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Tom Hamilton
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Tom Hamilton was brought up underneath the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum
Aviva Premiership
Premiership Club by Club Preview - Part One
Tom Hamilton
September 2, 2013

The Premiership table based on Twitter followers

  • 1. Leicester Tigers - 45,415
  • 2. Harlequins - 30,457
  • 3. Bath Rugby - 27,253
  • 4. Saracens - 27,013
  • 5. Northampton Saints - 26,046
  • 6. Gloucester - 24,557
  • 7. London Wasps - 23,750
  • 8. Exeter Chiefs - 18,195
  • 9. Sale Sharks - 17,891
  • 10. London Irish - 16,743
  • 11. Newcastle Falcons - 13,314
  • 12. Worcester Warriors - 6,631

The new season of the Aviva Premiership is just around the corner and supporters up and down the country will be hoping their teams either live up to expectations or surprise a few doom-sayers over the course of the next eight months. With the 2013-14 campaign kicking off on Friday, ESPNscrum gives a rundown of all the teams and makes those dangerously early predictions over how they will do.

Bath Rugby

Coach: The former assistant coach of the Springboks Gary Gold will take charge of his second campaign in charge of Bath after a solid but unspectacular first term. Bath have promoted Mike Ford to head coach for the forthcoming season and he will work alongside Toby Booth and Neil Hatley. There is rare stability in their coaching ranks but you feel they lack that attacking spark.

Captain: Bath have plumped for consistency with Stuart Hooper retaining the captaincy for the third year running. You can imagine he leads by example and will call on the nous of Francois Louw and other experienced heads throughout the season.

Transfers:
In: Juan Pablo Orlandi (Racing Metro), Matt Garvey, David Sisi, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson (London Irish), Micky Young, George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Gavin Henson (London Welsh), Peter Stringer (Munster), Martin Roberts (Northampton Saints), Leroy Houston (Colomiers), Alafoti Fa'osiliva (Bristol Rugby)

Out: Lee Mears, Dan Hipkiss (retired), Michael Claassens (Toulon), Stephen Donald (Mitsubishi Dynaboars), Jack Cuthbert (Edinburgh), Ben Skirving (Bristol), Sam Vesty (Worcester Warriors), Simon Taylor, Mark McMillan (released).

Key Player: Kyle Eastmond is set to be one of the stars of the forthcoming season. The diminutive pocket rocket shone on the domestic stage for Bath last term and was awarded with his first Test caps in the summer. Much is expected of him this season but he looks to be perfectly capable of coping with the pressure.

Best case scenario: Everything clicks and they replicate a Steve Meehan season and finish in the top four. Planning permission is granted for the Recreation Ground.

Worst case scenario: It's a case of too many cooks and Bath flounder in the league and crash out of Europe early. Planning permission is blocked for their dilapidated ground.

Prediction: They will improve on last year's seventh-place finish and force their way into the top six, just.

Bath will look to Francois Louw for inspiration this term © Getty Images
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Exeter Chiefs

Coach: Rob Baxter is now almost as part of the furniture as their CEO Tony Rowe. He seems unflappable and has a habit of turning even the roughest of scraps into diamonds. Baxter toured with England in the summer as part of Stuart Lancaster's coaching team and will have learnt from the experience. As long as Baxter's at the Chiefs, they will be just fine.

Captain: This season they have opted for an Australian Test second-row to lead them. But unlike James Horwill, Dean Mumm hasn't garnered a reputation for stamping on people's heads. The ex-Waratah joined Exeter last season and has impressed the Sandy Park hierarchy enough to be awarded the captaincy for this term.

Transfers:
In: Greg Bateman (London Welsh), Don Armand (Stormers), Dave Lewis (Gloucester), Ceri Sweeney, Tom James (Cardiff Blues), Fetu'u Vainikolo (Connacht)

Out: Neil Clark (Oyonnax), Aly Muldowney (Connacht), Ignacio Mieres (Worcester Warriors), Josh Tatupu (Carcassonne), Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester Tigers), Mark Foster (Jersey), Watisoni Votu (Perpignan), Chris Budgen, Richard Baxter, Kevin Barrett, Junior Poluleuligaga (retired)

Key Player: It is simply too easy to pick their dogged workhorse of an openside James Scaysbrook, so we won't. Instead, Luke Arscott has the capability to get those sitting or standing Sandy Park on their collective feet with his efficient fullback play. He was one of their hugely impressive players last season and should prosper next term. Just don't call him Tom.

Best case scenario: Teams continue to find it hard to travel to Sandy Park and Exeter get some scalps on the road and finish in the top four.

Worst case scenario: It all just falls apart a little in Exeter and they end up in a relegation scrap.

Prediction: We think they will miss out on the top six and finish in eighth. While they have recruited well, the signings are likely to stabilise the side rather than inspire them.

Luke Arscott is one to watch this season © Getty Images
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Gloucester

Coach: Former Scarlets boss Nigel Davies is into his second term in charge of the Cherry and Whites. He led them to fifth place last year and with a fairly settled squad, he will be looking to see them blossom this season. Elsewhere in the backroom staff, Carl Hogg has left to join Dean Ryan's revolution at Worcester so Davies has promoted academy boss Andrew Stanley to forwards coach.

Captain: With Jim Hamilton gone, Davies has opted to hand youngster Tom Savage the captaincy. Savage is equally adept in both the second and back-row and Davies is adamant he is the right choice, despite his tender age of just 24, saying he would "follow him into battle".

Transfers:
In: Dan George (London Welsh), Tom Hicks (Northampton Saints), James Hudson (Newcastle Falcons), Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Jonny Bentley (Cornish Pirates)

Out: Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Dave Lewis (Exeter Chiefs), Drew Locke (Jersey), Will Graulich (Cornish Pirates), Alex Brown, Peter Buxton (retired), Tommaso D'Apice (released).

Key Player: Matt Kvesic was one of England's stars on their end of season tour to Argentina. The openside is set to feature prominently for the Test team this year so for us, James Hudson is likely to be integral to any success Gloucester experience. The former Bath and Newcastle Falcons lock is no stranger to the Premiership and should be a huge presence for them in the pack.

Best case scenario: They reach the final of the Premiership and pick up the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Worst case scenario: The Shed falls down and they fail to click, finishing in the lower half of the table.

Prediction: It should be an impressive campaign from Gloucester. They have recruited well with the signings of Kvesic and Hudson both masterstrokes while they have more gas on the flanks than the St Fergus Gas Plant. We think they'll finish in the top four of the Premiership and also progress into the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, where anything can happen.

Gloucester look set to have something to celebrate this year © Getty Images
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Harlequins

Coach: Conor O'Shea is one of the Premiership's great visionaries. A man who has transformed Harlequins' fortunes and whenever you speak to him, you can't help but feel a pang of regret that you weren't born a Quins fan, such is his contagious enthusiasm for the team hailing from Twickenham. He will have hurt from a trophy-less campaign last term but stuck to his guns with methodical recruitment.

Captain: Chris Robshaw will keep the captaincy and will be looking to prove a host of people wrong about his form and ability. At the start of last season, he had the northern hemisphere at his feet - he was England skipper and had an Premiership winner's medal. This term, he failed to make the Lions squad, has no new gongs on his mantelpiece, and his place in the national side is in doubt. One way or another, Robshaw will dominate headlines this season.

Transfers:
In: Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), Nick Kennedy (Toulon), Paul Sackey (Stade Francais)

Out: James Johnston (Saracens), Chris Brooker (Worcester Warriors), Peter Browne, Seb Stegmann (London Welsh), Rory Clegg (Newcastle Falcons), Olly Kohn, Will Skinner (retired).

Key Player: Last season they had a rock at tight-head, James Johnston. He has upped sticks, bought a fez and journeyed to Saracens with O'Shea bringing in Paul Doran-Jones as his ready-made replacement. Doran-Jones has flirted with the England side in the past, but if he finds some consistent performances for Quins, he could establish himself as a real alternative to Dan Cole. Quins will hope he manages this and shoehorns himself in as their new anchor at No.3.

Best case scenario: Harlequins re-find their 2011-12 swagger and lift the Premiership trophy while avoiding injuries to key players.

Worst case scenario: The hangover from the end of last season remains at the Stoop and Nick Evans picks up an early, long-term injury. Their young squad fail to cope with the demands of their hectic fixture schedule and they end the season without any silverware.

Prediction: It will either be Harlequins or Gloucester finishing fourth but we think Quins will just miss out. But it will be a campaign where their plethora of youngsters come of age which will bode well for 2014-15.

Ugo Monye is embarking on yet another season with Harlequins © Getty Images
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Leicester Tigers

Coach: For the first few games of the season, there will be a noteable absentee from the Tigers' coaching box with Richard Cockerill banned following his verbal tirade in the Premiership final. In his absence, all the focus will be on Geordan Murphy who has stepped into the void left by the Leinster-bound Matt O'Connor. Murphy will work alongside Paul Burke as they seek to add yet more silverware to their burgeoning trophy cabinet.

Captain: With Murphy now a part of the Tigers' backroom staff, Cockerill has handed the honour to the man who led the team out for the Premiership final, Toby Flood. He shone in the role last term and should impress again this season.

Transfers:
In: Tim Bristow (London Welsh), Jérôme Schuster, David Mele (Perpignan), Neil Briggs (London Welsh), Sebastian De Chaves (Stade Montois), Jamie Gibson (London Irish), Ryan Lamb (Northampton Saints), Owen Williams (Scarlets), Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter Chiefs)

Out: Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), Jimmy Stevens (London Irish), Rob Andrew (London Welsh), Richard Thorpe (London Welsh), Micky Young, George Ford (Bath Rugby), Andy Forsyth (Sale Sharks), Geordan Murphy (Retired)

Key Player: Looking at consistency alone, Julian Salvi is their premier player. But we think Ed Slater is likely to have another brilliant campaign. He really came into his own last year and could feature for England come the Six Nations if he starts the new campaign well. Think Bakkies Botha but without the anger issues.

Best case scenario: Tigers dominate both the Premiership and the Heineken Cup and end up with both pieces of silverware.

Worst case scenario: The Tigers feel the backlash of O'Connor's departure and Cockerill's suspension and replicate their start to the 2011-12 season and start appallingly.

Prediction: They will always be in the mix at the end of the season and with nine consecutive Premiership finals to their name, Tigers fans probably ink the date into the diary when the fixture list is announced prior to the start of the season. We think they will just about miss out on the title this year but at least half of Twickenham will be painted red and green come May 31.

Ed Slater forces his way past Declan Danaher © Getty Images
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London Irish

Coach: Brian Smith will take the helm at the Exiles this season and he will work alongside Glenn Delaney and Richard Whiffin. The pressure is on Smith to deliver this season but with him losing plenty of last season's first-team players to other clubs, it could be a difficult season for the former England backs coach.

Captain: Veteran flanker Declan Danaher and George Skivington will share the captaincy this season with the latter leading the team on matchdays. This looks set to be Danaher's, 33, last season wearing the Exiles' colours in what will be his 14th season at the club. Skivington shone through the gloom last season and will be a key player for them.

Transfers:
In: Jamie Hagan (Leinster), Johnny Harris, Jimmy Stevens, Patrick Phibbs, Alex Lewington (Leicester Tigers), Matt Parr, Nic Rouse (Nottingham), Blair Cowan (Worcester Warriors), Myles Dorrian (Exeter Chiefs), Eamonn Sheridan, Fergus Mulchrone (Rotherham), Andy Fenby (Scarlets)

Out: Alex Corbisiero (Northampton Saints), Max Lahiff (Melbourne Rebels), Jerry Yanuyanutawa (Glasgow Warriors), James Buckland (London Scottish), Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), James Sandford (Cornish Pirates), Matt Garvey, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, David Sisi (Bath Rugby), Jack Moates (London Wasps), Steven Shingler (Scarlets), Joe Ansbro (Retired)

Key Player: England boss Stuart Lancaster has been full of praise for their showing in Argentina and one of the players to come through their back-to-back Tests against the Pumas was Exiles' winger Marland Yarde. Blessed with blistering pace and a nice sidestep, Yarde will want to press his claims for a Test spot by shining in the Premiership.

Best case scenario: Being written off galvanises Irish and they force their way into the top six.

Worst case scenario: At all goes belly up at Irish and they crash to relegation with their financial support drying up.

Prediction: It will be a long, hard season for the Exiles this year and unfortunately, we feel it will end in relegation. They will battle valiantly but the lack of proven quality brought in to replace the established names who have departed, will be their undoing.

Will London Irish have much to celebrate this year? © Getty Images
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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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