Ahead of the opening round of the Premiership season, we pick out six selection talking points from the teams named for this weekend.
Jack Nowell starts on the wing for Exeter Chiefs
One of several England players given clearance to feature this week, Nowell gets the nod on the wing for Exeter as they welcome champions Leicester Tigers to Sandy Park. Most players involved in the Test series against Australia were given a mandatory 10-week rest period, but Exeter were successful in their request to allow Nowell the green light to start their Premiership opener, with the news a significant fillip as they look to right some wrongs from last season’s showings.
Nowell will go up against the impressive Hosea Saumaki but, as always, expect the England flyer to roam and pop up in midfield as he looks to make inroads into the Tigers defence. It’s a strong-looking Exeter backline that includes new signing Solomone Kata at centre and in front of a packed out home crowd, Nowell’s X-factor could prove vital as they look to spring a shock against a Leicester side that is missing several stars, as well as the departed Ellis Genge and George Ford.
Wilco Louw at tighthead prop for Harlequins
After missing the majority of last season due to injury and with a full pre-season under his belt, Louw’s presence for Harlequins cannot be understated. While Will Collier performed admirably in his absence, elite teams need two top class tighthead props to share the workload and Louw’s absence was felt in 2021/22.
The South African starts this weekend against Newcastle Falcons and Quins fans will be delighted to see how he goes as they sorely missed him the campaign after their incredible title triumph. If Louw can remain fit and once again impress in both the tight and loose, Harlequins have a large piece back in their jigsaw.
Cameron Neild leads new side Worcester Warriors
A hamstring injury to regular skipper Ted Hill means a first Worcester start will be as captain for Neild, who arrived at the club from Sale Sharks during the off-season. Director of rugby Steve Diamond is a huge admirer of the flanker and that’s now apparent to Warriors fans as Neild is charged with inspiring this Worcester side to what would be a massive victory away at London Irish on Saturday, particular amid the ongoing uncertainty over the Premiership side’s future.
Neild is joined in the back-row by fellow new signing Fergus Lee-Warner and Matt Kvesic in what is a well balanced trio, with prop Valeriy Morozov and hooker Hame Faiva also starting in the pack against an exciting London Irish outfit. It is tough to back a Warriors victory but writing them off after their struggles and how they’ve collectively got through this turmoil together would be foolish. Neild’s leadership will be key to the cause in what will be an emotional game.
Ellis Genge lines up alongside Kyle Sinckler
What a prop pairing Bristol Bears now possess? Like Nowell, Genge has been given clearance to play in his club’s opening game in what’s the Bristolian’s homecoming match. He starts alongside England team-mate Sinckler in the front-row and if they can stay fit and dominate while not on international duty, Bristol will fly.
His arrival from Leicester Tigers is hugely significant after what he achieved at the club last season and Bristol Bears appear to be getting an incredibly driven player and person who is delighted to be home. Expect Genge to relish Saturday’s opening home meetingagainst Bath and play a massive role in the Bears’ campaign.
Ultimate fantasy? 😍 pic.twitter.com/fYNPnadWHS
— Bristol Bears 🐻 (@BristolBears) September 8, 2022
Wasps get first glimpse of Burger Odendaal
They might have lost Malakai Fekitoa to Munster but the arrival of Odendaal from South Africa should prove a welcome addition to Wasps’ midfield this season. He’s a no nonsense centre who can rally those around him and we expect him to quickly become a hit at the club as he looks to propel them up the standings.
The 29-year-old has played for the Lions and Bulls in his home country and those who have watched Super Rugby in the past will know his qualities, with this move coming at the perfect time in his career. It’s a difficult trip to Gloucester first up for Wasps but with Odendaal and some outstanding talent particularly among their back-row where Alfie Barbeary starts at number eight, the visitors could well cause some problems for the Cherry and Whites defence at Kingsholm.
Sale and England fingers crossed for Manu Tuilagi
It feels like everyone holds their breath when Tuilagi plays after what’s been a horrendous run of injury luck over recent seasons. How good would it be if the England and Sale Sharks centre enjoyed a clean bill of health all the way through 2022/23, which would send him into the Rugby World Cup in perfect shape?
Alas, such a thing has been a distant dream for Tuilagi for what has felt like an extended period of time, but with a new season comes new hope, as Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson hopes to have his star player fit and firing in their Premiership title charge. If he can then rugby will see one of its brightest talents shine, which is fantastic news for club and country – not so much for their rivals as Tuilagi’s ability has long been regarded as fearsome by opposing teams.