Ones to watch: Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears
In the first of a week-long series, we’re taking a look at the players that could make a huge impact in Gallagher Premiership Rugby next season.
Familiar faces, new signings and potential stars of the future; first up, it’s the turn of Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby.
Fewer signings made ahead of the upcoming season have piqued interest quite like the arrival of former Australia captain George Smith at Ashton Gate.
The 37-year-old flanker may only have left Japanese outfit Suntory Sungoliath to join newly-promoted Bristol as injury cover but his capture remains a huge statement of intent as the Bears return to the Gallagher Premiership.
Smith arrives with a hugely impressive array of achievements to his name – he was the youngest player to ever reach a century of Test caps for the Wallabies, a feat he achieved before his 30th birthday, and has played in four different countries across both hemispheres.
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) June 20, 2018
He also spent the 2015-16 season with Wasps and made an almighty impact, winning his club’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards, as well as the Players’ Player of the Year gong at the RPA Awards.
Ian Madigan has lofty ambitions of challenging for the Ireland number 10 shirt.
There could be no better way to strengthen his case for a return to the international fold than by transferring his unmatched productivity in the Championship last term to the Gallagher Premiership in 2018-19.
The 29-year-old Dublin native, who has earned 30 caps for his country but last featured for Ireland back in 2016, was the top points-scorer as Bristol won the Championship, his haul of 232 dwarfing that of his nearest competitor, Nottingham’s Tiff Eden (184).
The former Leinster and Bordeaux Begles man has never played in England before but has plenty of experience under his belt, singling him out as a potential key man for Pat Lam’s side.
— Bath Rugby (@bathrugby) March 14, 2018
The 31-year-old Wales centre has made the switch from Harlequins and Todd Blackadder will be hoping that the two-time British & Irish Lion will enjoy a new lease of life in blue, black and white as he brings undoubted quality to Bath’s midfield options.
Up until he missed out on Wales’ squad for the Six Nations earlier this year, Roberts had made 45 consecutive appearances for his country in the championship, equalling the record set by Sir Gareth Edwards.
Hopeful of earning a call-up for the 2019 World Cup, Roberts will be looking to hit the ground running for Bath when the new season gets up and running.
A young player long tipped for big things, could 2018-19 prove a breakthrough year for Zach Mercer?
The 20-year-old No.8 ended last term picking up the Young Player of the Year award at the 2018 RPA Awards before going on to score a try on his England debut in a non-Test clash with the Barbarians at Twickenham.
The son of former New Zealand rugby league international Gary, Mercer made 12 appearances for Bath last term as he continues to develop under Todd Blackadder’s tutelage.
Few would bet against him reaching new heights in 2018-19.
Ones to Watch Series:
Bristol Rugby and Bristol Bears
Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby
Harlequins and Leicester Tigers
Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints
Sale Sharks and Saracens
Wasps and Worcester Warriors