Glancing through the Aviva Premiership squads for the upcoming season one thing struck me above all others, there’s been an influx of players in the middle of the backline and unusually for the Premiership a lot of the new talent is English. There’s only 3 Centre’s who are not English qualified but they have 54 International caps between them.
2 of the imports are familiar names in Gavin Henson, who will play his second season in the Aviva Premiership for a new club after London Welsh suffered the ignominy of a points deduction related relegation. Henson signed for Bath as “Fly Half, Centre and Fullback cover” but with Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph likely to be regulars in the England Saxons squad (if not the full England squad) Henson’s biggest chance for action would appear to be in the 12 shirt where he won 23 of his Wales caps. 20 time capped Argentinian Marcelo Bosch is the other major familiar face in a new place this season following his move to Saracens from Biarritz Olympique, Bosch can also play at 10 and 15 but with England Internationals currently filling though positions for Saracens he seems to figure more as a both powerful and creative force in the 12 channel. The final and most low key of all the new overseas signings in the Premiership this season is Danny Barnes who left Munster to sign for Newcastle Falcons, 23 year old Barnes was born in New Zealand, but moved to Ireland as a child and has represented Ireland Under 20’s in 2004. He can also play on the wing, but his turn of speed and fast feet have the capacity to cause more than a few difficulties for opposing Centre’s.
There are 6 English qualified Centre’s who could make sizeable contributions to their side’s success in the Aviva Premiership this season, 2 who have relatively large amounts of experience in Adam Powell and Jonathan Joseph who have played 140 top flight games between them. Adam Powell was in danger of becoming Saracens (& England Saxons) forgotten man until his move to Newcastle Falcons, Powell is the oldest of the English contingent at 26 but if he can remain healthy he still has the potential to attract the attention of the England coaches, especially with his former Saracens colleague Brad Barritt’s International position becoming ever more uncertain. Jonathan Joseph is just 22 and after playing 44 games for London Irish he has linked up with the former Irish coach Toby Booth at the Rec as one of Bath’s major summer signings alongside former Leicester Tiger George Ford. Joseph is coming off the back of 2 Test matches in Argentina where he linked up with fellow Bath tyro Kyle Eastmond in an England team that won a 2 Test series and 11 tries in the process. Joseph undoubtedly has International class and on hard ground alongside Eastmond they could make a lot of defences look silly, the Rec however is not renowned as a great pitch during the winter so Bath may well suffer from their usual mid season malaise even with such a talented backline.
The young guns who should see more opportunities for their respective teams in the middle of the park this season are Exeter Chiefs 20 year old Sam Hill, Gloucester’s Ryan Mills, who have both impressed while playing for England’s World Champion Under 20’s side in recent times and 2 young Harlequins in 19 year old Harry Sloan, who also featured in the England Under 20’s Junior RWC campaign and another Harlequin, 20 year old Charlie Walker. Sam Hill has been on loan to Cornish Pirates for 2 seasons and during that time has been one of the most exciting players in the Championship. He has the vision to unlock a defence as you’d expect of somebody who started their rugby career as a Fly Half, but standing at 6 feet tall and weighing in at just under 100 kgs he has more than enough physical presence to trouble opposing defenders, if the Chiefs are serious about progressing into a top 4 side in the Premiership then Hill should see a lot more game time this season. Ryan Mills started 3 league games for Gloucester last season and came on a sub in 1 game too but his season was effected by a long term knee complaint. This season Gloucester coach and former Wales Centre Nigel Davies believes Mills is ready for a “breakout season” where he could challenge British and Irish Lion Billy Twelvetrees as a regular starter in the Cherry and White shirt. Both Harlequins prospects Harry Sloan and Charlie Walker featured in the recent World Club 7’s Championships at Twickenham with the latter showing several experienced International players a clean pair of heels on regular occasions. Both players could bring a sadly 1 dimensional Harlequins backline some much needed flair, but whether or not they’ll be afforded the opportunity by the coaching staff to prove their mettle in anything other than the LV Cup remains to be seen.
One last player with a very, very outside chance of impressing this season is Wasps and England Under 18 International Mitch Tamiau, the Rotorua “born and raised” 19 year old is a second year player in the Wasps Academy played 1 game for London Scottish in the 2011-12 season but he looks like a defender’s nightmare as Plymouth Albion’s Keni Fisilau will testify. Fisilau was banned for 18 weeks after his dangerous tackle broke Tamiau’s jaw in his single appearance for Scottish.