Premiership Club by Club Preview - Part Two
September 2, 2013
Saracens lifted the 2010-11 Premiership title - will they add another this year? © Getty Images
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.
Coach: Dai Young will take charge of his third campaign in charge of Wasps and under the former Lions and Welsh prop, Wasps have experienced gradual improvement. While Young has remained at the helm of the club, his backroom staff has changed. He will be aided by ex-Bath coach Brad Davis and former Welsh great Stephen Jones as they look to find the right cocktail to propel them to the top of the table.
Captain: Young has opted to hand the captaincy to Chris Bell for this season with the centre taking over from Hugo Southwell. He is one of the side's most consistent performers but he will have to cope with the added pressure of leading the team.
Out: Zac Taulafo (Stade Francais), Rhys Thomas (Dragons), Marco Wentzel (Released), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Nicky Robinson (Bristol), Will Robinson (London Welsh), Jack Wallace (Bristol), Stephen Jones, Lee Thomas, Tim Payne (Retirement)
Key Player: Out of all the transfers that have taken place over the close season and throughout last term, perhaps the most astute piece of business has been Wasps' recruitment of Matt Mullan. He has a solitary England cap to his name but has been one of those players who has never quite lived up to the hype. His ability is undoubted and he should push on to that next level under the tutelage of Dai Young and be a top player this season for the Adams Park side.
Best case scenario: Christian Wade and Tom Varndell continue to score bucket loads of tries and Wasps find a permanent home away from that ramshackle of a place Adams Park.
Worst case scenario: Marco Wentzel's departure leaves a gaping hole in their lineout and Wasps' set piece disintegrates.
Prediction: Wasps finished in eighth last year and we think they'll improve this term to finish either just inside in the top six, or as we suspect, in seventh. They have undoubted quality in their ranks with the England contingent aided by some gnarly pros but they are still perhaps one season off reaching their peak.
Wasps enjoyed some memorable wins last term © Getty Images
Coach: Ex-Leicester and Harlequins coach Dean Richards took them back into the Premiership at the first attempt after the Falcons were relegated at the end of the 2011-12 campaign. He will be aided by Graham Steadman, Peter Russell, John Wells, Micky Ward and Callum MacRae so thy have plenty of experience in their backroom staff but they now face the task of imparting that on to their players.
Captain: Flanker Will Welch will continue as skipper after he helped the Falcons back into the Premiership last term.
Out: James Hall (Bristol), Michael Mayhew (London Irish), James Hudson (Gloucester), Taiasina Tui'fua (Bordeaux Begles), Jordi Pasqualin (London Scottish), Rory Lawson, Jon Golding (Retirement)
Key Player: With their star fly-half Jimmy Gopperth gone to Leinster, Newcastle will be hoping ex-Harlequins No.10 Rory Clegg steps into the void left by the Kiwi. Clegg has bags of promise but he never quite got into the swing of things at Harlequins. There is no doubt he is hugely talented, but he will need every aspect of his game to be at its collective best if he is to help keep the Falcons in the top flight.
Best case scenario: Rain lashes down and wind swirls around Kingston Park all season and the Falcons have a great home record after mastering the art of playing wet weather rugby.
Worst case scenario: A season back in the Premiership proves to be too much for Richards' boys and they crash back through the Championship trapdoor.
Prediction: It's a fair bet to assume the Falcons will finish near the foot of the table but we think they will survive and finish in eleventh, primarily due to the Dean Richards factor. They will have the odd losing run but Kingston Park is a fair old way north and it may prove to be the downfall of a few travelling teams.
The Falcons celebrate their promotion back to the top flight © Getty Images
Coach: The pressure is on Jim Mallinder to succeed this term. He has been in charge of the Saints since 2007 and while backroom staff have come and gone, Mallinder has stayed at the top. He will be aided by ex-Clermont coach Alex King this season and seasoned forwards coach Dorian West.
Captain: Mallinder has kept the faith with Dylan Hartley despite the England hooker's ill-discipline in last season's Premiership final. Hartley will be going all out to prove doubters wrong regarding his mentality and also repay the faith shown in him by his Saints coach.
Out: Paul Doran-Jones (Harlequins), Soane Tonga'uiha, Brian Mujati (Racing Metro), Tom Hicks (Gloucester), Mark Sorensen (Bristol), Martin Roberts (Bath), Ryan Lamb (Leicester), Tom May (London Welsh), Noah Cato (Newcastle Falcons)
Key Player: It would be far too easy to pick British & Irish Lions George North or Alex Corbisiero, so we won't. For us Kahn Fotuali'i could be one of the stars of the Premiership this year. Last season he was in stunning form for the Ospreys and he should relish the chance to play behind the Saints' strong pack this term.
Best case scenario: Everything clicks for the Saints and the likes of Corbisiero and North continue their immense Lions form and they swat every opponent away.
Worst case scenario: Nothing clicks for the Saints and Leicester win the Premiership and Heineken Cup double.
Prediction: The Saints will pick up some form of silverware this year but we think it will come in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. They will battle valiantly for the Premiership title but will end up in third.
George North was on fire for the Lions in the summer © Getty Images
Coach: Well, when we last checked it is Steve Diamond who is currently in charge of the Sharks. And working underneath him are Bryan Redpath and Pete Anglesea. Hopefully, from a Sharks' point-of-view, they will get some stability in that department this season after the shambles last term.
Captain: In arguably the most inspired choice of captain the Premiership over, ex-All Black Dan Braid will skipper the Sharks this term. He joined Sale midway through last season and helped propel them up the table after they were languishing at the foot of the Premiership.
Out: Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Richie Gray (Castres), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Andy Powell (Wigan Warriors), Corne Uys (Pays d'Aix), Charlie Amesbury (Bristol)
Key Player: At the fulcrum of every good team, is a bulldozing No.8. Michael Paterson has been solid for the Cardiff Blues and he should be a great piece of business for the Sharks.
Best case scenario: Sale re-find their 2006 form and make a dent in the top-half of the table. They also keep their coaching staff in their pre-season defined roles and manage to fill the Salford City Stadium.
Worst case scenario: Danny Cipriani has another mediocre season and Diamond gets a bus driver license.
Prediction: It will be a season easier for the Sale supporter's blood pressure level but it will not be a vintage campaign from the Sharks. They will move up in the right direction but we feel they will finish around ninth.
Jonathan Mills will give the Sharks an extra edge in the pack © Getty Images
Coach: Mark McCall is in charge of Saracens for another term but this time he won't have Brendan Venter peering menacingly from the coaching box. He has moved to the Sharks but it's a case of continuity for Saracens with Paul Gustard, Alex Sanderson and Kevin Sorrell backing up McCall.
Captain: Ex-Bath and England lock Steve Borthwick will lead Saracens into this campaign but there are a host of other leadership candidates in the team with Scottish skipper Kelly Brown and scrum-half Neil de Kock also providing options.
Out: Andy Saull (Newcastle Falcons), Carlos Nieto, John Smit, Joe Maddock (Retired)
Key Player: It's hard to pick out one standout player from their talent-filled squad but we think Will Fraser is going to be integral to their success. He was sensational last season and if he avoids injury, he could be on the England plane to New Zealand next summer.
Best case scenario: They get rid of their annoying song but Allianz Stadium continues to be a fortress and helps take them to the top of the league. Also, owner Nigel Wray chooses to take the squad to the moon as a well done for their memorable season.
Worst case scenario: Saracens' watertight finances spring a leak and a potential salary cap breach comes to light.
Prediction: Saracens will return to the heights of 2011 and win the Premiership title having finished second in the regular season. They will also reach the latter stages of the Heineken Cup.
Saracens pose for an alternative team photo © Getty Images
Coach: Richard Hill was unceremoniously dispatched by the Warriors with two games left at the end of last season and the Warriors acted quickly to bring in former Gloucester coach Dean Ryan. It's an inspired piece of business by the Worcester hierarchy and he will be aided by former Gloucester forwards coach Carl Hogg, ex-Wasps coach Shane Howarth and former Harlequins prop Ceri Jones. He will also have Corin Palmer and Simon Cross' knowledge to call upon.
Captain: Ex-Wales flanker Jonathan Thomas will skipper Worcester this season in what is an inspired choice by Ryan. Thomas has plenty of big game experience and will lead from the front. A very important individual.
Out: Matt Mullan, Joe Carlisle, Andy Goode (London Wasps), Ollie Hayes (Bristol Rugby), Aleki Lutui (Edinburgh), Neil Best (London Scottish), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Nikki Walker (Edinburgh), Errie Claassens (Bristol), Craig Gillies (Retirement)
Key Player: Dean Schofield had a quiet campaign last season by his high standards but he is the perfect Dean Ryan player. A good tactical mind and someone who does not shirk physicality, expect him to lead from the front this term.
Best case scenario: Ryan manages to sprinkle some magic dust on the Warriors and rather than the poor meagre force they have been in the past, they come out all guns blazing and do some damage.
Worst case scenario: Another season goes by where nothing clicks for the Warriors and they are left at the foot of the table. And attendances drop at Sixways.
Prediction: They will record some impressive victories and will survive the drop, but only just.
Worcester's Chris Pennell will hope to impress new boss Dean Ryan © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September