The new Gallagher Premiership season begins next week and despite the World Cup currently taking place in Japan, several global stars will be involved from the start and even more will take part in English rugby union’s top flight later in the year.
Here, PA news agency takes a lot at five players who could dominate the headlines and have a big say in who wins the title this term.
Stuart Hogg (Exeter)
Exeter will hope the addition of Stuart Hogg can help them achieve domestic and European success this term and he is expected to make a big impact in the Premiership. The Scotland full-back demonstrated his class recently with a 40-metre drop goal against Samoa at the World Cup, but the Chiefs’ supporters will have to wait a little while for the former Glasgow Warriors ace to make his debut. When he does, the experienced international will hope to slot into an exciting back three and wrack up plenty of tries in Devon.
Lood De Jager (Sale)
A number of South African forwards have moved to AJ Bell Stadium for the new campaign and De Jager is the most eye-catching. Described as a “world class line-out operator” by Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond, the second row is 6ft 9 and by agreeing a three-year deal with the Greater Manchester club, will attempt to help them transition from a mid-table outfit into a serious challenger in the coming seasons. A calf injury initially cast some doubt over his World Cup involvement, but predictably he fought his way back to fitness and has impressed in Japan and no doubt will with Sale too.
Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
The 20-year-old fly-half has been tipped as an England star for a long time and backed up the hype with a man of the match performance on his senior international debut in June. A total of 26 points against the Barbarians showed his potential and despite missing out on Eddie Jones’ squad for Japan, he will hope to be a central figure at the next World Cup in 2023. He will look to hit the ground running in his third campaign, lead Harlequins into the play-offs this time and attempt to improve on last season’s 170 points-tally. A tough ask, but doable.
Waisake Naholo (London Irish)
Newly promoted London Irish are not back in the top flight to merely make up the numbers and will hope World Cup-winning All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo can help them start with a bang. He has 16 tries in 26 Tests for New Zealand, but was not selected for the World Cup and so will be available earlier than initially expected by director of rugby Declan Kidney. If he can be clinical out wide, it will help the new-look Exiles settle back in the Premiership.
Paddy Jackson (London Irish)
A lot of focus will be on the new fly-half at the Madejski, but he will attempt to show the form which earned him 25 international caps for Ireland between 2013 and 2017. Jackson was acquitted of rape last year but then had his contract revoked by the Irish Rugby Football Union. This move to London Irish allows the 27-year-old to link up with former Ulster coach Les Kiss and ex-Ireland coach Kidney, but controversy continues to follow him with Diageo withdrawing their Guinness-branded sponsorship from the club as a result of his arrival.
Others to look out for
Another number 10 who will no doubt want to take the headlines is Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani, especially after he missed out on England’s World Cup squad. Meanwhile, Malakai Fekitoa will be expected to make a big impression at Wasps after a move from Toulon and force of nature Sekope Kepu, now of London Irish, will leave his mark on many rivals this term.