As we head into the new Premiership campaign, it’s time to evaluate the squads and look at the players that could make the difference in those tight games.
Here are four props that will be looking to make their mark in the coming months.
Last year was a breakout season for the Exeter Chiefs loosehead. Proving his fitness in one of the most mobile packs in the Premiership, the sky seems the limit for this 23-year-old. Hepburn also shone in the tour-winning England Saxons side that visited South Africa earlier in the summer, scoring a try in the 32-24 first test win in Bloemfontein. If he continues to progress at a similar rate to last season, he could be the man to beat in the front row.
With all the talk of southern hemisphere dominance at both club and international level, it’s good to see experienced players still making the move to England. Following fellow Kiwi John Afoa to the West Country, 30-year-old Josh Hohneck signed for Gloucester earlier in the year from Super Rugby high fliers the Highlanders. A great addition brought in to bolster an already physical pack – with Afoa, Jeremy Thrush and former Ulsterman Paddy McAllister – Hohneck’s ability to play on both sides of the scrum may prove invaluable in a very attritional campaign.
The name on everybody’s lips at the moment, Genge has been thrust into the limelight ever since his shock inclusion in Eddie Jones’ squad that conquered Australia back in June. Having now made his loan move to Leicester permanent, the former Bristol loosehead has an opportunity to shine in the Premiership this year. Moving from number eight to prop early in his career, the 21-year-old fits the modern vision of fitter, more mobile front rows. Under the tutelage of veteran Marcos Ayerza, Genge could quickly become one the most dynamic props in the league and live up to the potential that Jones sees in him.
After being relegated with London Irish last season, Aulika has been brought in by Sale boss Steve Diamond to fill the void left by prized tighthead Vadim Cobîlaş, who left for France after five years at the A J Bell. With over 80 appearances for Irish and 17 appearances for Tonga, Aulika’s experience will be key to shoring up the Sale pack, rocked by the departure of both Cobîlaş and hooker Tommy Taylor. A very physical front row, head coach Diamond has complimented Aulika on his scrummaging ability and movement around the park. The 32-year-old could be an unsung hero in a Sale pack with the highest scrum win percentage in the Premiership last season.
Carl Innes, Pundit Arena