Mighty Quins, Saracens return and law changes – Premiership talking points
Here the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of the new campaign.
Harlequins lit up the Premiership last season by playing a dazzling brand of rugby that defied all expectations in sweeping them to only their second English title. It was a thrilling endorsement of the club’s philosophy of all-out attack, which critics felt was too loose to produce silverware. The question now is whether they can defend their crown using the same tactics. New boss Tabai Matson is convinced they can but with Marcus Smith their chief conductor, likely to spend lengthy spells away on England duty, they will need a new source of on-field inspiration.
Saracens back in the mix
Newly promoted after being banished to the Championship for a season as punishment for repeated salary cap breaches, Saracens return to the top flight as heavyweight title contenders. Strengthened by the return of Ben Earl, Max Malins, Alex Lozowski, Alex Goode and Nick Isiekwe from their loan spells and having kept hold of stars like Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly, the north London club have the look of favourites as they place a torrid spell in their silverware-laden history behind them.
Two of the five law trials in place for the new Premiership season could have a significant impact. The 50-22 line-out throw will force the defending team to drop more players into the backfield, creating space for attack. And the goalline drop-out will see five metre scrums for the attacking side replaced by a kick from the whitewash by the defensive side, meaning more ball in time play, creating a counter-attack opportunity and encouraging more inventive play close to the line. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding but overall the changes should encourage greater enterprise.
The structure of the Premiership has taken on a new look after relegation was paused until 2024 with Saracens’ return to the top flight expanding the league to 13 teams and forcing the introduction of bye weekends. It will increase further for 2022-23 with the addition of a 14th side, but the immediate concern is the impact removing the threat of dropping into the second tier of English rugby will have on games where nothing is at stake. At the latter stages last season it was noticeable that some matches produced below-par performances when the prospect of relegation would have seen teams fighting for their lives instead.
One of the most gifted players ever seen in the Premiership embarks on what could be the final chapter of a career that is entering its twilight. Danny Cipriani turns 34 in November and has signed a contract at Bath that takes him to the end of the season. He will run the attack and after years of underachievement at the Recreation Ground it will be hoped that his genius – if it remains intact after a spell out of the game – can instigate a revival.