LONDON, ENGLAND – With two weekends of exciting European action behind them, the twelve teams of the Aviva Premiership are ready to resume battle on home soil. The title chase is beginning to heat up, and with the transfer window opening, moves are being made across the league.
London Irish Takeover: To say London Irish’s glory days are behind them would be sugarcoating the situation a bit. The club reached the Heineken Cup semifinals a mere five years ago, and at this moment they are mired in 11th place in the Aviva Premiership. However, a group of Irish investors have come forward with a plan to change that, looking to restore the London club to its former glory through prudent investment. The consortium now owns 52 percent of the club, and the group includes Mick Crossan, Phillip Cusack, and David Fitzgerald. A vital component of the takeover’s success is the group’s familiarity with London Irish rugby, and a determination to do things “the right way.” Crossan has emphasized his commitment to the club’s academy side, claiming that it must return to its former glory. The move has garnered the support of captain Declan Danaher, who states, “if you have the right people and right investment, then you can have a crack at the top four.” The Irish made headlines earlier this year by signing James O’Connor, and it appears that an early priority will be ensuring that the Reading based side has the funds to continue signing top-quality players, in order to build a winning foundation. However, Crossan has emphasized that he is dedicated to building a sustainable model, claiming that the Irish cannot become the next Toulon. If the product on the field matches the rhetoric surrounding the takeover, the top sides in the Premiership may have another true competitor to worry about in the coming years.
Transfer Season Heats Up: Though rugby’s “transfer window” does not inspire the quite the same degree of fevered gossip columns and breathless coverage as soccer, the prospect of top international players moving sides has attracted considerable attention in the past few weeks. Toby Flood has made clear his desire to move elsewhere, feeling his chances in the England side are limited by Stuart Lancaster’s continued devotion to Owen Farrell. Danny Cipriani’s impressive return to form may mean that Flood is left out of the match day twenty three entirely come the Six Nations, which would only serve to increase speculation surrounding his future. As a direct result, Leicester have begun to woo Rhys Priestland and Freddy Burns as a long-term solutions at fly-half, hoping to prove that the rich will only get richer. Australian Dean Mumm resigned with Exeter, demonstrating his devotion to the side’s continued improvement on both the domestic and international stage. Brett Deacon announced his retirement after a series of injuries and his diagnosis with an autoimmune disorder, leaving behind a strong legacy at both Leicester and Gloucester. Currently, he serves as the forwards coach at Cambridge, and will likely continue to be involved at Welford Road in a backroom capacity.
The Weekend Ahead: Friday night sees Sale take on London Irish at Salford, with the Sharks looking to continue to build on their solid season. The Irish will be looking to impress their new owners, so expect a good clash, though the kicking game may take precedence as the sides feel one another out. On Saturday, Bath will face Harlequins at the Recreation Ground, as the West Country outfit look to continue their nine match win streak without director of rugby Gary Gold, who resigned as a result of a dispute with upper management. The boardroom turmoil will not be welcomed by Bath fans who have waited years for a truly competitive side to re-emerge, and this match will prove a real test ahead of Christmas. Saracens will face Leicester in the second marquee matchup of Saturday morning, with the Tigers heading to Allianz Park on the back of two victories over Montpellier. Newcastle will travel to Exeter in what should be a walkover for the Chiefs, while Gloucester will clash with Worcester in a game between two teams struggling for form. Unless the Warriors begin to gather points quickly, their stay in the top flight may come to an abrupt and unexpected end this season.
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