Finally, after what seems like years of gruelling pre-season, the rugby season has finally kicked off! The inaugural weekend produced some champagne rugby and big score lines, and filled us with hope that both the Aviva Premiership and Pro 14 will go down to the wire as usual. Normal service resumed then!
The two new additions to the Pro 14 were rolled over by Ulster and the Scarlets respectively (whether that's teething problems or a sign of things to come remains to be seen), whilst the likes of Saracens and Wasps got off to high-scoring starts south of the border. One brief mention should go to Premiership 'new boys', London Irish, who put in a great home performance to see off Quins.
Anyway, this isn’t simply a round-up of the first weekend – I want to look forward and focus on some guys to watch within both leagues; the kind of players who have the potential to be destructive to an opposition when at their very best. Keep an eye out!
Huw Jones: Glasgow Warriors
This lad needs no introduction; He made a sterling first impression when arriving onto the international scene in style last autumn. Injury has hampered his recent pitch-time, yet in a quality Glasgow side, coached by Dave Rennie, he'll be a potent attacking threat. It's a huge positive for Scotland having him play in a side filled with other internationals and he could rack up some try tally!
Blair Kinghorn: Edinburgh Rugby
An exciting young full back who has fantastic pace and vision, and regularly gets on the score sheet and I expect Kinghorn to really kick on under the guidance of Cockerill. He’s got all the attributes to really excel in the full back role and is a player that crowds will love to go and watch due to his willingness to always have a go in attack. Edinburgh need a much better season this year and this guy will be key if they're to put last year's demons to bed.
Gavin Henson, Newport Gwent Dragons
As if we need to introduce big Gav; A phenomenal rugby talent, which many would argue has been somewhat wasted. Alas that is all in the past now and he’s proven in the last few years that he can still control games with his impressive armoury of skills. At 35, he’s no young-gun but will be able to offer guidance and experience on the pitch – it should make interesting viewing.
Makazole Mapimpi, Cheetahs
An absolute speed demon and lethal finisher; so much so that he contributed to a quarter of his club’s tries in last years Super Rugby, and his tally of 11 was the 3rd most in the competition. We’ve seen some pacey and talented wingers in the Pro 12 but this guy brings an exciting element to this new look league. Potential top try scorer.
James Ryan, Leinster
This fella could be Ireland’s version of Maro Itoje, such is the expectation and excitement that comes with him. You can’t be half bad if you’re getting picked for your national side without having played a professional match for your province…the former Ireland U20s captain played against the USA in June and this could be a career-making season for young Ryan.
Alex Mitchell, Northampton Saints
This young scrum half, who went to the U20 World Cup with England, is one to watch out for according to his Coach, Jim Mallinder. Although England have a host of quality 9’s, I feel no one has put down a marker as the heir to the jersey currently shared by Ben Youngs and Danny Care. Thus, could this be a season for Mitchell to do just that…First, he must cement first team rugby with the Saints and that’ll be a tough task in itself.
Simon Hammersley, Newcastle Falcons
I like this player a lot; he’s positive with ball in hand and extremely reliable when his defensive duties are called upon. Newcastle have an assured full back in Hammersley and with a strong season, he may have the chance to play himself into the plans of Eddie Jones. Again, like scrum half, who is the heir to Mike Brown, especially if Watson continues to excel on the wing...
Marcus Smith, Harlequins
Keep your eyes firmly fixed on this name, as I predict he will be a big deal within English rugby before too long. Aged only 18, Smith has already found his way into the Quins starting line up at fly half, with his inside man Danny Care, singing his praises to the highest degree. He's also hotly tipped to earn his first international cap this year…not bad for a bloke who’s just left college.
Joe Cokansiga, London Irish
This Premiership new-boy plays for this year’s Premiership new boys, and won his first international call up this summer, at the tender age of 19. But don’t let his youthfulness deceive you; this man-mountain is an extremely powerful player and another product of the London Irish youth system that has brought England internationas such as JJ and Anthony Watson. I expect him to cross the try line a fair few times this year.
Lewis Ludlow, Gloucester
Tipped to captain the side in the future, Gloucester’s back-row sensation will be looking for much of the same this season. He put in a hell of a shift last season and from the looks of it is only going to get better. You can never have enough good players and so Ludlow is another one who will be looking to give Eddie Jones a selection headache, if not for the Autumn Tests, then certainly the 6 Nations next year.