Aviva Premiership: Jeremy Guscott on the new rugby union season

By Jeremy GuscottRugby union analyst, BBC Sport
Saracens and England number eight Billy Vunipola, Bath-bound South Sydney and England rugby league star Sam Burgess and Northampton and Wales wing George North
Vunipola, Burgess and North - pace, power and skill

This season promises to be even more exciting than normal because it leads into the 2015 World Cup in England.external-link

There will be constant references to it being "X" days away, and all paths lead to Twickenham for the next 12 months.

Every match this season will be viewed in that sort of context - every good bit of play and every bad bit of play will be scrutinised with the World Cup in mind.

How the next year pans out
Premiership and Pro12 seasons get under wayFriday, 5 September
European Rugby Champions Cup kicks offFriday, 17 October
Autumn Tests beginSaturday, 8 November
Six Nations6 February to 21 March 2015
European Champions Cup finalSaturday, 2 May 2015
Premiership finalSaturday, 30 May 2015
Pro12 finalWeekend of 29-31 May 2015
Rugby World Cup in England18 September to 31 October 2015

The Premiership seems to gain momentum every year, the Pro12 will be more competitive this season as teams strive to secure a European place and the new European Rugby Champions Cup looks like being a really tight, tense and emotional affair - there are no easy games now it's been trimmed to 20 teams.

You used to look at certain pools and think the top two will go through for certain, because the other teams were quite weak, but not any longer.

It's going to be full metal jacket in the European competition - there's no hiding place now.

Slammin' Sam's on his way...

I think we're all holding our breath waiting for the arrival of Sam Burgess at Bath in October after the end of the Australia NRL season.

Regardless of me being a Bath person, I think all rugby fans have an interest in how this rugby league superstar is going to transfer his undoubted skillset to union and how he goes about becoming a top-class player in the 15-man code.

Sam Burgess in action for England against France at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup
Burgess starred for England at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup

That is the biggest question - how is the 25-year-old going to apply his skills in a foreign environment, and how quickly will he do it?

Will he make the England World Cup squad? And if so will he do it at inside centre, where he is expected to start his career at Bath?

His size and power alone will not guarantee success, it will be his skills and reading of the game that will determine that.

The success of New Zealand cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams suggests his running and off-loading game will make an impression because that is transferrable.

But what we don't know yet is what his game understanding will be like because tactically and technically it's very different.

He will carry the ball fewer times than he does in rugby league but then they don't go through 15 phases in league, plus there are the technical skills to pick up at the breakdown.

Burgess needs to be reconditioned physically for the different requirements of union and pick up the complexities of the game - but on the most basic level his skillset should be transferrable.

Any other exciting arrivals in the Premiership?

Brad Thorn on the charge for the All Blacks against Australia
Thorn was part of the New Zealand side that won the 2011 World Cup on home soil

Speaking of league greats who have made a big impression in union, Leicester have signed former All Blacks second row Brad Thorn - talk about transferrable skills and experience.

He may be 39 but he has literally won it all, and in both codes too.

In addition to his physical attributes he brings so much experience to an already great organisation.

Brad Thorn - cross-code great
Rugby leagueRugby union
Brisbane Broncos: 200 games; Australian Super League title 1997; NRL title 1998, 2000, 2006Canterbury: NPC titles 2001, 2004
Queensland: 14 appearances; State of Origin wins 1998 and 1999Crusaders: Super Rugby title 2008Leinster: Heineken Cup title 2012
Australia: Eight Kangaroo capsNew Zealand: 59 All Black caps; 2011 World Cup winner; Tri-Nations titles 2003, 2008, 2010

He's not the only ex-All Black arriving over here, with Piri Weepu joining newly promoted London Welsh in the Premiership and Mils Muliaina - one of only five players to win 100 caps for New Zealand - joining Irish province Connacht in the Pro12.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Wales back James Hook in the Premiership for the first time.

Hook has joined Gloucester from French side Perpignan and he is a superb player. Most of us can't work out why he hasn't started more often for Wales - 27 of his 76 caps have come off the bench.

Gloucester have strengthened their tight five this season, bringing in players of the quality of former Wales hooker Richard Hibbard and ex-New Zealand prop John Afoa.

The big question is, can Hook deliver the finishing touches and enable the Cherry and Whites to bounce back from their poor season last year?

The North star and Billy the Kid

We're fortunate in British and Irish rugby because we have some wonderful young talent in our game, none more so than Wales and Northampton winger George North.

He is still so young - only 22 - but this kid's a real superstar and it is not just because of his pace, power and size, but because he delivers on that promise so consistently, and it is great to see a truly world class player playing in the Premiership.

Another youngster I'm looking forwards to seeing make a real impression this season is Saracens and England number eight Billy Vunipola.

We all like to see big tries, big carries and big hits, and Vunipola brings that explosiveness and unpredictability in large amounts - he definitely has the X factor.

One big absence this year will be Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll. He's one of those once-in-a-lifetime players and the Irish will need Johnny Sexton to be the best he can be and be the senior pro.

Do Grand Slams lead to World Cups?

We'll all be looking for pointers to the World Cup in this season's Six Nations.

In 1991 we won the Grand Slam and got to the final and the England team that won the 2003 World Cup won the Grand Slam that year as well.

Jerry's predictions
PremiershipNorthampton to retain their title
Pro12Leinster to do likewise
Six NationsEngland to take the crown

Winning the tournament is no guarantee of success - France won in 2007 for instance and England were champions in 2011 but had a dismal World Cup.

But if you can secure a Grand Slam - winning all five of your matches - then there's no doubt it gives you momentum, and that's so important in sport.

England have three home games, which is always an advantage, plus a tricky one against Ireland in Dublin and a difficult match away to Wales first up.

Wales are too inconsistent for me so if England can win that game then they can go on to earn a Grand Slam and set themselves up perfectly for the World Cup on home soil.

Jeremy Guscott was talking to BBC Sport's James Standley.


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