6 Things Guaranteed to Happen During the 2014-15 Aviva Premiership Season
Just over a fortnight remains until the 2014-15 Aviva Premiership gets underway, where Northampton Saints will defend their title against the best that England has to offer.
Each and every year, the Premiership campaign is an unpredictable maze of events that takes on many an unexpected twist and turn, but some things are more assured than others.
From player success to team prospects, we run through some of those events that are sure to materialise over the next nine months.
1. Captain Changes Will Impact the Top Contenders
Only half of this season's Premiership captains have been announced thus far, but the list of names already provided has stirred interest, to say the least.
With a 2015 Rugby World Cup to concentrate on, Chris Robshaw has been replaced by Joe Marler as Harlequins captain, Tom Hamilton of ESPN Scrum announced earlier this month:
Well press conferences will be a fairly different experience with Joe Marler as Quins captain— Tom Hamilton (@tomESPNscrum) August 4, 2014
@purplybunny Marler wonderfully unique and let's hope it stays that way. Inspired from O'Shea. Robshaw a great leader and will help JM.— Tom Hamilton (@tomESPNscrum) August 4, 2014
Meanwhile, James Haskell has taken the next step in his evolution as a key figure at Adams Park after being named London Wasps' new chief, per ESPN Scrum.
With Mike Tindall retiring from rugby, Gloucester will be led by Billy Twelvetrees, and Alistair Hargreaves takes over at Saracens, with Steve Borthwick another taking his leave from the game.
Marler stands as a particularly intriguing choice, and as Hamilton hints, his unique brand of media-savvy wit should be of great comedic worth as long as captain's duties don't affect him.
That being said, the more serious aspect is how the changing of the guard affects squads, with morale potentially shifting and the voice of a new leader promising to have its say on how each team performs.
2. Jim Mallinder's Men Will Once Again Be an Attacking Marvel
Last season saw Northampton Saints score a monstrous 72 tries en route to Premiership glory, and although their overall points tally was lower than that of Saracens, no outfit posed more of a threat on the whitewash.
This season will only see things improve in that regard. George North has had a year to settle in at Franklin's Gardens, as has Kahn Fotuali'i, who was another key presence in their run to the title.
The Pisi brothers, Ken and George, will assuredly continue to grow in value as some of Jim Mallinder's main assets, while backs Jamie Elliott, Ben Foden, Luther Burrell and Stephen Myler will also have integrated further among the new faces.
The Saints have actually conducted the least summer business of any team, but after winning the Premiership and having no major names retire, what needs to be changed?
In fact, the only thing close to a major recruit for Mallinder this offseason was Joel Hodgson. The scrum-half coming south from Newcastle Falcons could in time have an impact, but he is by no means ready to dethrone Lee Dickson or Fotuali'i.
With such steadiness assured through the summer months, only improvement should be expected this season, but a tough end-of-season run awaits Northampton, with Saracens and Leicester both being on the agenda in the last three matchdays.
3. Sam Burgess Will Be Examined Down to the Last Detail
It's an arrival that brings with it a sense of anticipation that not many players have courted when coming to the Premiership in recent years, but Sam Burgess' time is almost upon us.
Ever since it was announced that the National Rugby League superstar would be joining Bath in a bid to make Stuart Lancaster's 2015 Rugby World Cup squad, questions have followed en masse.
Where will he play? Will he adapt quickly enough to union? Is Lancaster likely to pick the player even if his first Premiership season isn't a success?
From Week 1 through 22, the same musings will remain, and no matter how close we think we are to finding a conclusion, even the slightest of setbacks will only unearth new angles and dimensions to wonder upon.
Slammin' Sam will be a hit in the Premiership merely due to the very nature in which he goes about his business, but what could be the most important year of his career lies ahead, and everyone knows it.
4. London Welsh Will Bring an Experienced Challenge as Premiership New Boys
It's a stigma of the promoted team that finding the right pattern in transfer business when coming to the Premiership can be a terribly difficult formula to perfect.
Spend outside its means, and a team risks decline in the long run; don't spend enough, and it runs the risk of the squad being blown out of the water.
However, London Welsh have been shrewd upon their return, bringing in a number of names who hold a valuable splicing of experience and at-peak potential.
For example, the announcement of Piri Weepu's acquisition sits as a terrific coup for Justin Burnell's side, while Olly Barkley, Koree Britton, Tim Molenaar, Dean Schofield and James Down also bring varying amounts of wisdom.
That seasoned edge will undoubtedly do the club proud when matching up against their Premiership foes, although they'll need existing stars to find a star turn in their development if they're to challenge for survival.
5. West Country Derby Makes for a Climactic Curtain Call
Bath were a surprisingly strong outfit in parts of their run to a fifth-place finish last season, and those at The Rec will be hoping the club can go one better in cracking the top four this season.
Gloucester, on the other hand, were expected to do a lot better than ninth place, and the wheels have been set in motion for the West Country side to do just that in 2014-15.
Serious squad investment has seen the likes of Greig Laidlaw, Richard Hibbard, James Hook, John Afoa, Tom Palmer and more added to the Cherry and Whites' ranks.
As aforementioned, Burgess is sure to give Mike Ford's men another gear this term, while Luke Arscott and Henry Thomas can add more as new arrivals, too.
All in all, the West Country outfits are in good shape for 2014-15, and it's fitting that their seasons end with an almighty encounter at The Rec on May 16/17, 2015.
After the last encounter between these two teams in April produced two yellow cards and seven reds, fans can only hope for as much passion to be on display when the season closes for these two top-four contenders in fiery fashion.
6. Vereniki Goneva Will Light Up Leicester Back Line
Leicester Tigers' 2013-14 campaign was an odd one by all means, as the side recovered from an unimpressive start to eventually find their groove and finish third.
Even in all the uncertainty, though, one reliable component through thick and thin remained. Vereniki Goneva never let standards slip, ultimately collecting the Premiership Player of the Year award.
And even better for the fans at Welford Road was to hear the Fijian ace had penned a new two-year deal with Richard Cockerill's side.
Ready to tear the division up once again, Goneva can't be ruled out from claiming the Player of the Season award two years in a row. No matter how unlikely that may seem, it's merely an indicator of just what a talent he is.
One can expect another season of double-digit scoring, hard tackling and Leicester benefiting from his performances.