Aviva Premiership 2017-18: Five players to watch

RealSport takes a look at five players who will be making headlines in the Aviva Premiership this season.

Be it breakout stars or familiar faces putting on a show, there are always players standing out in the Aviva Premiership. It is a league that has grown in flair year after year over the last decade and the 2017-18 season should be no different with an array of new talent coming into the league.

Here are five players we expect to be standout performers over the next nine months.

Manu Tuilagi – Leicester

We start with a player that should be a standout performer every season, but who has fallen from that position thanks to a combination of injuries and bad decision making in his personal life. Even with his latest issue – which saw him get sent home from Eddie Jones’ recent England camp – it feels like this is the year that Tuilagi rejuvenates his career.

As hard as it is to believe, Tuilagi hasn’t started for England since the summer of 2014. His run of injuries has now been going on for over three years, but the noise out of the Tigers camp is that he is fit and healthy for the first time in a while. Tuilagi has plenty to prove and, if we are honest, he is running out of chances to do so. It is now or never and the smart money at this point is on Tuilagi making the most of his 2017-18 season.

Faf de Klerk – Sale

The money men at Sale have been busy as the Lancashire club will debut a couple of star international players this season. Former Wallaby James O’Connor joins from Toulon, while Faf de Klerk jumped onto a plane at the conclusion of the 2017 Super Rugby final after his Lions lost to the Crusaders.

The 25-year-old De Klerk is a big coup for Sale as he will now spend the peak years of his career with the club. It would have been interesting to see how the battle between de Klerk and fellow scrum half Ross Cronje had played out if the former Springbok had stayed with the Lions. De Klerk will bring a toughness to the position that Sale has been lacking while also having the passing skills and guile around the breakdown to make all his teammates look better.

Ruan Ackermann – Gloucester

It will be a father/son deal at Gloucester this season as back rower Ruan Ackermann will join his dad Johan who is taking the reigns as Gloucester’s head coach. It is often said that playing for a family member is the most difficult way to play the game, but Ackermann Jr. is obviously comfortable working for his dad.

The 22-year-old had to step up in a big way at the back end of the Super Rugby season as he had to fill in at No. 8 for the Lions star player Warren Whiteley. Ackermann – who is normally a No. 7 – picked up valuable experience at another back row position, increasing his versatility while leading the Lions in tackles for the season. He will bring his ferocious tackling and drive to succeed with him to Kingsholm this season.

Joe Cokanasiga – London Irish

The door is open for someone to rise out of (relative) obscurity and break out in the Aviva Premiership this season. If that man is Joe Cokanasiga then the door is likely to be blasted into a thousand pieces.

The giant Fiji-born Englishman stands at 1.92 metres and weighs in at 112 kilograms. He only made his debut for London Irish back in November – when they were a second tier club – but his play helped them earn promotion back to the Premiership and also saw him be called up to the England squad this summer. Expectations are high for the 19-year-old because he has a size and speed combination that just defies logic. Watching Cokanasiga will be one of the highlights of the year.

Toby Flood – Newcastle

Bringing a 60=cap England international into the fold was a masterstroke for the Newcastle Falcons. Toby Flood last played for England in 2013 – before joining Toulouse and becoming ineligible for selection – and the feeling on Tyneside is that the 32-year-old has rejoined his boyhood club with something to prove.

Even if England do not come calling, Flood has a lot to play for. This Newcastle side is a loaded one and they will need all the experience he picked up while playing for Leicester and in France to guide his new squad around the park. Then there is the intriguing, and bizarre, subplot that has Flood considering playing for Germany and helping them qualify for the 2019 World Cup.

In each of these scenarios Flood will be motivated, and when he is in inspired form he is a very dangerous player.

Did we miss anyone obvious? Let us know in the comments below!

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