Rugby Union: Guide to First Division

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BATH

Still the team to beat. A strong squad capable of lasting the course and adapting to all conditions. Will certainly finish in the top three and will, in all probability, emerge once again as champions.

In: Sean O'Leary, lock, from Wasps; Ashley Tapper, fly-half, Oxford University; Ben Rouse, lock, Havant; Craig Raymond, fly- half, Aldermaston.

Out: Duncan Willett, fly-half, to Bristol.

ORRELL

The return of Ainscough should benefit both player and club, but so much of Orrell's success has been built around their pack and in particular around Bob Kimmins, whose fitness and ability to stay the course are seriously in doubt.

In: Gerry Ainscough, fly-half, Leicester; Mark Ridehalgh, prop, Fylde; Paul Hamer, utility back, Vale of Lune; Steve Griffiths, lock, Vale of Lune.

Out: none.

NORTHAMPTON

Now one of England's elite and one of the best-organised clubs in the country, whose ambition knows no bounds. A powerful pack and, if early-season performances are anything to go by, a back division to match. The most serious challengers to Bath for top honours.

In: Nick Beal, fly-half/centre, High Wycombe; Peter Walton, back row, Newcastle Gosforth; Derwyn Jones, lock, Loughborough University; Lee Baker, prop, Moseley.

Out: none.

WASPS

Not the force they were, despite the strength of their squad. The lack of a genuine line-out jumper could prove an insurmountable handicap to a side which has consistently failed to come up to expectations.

In: Matt Greenwood, flanker, Nottingham; Kevin Dunn, hooker, Gloucester; Simon Holmes, flanker, Cambridge University; Marc Andre Domergue, winger, Neath; Andy Gomersall, scrum-half; Adrian Thompson, fly-half, Castres.

Out: Sean O'Leary, lock, Bath; James Allen, hooker, Richmond; Chris Hornung, scrum-half, Richmond.

GLOUCESTER

The exodus is a worrying trend for a club as powerful as Gloucester. Teague's departure is the most serious as there is no adequate replacement for him at No 8. The new laws are unlikely to benefit Gloucester's style.

In: none.

Out: Mike Teague, No 8, Moseley; Nigel Scrivens, lock, London Welsh; Mike Hamlin, fly-half, London Welsh; Nick Marment, full-back, Bedford; Kevin Dunn, hooker, Wasps.

LEICESTER

A strong back row, a potentially powerful front row and two excellent young locks will make Leicester tough opposition for any club in the League. Their problems continue, however, at fly-half, where they lack the necessary authority to ignite a talented back division. Injuries to Martin Johnson and Neil Back could seriously affect their early performances and damage their prospects.

In: Stuart Potter, centre, Nottingham; Wayne Kilford, utility back, Nottingham; Richard Cockerill, hooker, Coventry; Nigel Richardson, flanker, Loughborough University.

Out: Gerry Ainscough, fly-half, Orrell; Tom Smith, lock, Bedford; Stuart Redfern (prop) and Chris Tressler (hooker), retired.

HARLEQUINS

Next to Bath, the strongest squad in the League. No doubting the talent, just the will to endure the weekly grind of the League. Signs are, though, that this will be a season of achievement at The Stoop.

In: Alec Snow, lock, St Andrews University; Johan Roux, scrum half, Transvaal.

Out: Micky Skinner, flanker, Blackheath; Craig Luxton, scrum-half, Richmond; Ron Eriksson, centre, London Scottish; Simon Halliday (centre/wing) and Paul Ackford (lock), retired.

BRISTOL

Despite a crop of immensely promising youngsters, this is likely to be another difficult season for Bristol. Paul Collings will be greatly missed in the back row.

In: Duncan Willett, fly-half, Bath; Andy May, fly-half, Coombe Down; Rob Armstrong, flanker, Plymouth; Tim Griffin, flanker, Richmond.

Out: Paul Collings, flanker, sabbatical to New Zealand.

LONDON IRISH

The arrival of Brian Robinson and Colin Hall should improve the line- out. A strong squad but with so many players likely to be required by Ireland, the demands on time may tell later in the season.

In: Brian Robinson, No 8, Ballymena; Paul Burke, utility back, Durham University; Richard Smith, centre, Blackheath; Liam Mooney, prop, Plymouth Albion; Colin Hall, lock, Northampton.

Out: Tom Clancy, prop, Lansdowne; Brian Mullen (fly-half), retired.

LONDON SCOTTISH

A microcosm of the national side, London Scottish must make a little go a long way. But with an impressive midfield strike force they may adapt more quickly than most to the new laws.

In: Damien Cronin, lock, Bath: Ron Eriksson, centre, Harlequins: Crawford Henderson, wing, Oxford University: Logan Mair, hooker, Waterloo: Steve Wichary, centre, Kelso; Tim Swan, lock, Waterloo.

Out: John Beazley, centre, retired.

RUGBY

At this stage the side most likely to finish bottom of the League. They hung on to First Division status last season despite some heavy losses, the second worst defensive record in the league and only two victories. A repetition would not save them this time.

In: Spencer Bromley, winger, St Helens.

Out: none.

SARACENS

No club more adept at making the best use of limited resources. A back row as competitive as any, and great hopes that their 6ft 10in lock Scott Kimberley will emerge as a line-out force. They finished last season as London's top club, but have testing times ahead.

In: Chris Dossett, full-back, Loughborough University; Richard Castleton, lock, Army; Cameron Glanville, full-back, Bedford; Chris Wright, prop, returned after seven years out of the game.

Out: Andy Roda, prop, to Italy; Sam Domoni, lock, to Fiji.

WEST HARTLEPOOL

No side will relish the trip to Brierton Lane where the hospitality off the field is infinitely preferable to the uncompromising attitude on it. The odds are against their remaining in the top flight.

In: David Blyth, flanker, Waterloo; Mike Watson, lock/No 8; Ken Westgarth, lock, Northern; Steve Havery, scrum-half, Gatehead Fell.

Out: Paul Pook, flanker, Cardiff; Peter Robinson, back row, Darlington.

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