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Gallagher Premiership Club by Club Preview

Andy Daniel Previews the New Gallagher Premiership Season and Analyses each Club in Detail whilst Predicting the Final Standings at the End of the Season.

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BATH RUGBY
Position Last Season: 6th

Major Incomings:
Jamie Roberts (Harlequins)
Will Chudley (Exeter Chiefs)
Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish)
Jack van Rooyen (Lions – South Africa)
Ruaridh McConnochie (England Sevens)
Jackson Willison (Worcester Warriors)
Victor Delmas (Colomiers – France)
Luca Noguera Pas (Jaguares – Argentina)

Major Outgoings:
Ben Tapuai (Harlequins)
Matt Banahan (Gloucester)
Nick Auterac (Harlequins)
Josh Lewis (Dragons – Wales)

An incredibly mixed bag of a season for the Blue, Black and White’s last season as they Won 11 and lost 11 but their main issue was their style of play and collecting injuries in abundance.

The injury front has not got any better for them in the pre-season as Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Beno Obana look set for lengthy stays in the treatment room but their recruitment this season seems to indicate that they will revert to a more direct style of rugby.

Jamie Roberts may not be the British and Irish Lion he once was but his experience in the midfield outside Rhys Priestland will see their defensive set-up improve whilst in attack his directness will hopefully open space for Joe Cokanasiga and Semesa Rokoduguni.

Having Rokoduguni back alongside Max Clark after lengthy spells out will be like two new signings in itself especially after cult hero Matt Banahan was released to join bitter rivals Gloucester.

Bath will improve this season but for them to compete for the top four then they will have to handle the international windows much better than in previous years.

New signing to watch: Joe Cokanasiga                               
6’ 4”, 112kg and can seriously shift. One of his idols is Semesa Rokoduguni so I think the two wingers will get along just fine.

Prediction: 5th  

                                                                                                         

BRISTOL BEARS
Position Last Season: – N/A as 1st Place in The Championship – Newly Promoted

Major Incomings:                                                             
Charles Piutau (Ulster)
George Smith (Queensland Reds – Australia)
John Afoa (Gloucester)

Major Outgoings:                                                               
Jordan Williams (Dragons – Wales)
Rhodri Williams (Dragons – Wales)
Olly Robinson (Cardiff Blues – Wales)

It is 22 players out and 22 players in at Bristol as they look to buck the trend and survive in the Premiership for more than just one solitary season.

They do look much better equipped this time around though with marquee signings of Charles Piutau, John Afoa and the evergreen George Smith joining the likes of internationally recognised names such as Steven Luatua, Jordan Crane, Ian Madigan and Luke Morahan at the South West outfit.

There are plenty of superstars littered around the squad but there is still no real strength in depth.  The first fifteen has bags of Super Rugby experience as Pat Lam has convinced many Southern Hemisphere players to join his revolution at Ashton Gate but should there be any significant injuries then they may well struggle as the season progresses. They start at home to local rivals Bath and they will be targeting that as must win game in front of a packed-out home stadium.

New signing to watch: Charles Piutau                                
He has already won the hearts of the Wasps and Ulster faithful in his stints there but he is pure box office and often worth the entrance fee alone.

Prediction – 10th

 

Exeter Chiefs                                                                  
Position Last Season – 1st (Runners up in the Final)

Major Incomings:                                                              
Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues – Wales)
Santiago Cordero (Jaguares – Argentina)

Major Outgoings:                                                               
Thomas Waldrom (Wellington – NZ)
Will Chudley (Bath Rugby)

As usual, Exeter haven’t been overly eager in the transfer window and quite frankly why should they?

Consistently the best side over the 22 games of the regular season so Rob Baxter will show faith in his reliable charges for yet another season.

Two signings have been brought in though and they are extremely shrewd indeed. Alex Cuthbert’s love/hate relationship with Welsh Rugby has come to a standstill for the mean time as he joins from Cardiff but the other signing, Santiago Cordero, really does catch the eye.

The diminutive winger has a penchant for stepping away from defenders and is a lethal finisher given the chance. He is only 24 but already has 33 caps for his country. An exciting prospect.

The loss of Thomas Waldrom will be a bitter one to swallow for the Exeter faithful. It wasn’t just that he could be destructive as a Number 8 in general but his try scoring rate for the Chiefs was nothing short of remarkable. 38 in 55 appearances is unprecedented for a forward and whether you believe that the Sandy Park outfit play the most attractive rugby or not, it is certainly effective and Thomas ‘The Tank’ profited markedly from it.

New signing to watch: Santiago Cordero                           
He’s only 5’ 9” but he is also razor sharp and over the first 10 metres or so he is going to be difficult to lay a finger on.

Prediction – 3rd

Gloucester Rugby                                                          
Position Last Season – 7th

Major Incomings:                                                               
Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby)
Danny Cipriani (Wasps)
Jaco Kriel (Lions – South Africa)
Franco Mostert (Lions – South Africa)
Ruan Dreyer (Lions – South Africa)
Franco Marais (Sharks – South Africa)
Gerbrandt Grobler (Munster – Ireland)

Major Outgoings:                                                               
Ross Moriarty (Dragons – Wales)
Richard Hibbard (Dragons – Wales)
Matt Scott (Edinburgh – Scotland)
John Afoa (Bristol Bears)
Cameron Orr (Western Force – AUS)
Billy Burns (Ulster – Ireland)
Jeremy Thrush (Western Force – AUS)

A new logo will adorn the Gloucester shirt this season and although the use of the word and nickname of Lions may be alien to most at Kingsholm it won’t be for a fair few of the playing staff and management.

Johann Ackermann has been adding to the South African contingency at the club over the summer with the arrival of Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert and Ruan Dreyer all joining Ruan Ackermann, Johann’s son, from the Head Coach’s former side, The Lions in South Africa.

Franco Marais from the Sharks and Gerbrandt Grobler from Ulster have also been added to the ranks.

Some big names have also left though as fans favourite’s Ross Moriarty and Richard Hibbard have gone back to join the Welsh Rugby Union with the Dragons. This is a huge amount of muscle to lose in one go with John Afoa also moving down the M4 to Bristol and Jeremy Thrush back to Australia.

Matt Scott’s guile will be missed in the midfield alongside Billy Burns but one of the most eye-catching signings of the summer will be trying to light up Kingsholm.

The capture of the mercurial yet controversial Danny Cipriani was snaffled under the noses of a few French outfits by all accounts in a bid to save his England career.

If Cipriani can get his outside backs functioning well behind this butch South African pack then Gloucester could well upset a few of the teams above them.

New signing to watch: Danny Cipriani                              
Whether it is on the field or off it, there is always something intriguing going on with Cipriani. He needs to deliver at the highest level to ensure that people are talking about his rugby rather than his private life at the end of the season.

Prediction – 6th

 

HARLEQUINS                                                               
Position Last Season – 10th

Major Incomings:                                                             
Nathan Earle (Saracens)
Ben Tapuai (Bath Rugby)
Nick Auterac (Bath Rugby)
Matt Symons (Wasps)
Semi Kunatani (Toulouse – France)

Major Outgoings:                                                                
Jamie Roberts (Bath Rugby)
Adam Jones (Retired)

The biggest signing of the summer for Quins is probably not on the pitch but off it. Paul Gustard was lured away from his role with England to take over the reins after John Kingston left the club at the end of last season.

Gustard and Quins have already made it clear that he will be an active coach on the training pitch rather than taking a managerial brief from the side-lines.

There hasn’t been a great shift in personnel on the pitch though so he obviously believes in the players that only managed 7 wins in the Premiership last season.

Defensively, they were atrocious last season as they conceded just 11 points less than the relegated London Irish and that may be one of the reasons that the hierarchy at the Twickenham Stoop saw Gustard, England’s former defence coach, as such an attractive proposition.

Like many teams, they always struggle during International weeks mainly because the spine of their team is away on duty. Front row Joe Marler, back row Chris Robshaw, scrum half Danny Care and Full Back Mike Brown are such key players to Quins and Gustard will need to ensure that they are not missed quite so much this season.

A good start, whilst everyone is still available to them, is a must and if the young Marcus Smith can really come of age at fly-half then the top six could be a reality. This may be one season too early though I fear.

New signing to watch: Nathan Earle                                
Earle is like a coiled spring ready to explode. Another winger of a sizeable nature, his opportunities at Saracens were limited so given a solid run in the side, he could really be a try scoring machine.

Prediction: 11th

 

Leicester Tigers                                                               
Position Last Season: 5th

Major Incomings:                                                                  
Guy Thompson (Wasps)
David Denton (Worcester Warriors)
Will Spencer (Worcester Warriors)
Kyle Eastmond (Wasps)

Major Outgoings:                                                                
Harry Thacker (Bristol Bears)
Dominic Barrow (Northampton Saints)
Luke Hamilton (Edinburgh)
Logovi’I Mulipola (Newcastle Falcons)
George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons)

The Tigers were another team that didn’t live up to their hype last season but will most certainly be expecting to break into the top four this time around.

Kyle Eastmond will re-form his partnership with George Ford after signing from Wasps. The pair almost lead Bath to the title a few years ago as a partnership that set the league alight. Eastmond will hope that being outside his old friend will re-kindle some of that sort of form for him personally.

Tigers will also be hoping that Manu Tuilagi’s dreadful injury run is finally over because he is one player that when fit and firing can really inspire his team mates around him.

Leicester’s main issue last season was not scoring enough tries. They only picked up 5 bonus points from scoring tries and this eventually cost them a place in the play-offs.

Their backline, fully fit, is quite a frightening prospect for opposing teams now though with the likes of Jonny May and Telusa Veainu looking to reap 5-point rewards outside the likes of Ford, Matt Toomua and Tuilagi.

New signing to watch: Kyle Eastmond                                  
This is more out of hope than expectation but it would be fantastic to see Eastmond bursting through gaps again and terrorising midfields the country over. Once dubbed the ‘New Jason Robinson’ his quick feet and eye for a gap would be great to watch once more.

Prediction: 4th

 

Newcastle Falcons                                                                
Position Last Season: 4th

Major Incomings:                                                                 
Tom Arscott (Rouen – France)
Logovi’I Mulipola (Leicester Tigers)
George McGuigan (Leicester Tigers)

Major Outgoings:                                                                
Juan Pablo Socino (Edinburgh – Scotland)
DTH van de Merwe (Glasgow – Scotland)
Maxime Mermoz (Toulouse – France)
Nili Latu (Hino Red Dolphins – Japan)

The Falcons were the surprise of the league last season with their brand of exciting, running rugby that endeared them to any neutral in the country.

They came unstuck in the semi-finals when Exeter simply wouldn’t give them the ball to play with but for many, they were the shining light last season after years of being the proverbial strugglers who were just getting by.

They have managed to keep most of that squad together and will be, as usual, extremely difficult to beat at home.

Whether or not they can keep their form away from home slipping again is another question though. Although they finished 4th they still had a negative points difference. They were the only team in the top six to do so. This is in despite of winning 14 of their 22 matches. 9 of those matches were won by a points difference of 5 or less so it is quite easy to see that if those victories turn into defeats by the odd score then it would be easy for them to slip down the table very quickly.

Dean Richards has instilled a winning mentality in the Geordie outfit though and although they are unlikely to finish in the top 4 again, they will certainly pick up some big scalps along the way.

New signing to watch: Tom Arscott                                
Arscott is making his return to the Premiership after a year at Rouen in France. He was first choice at Sale before he had his contract terminated for leaking team information. He is a natural finisher though and is very difficult to bring down due to his awkward running style.

Prediction: 8th

 

Northampton Saints                                                      
Position Last Season: 9th

Major Incomings:                                                                 
Dan Biggar (Ospreys – Wales)
Taqele Naiyaravoro (NSW Waratahs – AUS)
Ben Franks (London Irish)
James Haskell (Wasps)                                                     

Major Outgoings:                                                                  
Nic Groom (Lions – South Africa)
George North (Ospreys – Wales)
Stephen Myler (London Irish)
Kieran Brookes (Wasps)
Tom Stephenson (London Irish)
Ben Foden (Rugby United NY – USA)

Transition is probably a word that you will hear a lot this year coming out of Franklins Gardens as many of the veterans of the Jim Mallinder era make way for a new intake of players.

It was a poor season by the midland side’s standards last year and it ultimately cost Mallinder his job but they have brought in four proven top class signings down the spine of their team to try and bring the good times back to the Saints.

Dan Biggar will want to prove himself in the Premiership after his much maligned moved from the Ospreys but he has big boots to fill. Stephen Myler’s departure was always inevitable but after 2,618 points for the Saints he will be sorely missed and if Biggar is to gain the hearts of the locals then he will have to bring his A-game east with him.

One of the most surprising signings of the summer though has to be that of Taqele Naiyaravoro from the Waratahs in Sydney. Giant wingers are everywhere now but Naiyaravoro is a man mountain. 5cm short of 2 metres and 9lb short of 20 stone, there are not many that are going to want to tackle him.

Northampton were another of those teams that could take a bit of a hammering on a bad day yet when they won it wasn’t by very much. Their points difference was -136 last year and that was not just because of a poor defence but also an unimaginative attack.

Biggar will be the key man in turning that negative into a positive.

New signing to watch: Dan Biggar                                          
It is probably fair to say that Biggar divides opinion across the globe and not just in England and Wales. He tends to blow hot and cold at times but Northampton needed a new rudder to guide the ship and you won’t find too many better than Biggar. He is points scoring machine and just adds to the talent pool of fly-halves playing in the Premiership this season.

Prediction: 9th

 

Sale Sharks                                                                        
Position last Season: 8th

Major Incomings:                                                             
Chris Ashton (Toulon – France)
Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Lions – South Africa)
James Phillips (Bath)

Major Outgoings:                                                              
Mike Haley (Munster – Ireland)
Josh Charnley (Warrington Wolves)
Will Addison (Ulster – Ireland)

Sale had a steady but unspectacular season last campaign and it doesn’t look like much is about to change there as the make-up of the squad bears an uncanny resemblance this year.

Even one of their permanent signings was on loan there last season in Rohan Janse van Rensburg. The former Lions centre made 8 appearances for the Sharks and returns on a permanent basis after his successful loan spell.

One addition does stick out more than an though and that it is of Chris Ashton. After a year in Toulon the England winger is back in the Premiership looking to rekindle his hopes of nailing down a starting spot for the November Internationals.

You may even see Ashton move to full-back at times this season as he did for much of his stay in Toulon but his partnership with Denny Solomona could create fireworks.

New signing to watch: Chris Ashton                                  
His return to the Premiership should be lauded after his sabbatical in the South of France. He has improved his defensive work and also broke the try scoring record for the Top14 in the process. He is an incredible finisher and his support lines off the shoulder set the standard of how top wingers should play the game.

Prediction: 7th

 

Saracens                                                                             
Position last season: Champions (2nd in the League)

Major Incomings:                                                                
Alex Lewington (London Irish)
David Strettle (Clermont – France)
Tom Wolstencroft (London Irish)                                        

Major Outgoings:                                                                
Nathan Earle (Harlequins)
Schalk Brits (Retired)
Chris Wyles (Retired)

For most, the retirement of players of the calibre of Schalk Brits and Chris Wyles would damage you quite substantially but Saracens have Jamie George waiting in the wings to finally make the Number 2 jersey his on a permanent basis and they have brought back David Strettle from France to cover the wing berth.

Alex Lewington is also a fantastic addition to this squad. After a century of appearances for London Irish, the hard running winger has found himself at Saracens at the age of 26. He has an ability to sniff out a try from anywhere on the pitch and the hard, plastic ground at the Allianz should suit him perfectly.

Sarries’ pack will be as dominant as ever with the likes of Maro Itoje, Geirge Kruis, Michael Rhodes and the Vunipola brothers re-uniting for another season in North London.

There are not too many weaknesses in this Saracens squad and yet again they will most definitely be the team to beat.

New signing to watch: Alex Lewington                                
It may take this man a little while to establish himself into a starting jersey but when he does play watch out for all-out attack especially on his home track.

Prediction: 1st and Champions

 

Wasps                          
Position last season: 3rd

Major Incomings:                                                              
Brad Shields (Hurricanes – NZ)
Liam Sopoaga (Highlanders – NZ)
Nizaam Carr – (Stormers – South Africa)
Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints)

Major Outgoings:                                                               
Danny Cipriani (Gloucester)
James Haskell (Northampton Saints)
Matt Symons (Harlequins)
Kyle Eastmond (Leicester Tigers)

There were times last season that Wasps looked like they couldn’t and wouldn’t be stopped on a march to the title.

Their pack was dominant and their backs were scoring tries for fun. The problem was that they were conceding way too many at the other end and it just left them short as they entered the home stretch towards silver ware.

The loss of Danny Cipriani to Gloucester won’t cost them that dearly as Liam Sopoaga will fill that void admirably with Brad Shields being seen as an upgrade on the departing James Haskell.

Dai Young will have worked on a defensive strategy over the summer and they won’t concede quite so many tries meaning that they will certainly challenge for the title.

I expect to see them at Twickenham in May but if any of the old habits drop back into play then they may just come up short.

New signing to watch: Liam Sopoaga                                  
Sopoaga would probably have in the region of 80 caps if he represented any other country in the world but as it is, the 18 capped All Black has left the Highlanders and moved to England. A confrontational fly-half, he likes to play on the gain line and put people through gaps. If they don’t take those gaps then he most certainly will.

Prediction: 2nd

Worcester Warriors                                                       
Position last season: 11th

Major Incomings:                                                             
Cornell du Preez (Edinburgh – Scotland)
Callum Black (Ulster – Ireland)
Jono Lance – (Queensland Reds  – AUS)
Francois Venter (Cheetahs – South Africa)
Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes – NZ)
Duncan Weir (Edinburgh)

Major Outgoings:                                                             
David Denton (Leicester Tigers)
Will Spencer (Leicester Tigers)
Donncha O’Callaghan (Retired)
Peter Stringer (Retired)
Jackson Willison (Bath Rugby)

Worcester, along with Harlequins, were probably counting their lucky stars that London Irish were so poor last season.

They have a handful of experienced, quality players and in fairness they have strengthened again over the summer but yet again they have gone for experience to get them through one more season rather than look more long term.

Cornell de Preez will add some grit into the back row and Jono Lance will provide excellent utility cover in the backs.

Duncan Weir joining will yet again bring stability but not a player that can pull a rabbit out of the hat to win a tight game. With Francois Venter outside of him they will be robust in defence but their attacking ball will be limited I am afraid.

This could be a long, hard slog for the Warriors.

New signing to watch: Michael Fatialofa                            
No need to watch out for him as you can’t miss him. Almost 2 metres tall and over 18 stone, this 25-year-old is a walking colossus. He’s obviously a fantastic lineout option but he is an extremely mobile second-row as well. He played a major role in the Hurricanes Super Rugby title winning side of 2016.

Prediction: 12th

SCRUM5IVE FINAL PREDICTED PREMIERSHIP TABLE

  1. Saracens
  2. Wasps
  3. Exeter Chiefs
  4. Leicester Tigers
  5. Bath Rugby
  6. Gloucester Rugby
  7. Sale Sharks
  8. Newcastle Falcons
  9. Northampton Saints
  10. Bristol Bears
  11. Harlequins
  12. Worcester Warriors

 

 

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