Premiership: 10 new signings to watch including Ellis Genge at Bristol Bears and Leicester Tigers’ arrival Handre Pollard

Adam Kyriacou

Ahead of the start of the 2022/23 Premiership season, we take a look at some of the big name additions in the top tier of the English club game.

Anthony Watson (Bath to Leicester Tigers)

After 10 months out of the game due to injury, Watson made his comeback in pre-season on Friday and will now hope for a run of clean health, not least because the Rugby World Cup is on the horizon. He has achieved so much and at 28 years old, we believe it is still a rugby career which has plenty of life left in it. Watson joins Leicester from Bath where he’d been since 2013 and after swapping the Premiership’s bottom side for the champions, he’s made a rather shrewd move.

If he can stay fit, the Tigers have got themselves an outstanding signing who is equally at home at wing or full-back and will flourish under Steve Borthwick. One hopes this change of scenery leads to a change in luck on the injury front as, if so, he will enjoy his time alongside full-back Freddie Steward and become a fan favourite in no time at all. That would, of course, increase his chances of an England recall from Eddie Jones as he looks to reignite a promising career.

Joe Powell (Melbourne Rebels to London Irish)

As Nick Phipps moves on, yet another Australian scrum-half joins London Irish as Powell arrives from the Melbourne Rebels. Ben Meehan and Brendan McKibbin came before the aforementioned duo so there is definitely a pattern with the Exiles raiding Down Under for number nines, but it has worked out well for them so far.

Powell made his name at the Brumbies and regularly caught the eye with his high tempo, all-action style that made the Canberra side into one of the best teams in Super Rugby. He won the 2020 Super Rugby AU title, signing off in style before his move to the Rebels and promises to be a hit with London Irish fans as he takes over from Phipps. The blonde-haired nine will complement Ben White nicely and when the latter is away with Scotland, expect Powell to come into his own.

Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers to Bristol Bears)

Arguably the signing of the pre-season as fresh after lifting the Premiership trophy as captain of Leicester Tigers, Genge heads to his home town of Bristol as he looks to achieve similar success with the Bears. Some questioned the decision to make Genge skipper at Tigers but they were emphatically silenced after his performances and leadership in the green jersey last season. Powerful in the set-piece while being devastating in the loose, he led by example in 2021/22.

Bristol desperately need his qualities as they struggled last term, finishing a hugely disappointing 10th position, so will look to new arrivals like Genge and AJ MacGinty to kick-start their revival. The England prop will have grown so much as a player and person over the past 12 months and Bristol have certainly got themselves a man keen to shine for his home club, which only increases the amount of determination he will have to impress. He promises to be a roaring success.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (Reds to Northampton Saints)

Salakaia-Loto’s move to Northampton will be a shot in the arm for the Midlands outfit, who have acquired the services of an athletic forward that is capable of packing down at lock and in the back-row. The 25-year-old is predominantly a second-row, however, which means his arrival will offset the departure of Api Ratuniyarawa, and his lineout work, ball-carrying ability and defensive prowess makes him an astute signing for Saints.

With plenty of experience for the Reds, with whom he won the Super Rugby AU title in 2021, and with 30 Test caps under his belt for Australia, Salakaia-Loto is a seasoned campaigner who will add some grunt to Northampton’s pack with his abrasive style of play.

Vincent Koch (Saracens to Wasps)

After a six-year stint at Saracens, the Springbok tighthead prop has opted for a change of scenery and his arrival will bolster Premiership rivals Wasps’ forward stocks as he brings plenty of experience to their ranks.

Like most South Africans, the 2019 Rugby World Cup winner thrives on the physical nature of the game as he is a solid scrummager who also does well as a ball carrier and puts in big hits on defence. A member of the Springboks’ much vaunted ‘Bomb Squad’, the 32-year-old will be seen as the perfect replacement for All Black front-row Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, who has joined Ulster.

Handre Pollard (Montpellier to Leicester Tigers)

The Springbok fly-half has not hit his straps completely since winning the 2019 World Cup, and his time at Montpellier has been challenging. The pivot was sidelined for an extended period with an ACL injury in 2020 and struggled for selection at number 10 over Italy’s Paolo Garbisi.

Pollard opted for the Tigers over more financially significant offers in Japan as he specifically wants to work with head coach Borthwick. It will be fascinating to see how the 28-year-old gets on with the Premiership champions, especially with the bar having been set so high by the departing George Ford.

The playmaker has found better form of late, particularly off the kicking tee, but has been criticised for being one-dimensional. However, a coach with Borthwick’s esteemed knowledge of the game may just be the catalyst to extract more from the World Cup winner.

Chris Cloete (Munster to Bath)

The South African was immediately signed by new Bath head coach Johann van Graan, who worked with Cloete for an extended period at Munster. The flanker has all the attributes to excel in the Premiership: physicality, carrying ability, solid defence and is an expert at the breakdown.

It can be expected that Cloete will play a significant role given that his coach picked the 31-year-old to take with him on his challenging task of reviving Bath’s form and stature in the English game. Expect the robust back-row to be an absolute menace at the breakdown this season.

Scott Sio (Brumbies to Exeter Chiefs)

The talented loosehead bolsters a slightly ailing Devon-based outfit, who endured a difficult 2021/22 campaign and then saw the departure of several key players as the salary cap reduction began to bite. Exeter will be looking for a vast improvement from their seventh placed finish and Sio will certainly provide some ballast in the set-piece.

They surprisingly struggled up front last season, with the scrum nowhere near as dominant as previous seasons and the forwards often failing to dominate the gain line. With Sio in the side, they will get far better stability in the set-piece, while he also offers a threat with ball in hand. He joins in October after the completion of the Rugby Championship and will no doubt add plenty to the Chiefs set-up.

Matias Moroni (Leicester Tigers to Newcastle Falcons)

Newcastle already have one excellent Argentinian centre called Matias, so why not add another? Moroni has joined Orlando in the North East following an excellent campaign for Leicester, where he ended it as a Premiership winner.

The Falcons have the weakest squad on paper but, in the Orlando-Moroni axis, they have a partnership which will give them genuine international class in the midfield. They are not natural playmakers but the Los Pumas duo are both very skilful and complement each other nicely. Moroni is physical and direct but most importantly the 31-year-old is a smart operator, which means he defends well and makes good decisions with and without the ball.

Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs to Sale Sharks)

A big loss for Exeter and a huge boost for the Sharks, who have offset the departure of Lood de Jager by bringing in England’s first choice second-row. Although international call-ups will deny Sale a key player for a portion of the season, they will be hopeful that Hill is more durable than the gargantuan Springbok.

Despite always playing well when out on the field, De Jager was rarely available and therefore did not necessarily represent value for money. Hill should therefore be a more astute addition to the squad and bolster a Sharks front five which continues to develop nicely.

With that platform set, it will give another top quality new signing, fly-half Ford, an opportunity to weave his magic, albeit that won’t happen until at least late December due to the fly-half’s nasty Achilles injury. In Hill and Ford, Sale have made two superb signings but will it be enough to make them genuine title contenders?

READ MORE: Anthony Watson: England international starts at full-back for Leicester Tigers