by Alastair Bull
Saracens and Exeter were the two dominant teams in England Premiership Rugby last season, and most are predicting a similar tale for the 2018-19 season, which begins Aug. 31.
The Exeter Chiefs topped the regular league last season, heading off Saracens by eight points. Both qualified for the final, and it was Saracens that won it all, beating the defending champions 27-10.
Exeter are largely unchanged for this season, their only major acquisition being the Welsh international winger Alex Cuthbert. Their strength is in depth and as a unit, and they are likely to be in the hunt for the England Premiership Rugby title again. Experienced fly-half Gareth Steenson is likely to be key once again. Given that they have reached the final for the past three seasons, they should be right in the hunt again, though the odds of +200 are perhaps a little skinny.
Saracens also have a settled look about their squad – and a quality one. The main reason they can fall short of topping the regular season table is that they have so many players called away for international duties – such as Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, and Sean Maitland. But provided they qualify, they are likely to be a formidable unit for the playoffs. Though the odds of +140 are not generous, they look to be better value than Exeter’s given their strength in depth.
Wasps were beaten semifinalists last year and beaten in the final the year before. They have made two very useful acquisitions from New Zealand in Brad Shields, the former Hurricanes loose forward in New Zealand who this season found his English roots and played for England against South Africa in June, and Highlanders fly-half Lima Sopoaga. The latter is a high-class operator whose path to the All Blacks has been blocked by Beauden Barrett, but he should do well in the Premiership. The odds of +550 look enticing.
Newcastle (+2500) were the other semifinalists last season and they should be competitive again, but Leicester (+900) and Gloucester (+1600) may be better prospects. Leicester’s new players include England midfielder Kyle Eastmond, and with a team that also includes Manu Tuilagi, George Ford, Ben Youngs, and Jonny May, they should do well. Gloucester have added flyhalf Danny Cipriani and South African lock Franco Mostert, and they will have the advantage of not losing too many players to the international games.
Bath (+2000) have enough quality players to suggest they could trip a few teams up, but they will need to improve to be in the running for the semifinals.
2019 England Premiership Rugby Futures Picks:
Saracens to win Premiership (+140, $5); Wasps to win Premiership (+550, $2).