to snap up his services. Venter has since predicted that Stevens will gatecrash England's World Cup squad - "I'd be surprised if someone of his quality didn't get himself into the England set-up." Stevens has it all to prove but he'll no doubt give it his best shot with his trademark smile on his face.
Ollie Smith (Harlequins)
The British & Irish Lions international returns to the Premiership stage after a two-year stint with Montpellier in France's Top 14. He previously spent eight seasons with Leicester and was for a while the youngest ever Premiership player, after making his debut at the age of 18. He missed out on a place in England's squad for the 2003 Rugby World Cup but pulled on the famous red jersey of the Lions a couple of years later. He subsequently slipped from the radar a little but not that far and was pmost recently part of the England Saxons squad that captured the 2010 Churchill Cup crown. At just 28 he has time on his side and with another World Cup looming, a return to English soil could see him force his way into the reckoning.
Andrew Higgins (Exeter)
The former Bath wing was handed a nine-month ban last year after being found guilty of misconduct in the wake of the club's notorious end-of-season party in May 2009. His spell on the sidelines included a stint as manager of a restaurant in Paris before he put pen to paper with Exeter before they had secured promotion to the Premiership. With something to prove to himself and those who have questioned his conduct, Higgins will no doubt be at the centre of Exeter's attempts to make an impression in the top flight. The Chiefs will welcome his experience and his try-scoring ability, having notched 10 tries in his previous two seasons in the Premiership.
Riki Flutey (Wasps)
Like Smith, Flutey returns to the Premiership following a stint across the Channel with Top 14 side Brive. His brief spell in French rugby's top flight was blighted by injury but Wasps were happy to welcome the versatile Kiwi back into their fold ahead of the new season. He was a pivotal player during his previous stint at Adams Park, claiming the PRA Player of the Year award on the back of Wasps' title triumph in 2008. Another looking to add a World Cup appearance to an impressive rugby CV, Flutey retained his place in Martin Johnson's squad for the coming season but faces a fight to remain a key figure and the Premiership stage will be his proving ground.
Ben Youngs (Leicester)
The Leicester scrum-half was outstanding last season and helped propel the Tigers to the Premiership title. His form was rewarded with the Discovery of the Season honour plus the Tigers' Player of the Season and the RPA Young Player of the year awards. But he didn't finish there, Youngs turning in a try-scoring performance in his first England start against Australia during the summer. The England No.9 shirt appears to be his to lose but to cement his place in Martin Johnson's World Cup plans the 20-year-old must avoid the dreaded 'second season syndrome'. Sure to be the dynamo that keeps the Tigers ticking over through the months ahead.
He teed up Obolensky's try, fought in Burma and played cricket for Warwickshire - we Rewind to look at the story of Peter Cranmer
With the World Cup just a year away, Tom Hamilton picks out five matches to ensure you have tickets for
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup