“If you predict anything this year after what happened last year, you’re either mad or a genius!” says Austin Healey – and he’s not wrong.
The 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season was arguably the most bonkers, madcap campaign ever as top spot, semi-final line-ups and the top six positions were all decided on a frantic final day.
BTSport.com sat down with four-time Premiership winner Healey to get his predictions, as well as his hopes and fears, for what is expected to be another enthralling season of English top-flight rugby.
I can’t see anyone being better than them.
They might not finish top but they will definitely qualify for the semi-finals and from there they know how to win big games.
They may have a few tired bodies after the World Cup but they’ll be fine – they have a great squad.
Surprise package: Sale Sharks
I think they’re going to be real contenders this year.
The only difficulty for Steve Diamond [Director of Rugby] is managing a larger squad and the expectations of quality players who are not guaranteed to be playing week-in week-out because, as a rugby player, you love playing every weekend.
He managed a small squad really well, the big question is can he manage a big squad, because it’s not easy as most people think.
I had to pick someone and I just think it will be one of three teams.
London Irish always start well. They’ve got a reasonable first outing against Wasps, if they can get a win the difference between four or five points this year – like last year – is going to feel like a chasm.
I think Leicester Tigers will be slightly better, but not much better.
I don’t think they’ll finish 11th or 10th. They could even qualify for Europe, which would have seemed ridiculous to say in years gone by.
But they lose a lot of their international players for too long, and that’s going to be a major problem for them.
Player of the season: Jean-Luc du Preez or Dan du Preez
I’m hedging my bets here, but I’ll go for one of the Du Preez twins at Sale.
But it’s so tough to call… the England internationals coming back from the World Cup will be really, really fit and normally players tend to have a reasonable year after a World Cup as long as they don’t go all the way.
If England go out in the quarter-finals and we see Manu Tuilagi coming back fit and firing then I think it could be someone like him.
But I think those England guys are going to come back a bit later, miss a few rounds of the Premiership and then they will miss a load of rounds during the Six Nations so they will be playing catch up.
Signing of the season: Malakai Fekitoa
Tomas Lavanini is a huge signing for Tigers but I can’t wait to see Fekitoa at Wasps.
One to watch: Fraser Dingwall
One of many great young talents at Northampton Saints who will have a much tougher season this term.
Most looking forward to seeing: Tigers getting back to winning ways
I think their mindset has changed.
They’ve been up against it in a couple of the Premiership Rugby Cup games but they’ve found a way back and that’s what good Tigers teams do, which they weren’t able to do last year.
In terms of playing talent I think everyone would say they’re looking forward to watching Danny Cipriani.
He’s had the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup after being named the player of the season.
Can he take Gloucester one stage further? I personally don’t think they’ve made enough signings to make that happen.
I’m looking forward to seeing Bath, as well.
They’re an enigma of a side who can be absolutely woeful, but then they’ve probably got the strongest pack.
One thing I want to see less of: Box-kicking
If the ball’s available you should have a maximum of five seconds to kick it or it’s a turnover – that is the law.
Play the ball, if you don’t play it then stop the game and give the opposition a scrum.
Scrum-halves will soon learn they have to get the ball out quicker because it is boring everyone to death.
One rule I’d bring in: More fighting
I would bring back fighting – it’s getting a bit boring, isn’t it?
What’s the point of doing a year of weights if you can only barge someone?
Let’s use the ice hockey rule: if it goes to the floor then it’s all over.
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