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Tom Hamilton
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Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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Aviva Premiership
Premiership Preview: Club by Club Guide - Part 1
Tom Hamilton
August 29, 2012

Live on ESPN

Bath's Stephen Donald runs clear against Montpellier, Bath v Montpellier, Heineken Cup, The Rec, Bath, England, November 20, 2011
Bath will be looking to get the best out of marquee signing Stephen Donald © PA Photos
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With the start of the new season of Aviva Premiership rugby just around the corner ESPNscrum previews the new campaign and assesses each of the 12 teams' credentials over two days. In part one we look at the fates and fortunes of the first six.

Bath Rugby

Coach: Bath have undergone huge change behind the scenes over the summer with former South Africa assistant coach Gary Gold taking on the director of rugby role at The Rec. He will be aided by ex-London Irish boss Toby Booth and former Exiles academy chief Neal Hatley. Mike Ford comes in after stints with Newcastle and England while Brad Davis retains his place in the set-up. Having gone from essentially two coaches - with Martin Haag and Davis running the bulk of the training at Bath last term - to five, the owner Bruce Craig will expect the team to perform.

Captain: Second-row Stuart Hooper retains the captaincy for a second season - the first time that Bath have kept a skipper for two seasons since the days of Steve Borthwick.

Transfers: In: Horacio Agulla (Leicester Tigers), Rob Webber (Wasps), Dominic Day (Scarlets), Paul James (Ospreys)

Out: Lewis Moody, David Flatman, Duncan Bell, Andy Beattie (retired), Pieter Dixon (released), Matt Carraro (Montpellier)

Key Player: Francois Louw was Bath's standout player last season and they will want more of the same this time around. With Moody retired, Louw will be the main man in Bath's back-row alongside ex-Scotland international Simon Taylor and Carl Fearns. The coaching staff will hope that the Springbok also helps bring through the next generation of back-rowers at the club with Guy Mercer and Josh Ovens waiting in the wings.

Prediction: Bath had a poor 2011-12 season by their high standards finishing eighth in the league and failing to get key Heineken Cup qualification. Top six should be Bath's aim with a place in the Heineken Cup for 2013-14 the least they should be aiming for. This is probably realistic in Gold's first season in charge in what will inevitably be labelled a campaign of 'transition' but they might just miss out.

Exeter Chiefs

Exeter's Ignacio Mieres considers his options, Newcastle Falcons v Exeter Chiefs, Aviva Premiership, Kingston Park, Newcastle, England, January 7, 2012
Ignacio Mieres will be a key player for the Chiefs this term © Getty Images
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Coach: Rob Baxter will probably have a stand named after him at Sandy Park when he departs from the Chiefs one day such is the impact he's had on the Devon side. He's worked wonders down the A303 and regardless of how they do this year, he is Mr. Exeter.

Captain: Tom Hayes keeps the captaincy and will look to lead from the second-row. But with Exeter recruiting heavily in that department, he will face a mission to get into their first-team.

Transfers: In: Carl Rimmer (Cornish Pirates), Jack Yeandle (Doncaster), Alex Brown (Doncaster), Damian Welch (Scarlets), Dean Mumm (Waratahs), Kai Horstmann (Worcester Warriors), Will Chudley (Newcastle Falcons), Ian Whitten (Ulster)

Out: John Andress (Worcester), Chad Slade (Oyonnax), Patrick Phibbs (Leicester Tigers), Bryan Rennie (Bristol)

Key Player: Their forte lies in the back-row with Tom Johnson one of the standout blindsides in the Premiership. But for us, their key man is James Scaysbrook. The ex-Bath openside was nominated for Aviva Premiership Player of the Year last term and will hope to kick on this season.

Prediction: They finished in a superb fifth place last term and were the story of the season. It will be hard for Baxter and the rest of his men to build on it this time round. Their pre-season form has been mixed with a hammering of the Cornish Pirates and a good win against Glasgow Warriors diluted by a home defeat to Connacht. And it will be a difficult third season for Exeter with them missing out on Heineken Cup qualification with a ninth or tenth-placed finish.

Gloucester

Gloucester's Nigel Davies in his new surroundings, Kingsholm, Gloucester, August 17, 2012
Nigel Davies is now in charge of Gloucester © Getty Images
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Coach: The Cherry and Whites have a new man at the helm with Nigel Davies taking over from Bryan Redpath. He has also opted to adapt Mike Tindall's role so he is now in a player/coach capacity with Carl Hogg retaining the forwards coaching role.

Captain: Davies has handed the captain's armband to towering second-row Jim Hamilton. The physical lock finished last season with a red card to his name for his part in a brawl with David Paice but if he can harness that aggression then Hamilton has all the attributes needed to be a great skipper.

Transfers: In: Huia Edmonds (Brumbies), Sione Kalamafoni (Nottingham), Ben Morgan (Scarlets), Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders), Drew Locke (Cornish Pirates), Billy Twelvetrees (Leicester), Shane Monahan (Rotherham), Rob Cook (Cornish Pirates), Martyn Thomas (Dragons)

Out: Matías Cortese (Colomiers), Scott Lawson (London Irish), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Brett Deacon (Leicester), Luke Narraway (Perpignan), Rory Lawson (Newcastle), Nick Runciman (London Welsh), Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu (West Red Sparks), Tom Voyce, Ollie Phillips (released)

Key Player: Billy Twelvetrees has all the promise of being a quality signing for Gloucester. He shone for Leicester last term at both fly-half and inside centre but found himself a victim of the quality of the Tigers' other players when it came to selection. He will hope that at Gloucester he is first choice at inside centre but can equally deputise at half-back.

Prediction: They finished eighth last term, a poor return for the calibre of players they had in the side. Their pre-season form has been mixed with a defeat away to Leinster and a home win over Cardiff Blues. But this time round, Gloucester could, and perhaps should, sneak into the top four. They will need to gel quickly under new boss Davies but the signings of ex-All Blacks scrum-half Jimmy Cowan and England No.8 Ben Morgan shows their intent to mix it with the likes of Leicester and Saracens.

Harlequins

Quins skipper Chris Robshaw and director of rugby Conor O'Shea, Harlequins v Leicester Tigers, Aviva Premiership final, Twickenham, England, May 26, 2012
Harlequins will be the team to beat this term after their triumph last season © Getty Images
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Coach: Conor O'Shea led Harlequins to Premiership glory last term, but he wants more. A fiercely ambitious coach, few have a bad word to say about him and until they're winning Heineken Cups on a yearly basis then you get the feeling that he will not rest easy.

Captain: It was Chris Robshaw's year last term. England captain, Premiership-winning skipper, Robshaw had England at his feet. He will need to be wary of the 'difficult second season' but he has earned everything on merit and not reputation so don't expect him to succumb to any notion of pressure or expectation - he will have another good year.

Transfers: In: Dave Ward (Cornish Pirates), Ben Botica (Perigueux)

Out: Tomas Vallejos (Scarlets), Chris York (Newcastle Falcons), Richard Bolt (London Scottish), Benjamin Urdapilleta (Oyonnax)

Key Player: They have key players littered throughout their whole team but Nick Easter, despite his aging years, is still a key cog in their team. Now out of the international reckoning, Easter will be solely focused on Quins and will not shirk any of the physicality needed in his role as their anchor at No.8.

Prediction: The Premiership champions fell to Castres in their pre-season opener but bounced back with two wins on the same day against London Scottish and Connacht. Quins should be in the top four come the end of the season but they will have to manage the autumn Test and Six Nations periods well. They will probably lose a number of their more established players to England but they look to have the strength in depth to cope with this.

Leicester Tigers

London Irish's Daniel Bowden is felled by the Wasps defence, London Wasps v London Irish, Aviva Premiership, Adams Park, Wycombe, England, November 21, 2010
Dan Bowden is one of numerous Tigers recruits © Getty Images
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Coach: Richard Cockerill will once again lead the Tigers into the new season as they look to build on last term's runners-up berth. Matt O'Connor stays as their head coach so it's continuity rather than change for Leicester.

Captain: Geordan Murphy will keep the club captain position but Martin Castrogiovanni has skippered the side in pre-season. Murphy, although 34, is still one of the league's most consistent fullbacks and knows exactly what it means to be a Tiger.

Transfers: In: Robert Andrew (Pau), Richard Thorpe (London Irish), Brett Deacon (Gloucester), Patrick Phibbs (Exeter), Dan Bowden (London Irish), Matt Cornwell (Mogliano), Vereniki Goneva (Tarbes), Adam Thompstone (London Irish), Miles Benjamin (Worcester)

Out: Calum Green (Leeds), George Skivington (London Irish), Ben Pienaar (Moseley), James Grindal (Bristol), Jeremy Staunton (Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Horacio Agulla (Bath), Alesana Tuilagi (Shining Arcs), Tom Bowen (Plymouth Albion), Jeremy Staunton, Julian White (retired)

Key Player: Anthony Allen is one of the country's standout inside centres and although the Tigers are likely to lose him to England at times, he will be a key player for Leicester. With Dan Bowden arriving at the club and likely to play at inside centre, Allen will need to be at his best.

Prediction: They lost the Premiership final to Harlequins last season - their eighth successive final on the trot. Their pre-season was 'okay' by Tigers standards with a hard fought 31-24 win away at Championship newcomers Jersey and a 14-14 draw with Ulster. And despite losing powerhouse Tuilagi, they should be good for a top two finish in the Premiership. They started last season atrociously but there will not be a repeat in this non-World Cup year.

London Irish

London Irish celebrate with the J.P. Morgan 7s silverware, Gloucester v London Irish, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Premiership Rugby Sevens Series Final, The Rec, Bath, England, August 3, 2012
Irish lifted the Sevens crown but can they replicate this in the Premiership? © Getty Images
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Coach: Former England backs coach Brian Smith is director of rugby after taking the reins midway through last season. He will work alongside the part-time coaches Shaun Edwards and Pete Richards and former Nottingham boss Glenn Delaney.

Captain: London Irish stalwart Declan Danaher takes the captain's armband and replaces second-row Bob Casey. Danaher is currently their longest-serving player having made 232 appearances for the Exiles.

Transfers: In: Tomas O'Leary (Munster), Ian Humphreys (Ulster), George Skivington (Leicester), Shane Geraghty (Brive), Setamaita Sa (Catalan Dragons RL), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Cai Griffiths (Ospreys), Halani Aulika (Highlanders), Jonathan Fisher (Bedford), Michael Worrincy (London Skolars RL), Jerry Yanuyanutawu (Brumbies).

Out: Shontayne Hape (Montpellier), Delon Armitage, Nick Kennedy, Guy Armitage (Toulon), Dan Bowden, Adam Thompstone, Richard Thorpe, (Leicester), Paul Hodgson (Worcester), Paulica Ion (London Welsh), Jonathan Spratt (Ospreys), Adrian Jarvis (Bristol), Ross Samson (London Scottish), Faan Rautenbach (released), Clarke Dermody, Kieran Roche, Bob Casey (Retired).

Key Player: Tom Homer is their points machine at the back of the field. The fullback has an accurate boot and is also solid with ball in hand. He played a key part in their charge to the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Sevens title and alongside Jonathan Joseph, Shane Geraghty and Topsy Ojo in the backline, Irish will have plenty going forward.

Prediction: Irish constantly flirt with the top six and look like they are going to make a dent in the play-offs, but either start too well and then tail off or the reverse. With huge changes amongst their personnel, it will be a new look side taking to the Madejski Stadium field this year. They've finished off their pre-season with an impressive win away at Munster but this side may take time to gel in the Premiership. They'll miss out on the top six and finish in either ninth or tenth.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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