Rugby Union: Movers and shakers in the top flight

Click to follow
WEST HARTLEPOOL

Promoted

THERE was a time when the border raids mounted by the club threatened to drain most of the top talent from Scotland, but only Rob Wainwright, the Scottish flanker, and the Edinburgh Accies' scrum-half Derek Paterson have moved south. Boasting a big pack, they could discover that it will take more than physical strength alone to make an impact in the First Division. They should, however, have learnt from their brief experience of the higher level two years ago.

Recruits: Derek Paterson (scrum- half); Rob Wainwright (flanker).

SALE

Promoted

SALE have been working diligently on their recruitment since being promoted. Under Paul Turner's direction, they have gained a reputation for attractive rugby, but any brittleness up front will be exposed. With only one side to be relegated, the early pressure on clubs will not be as intense as usual, but unless Sale can secure a solid base of home victories before the mid-season break they will have little chance of remaining in the top flight.

Recruits: Mark Appleson (full-back); Rob Liley (fly-half); Chris Saverimutto (scrum-half); Neil Ashurst (flanker).

GLOUCESTER

Last season: 8th

HAVING scored 17 tries in four games during their summer tour, it seems Gloucester are concentrating on running and passing and other arts unseen over the years at Kingsholm. If such subtleties are to be part of the club's tactics, it will be a reversal of reliance on forward domination and a tribute to the powers of Barrie Corless, the club's director of rugby. Their once-feared forward strength has been ebbing away, but the transition to a more expansive style could be difficult.

Recuits: Mark Mapletoft (full-back); Mike Teague (flanker).

ORRELL

Last season: 7th

IN THE summer, when Martin Hynes had left for Northampton, Neil Ashworth had gone to Sale, Gary French had been lured to Bath and Sammy Southern had retired, the future looked grim. Since then, however, Orrell's chances of survival have improved with the arrival of Martin Scott, the Scotland B hooker, and the appointment of Mike Slemen to assist with the coaching. He has wings of rare ability in Jim Naylor and Austin Healey.

Recruits: Austin Healey (wing); Martin Scott (hooker); John Russell (prop); Jason Cundick (prop).

HARLEQUINS

Last season: 6th

THE arrival of coach Keith Richardson from Gloucester will strengthen their effort, although the alliance of the forthright northerner with the most mercurial of the London clubs is not a natural one. Richardson's job will be be to instil a sense of pride and purpose into players of undoubted pedigree but questionable commitment. Plans could be disrupted by England's World Cup preparations and the demands on Quins' players are likelier to be heavier than most.

Recruits: Rob Kitchen (scrum-half); Rory Jenkins (flanker).

NORTHAMPTON

Last season: 5th

THE acquisition of Ian McGeechan as their new director of rugby is a major coup for the club that lost their sense of direction last season after their transformation into genuine challengers for major honours. Northampton are concentrating now on developing their wealth of home- grown talent and this is the season when the likes of Nick Beal and Matt Dawson must prove themselves and when Ian Hunter must pray that his injury problems are over. Tim Rodber's captaincy will be closely scrutinised by the national selectors.

Recruit: Martin Hynes (prop).

BRISTOL

Last season: 4th

COULD be a surprise package. They failed when it mattered most last season but their pack is as competitive as any. The promising lock Simon Shaw will have benefited from his experience with England in South Africa, as Paul Hull did. They have a speedy back division where the only problem will be to find a regular partner for Kyran Bracken. Front-runners for the fly-half spot are Mark Tainton and Murray Walker, formerly of London Scottish.

Recruits: Murray Walker (fly-half); Mark Denney (centre); Gavin Sharp (wing).

WASPS

Last season: 3rd

THE long search for a lock of outstanding dimensions and calibre has proved costly to Wasps' ambitions of staying the course of a championship season. But now that Norm Hadley, Canada's leviathan, has fully recovered from the injury which prevented last season's much-heralded unveiling, it may be a different story. Wasps have been replacing their ageing stalwarts with new blood so competition for first- team places will be fierce. They could suffer from demands made on their World Cup stars.

Recruit: Nick Popplewell (prop).

LEICESTER

Last season: 2nd

LEICESTER'S success could depend on how well they adapt to the changes in the laws at rucks and mauls. Last season, their mauling was exceptionally well-

organised, driven by their powerful tight five together with the weighty contribution of Dean Richards. But the changes will force a rethink. Their back play was disappointing, with too few opportunities being created on the flanks. Their pack looks as strong as any and the determination not to lose their young hooker Chris Johnson is worth noting.

Recruit: Diccon Edwards (centre).

BATH

Last season: 1st

WITH so many big influences now gone, Bath's rivals will be watching for signs of vulnerability. But the likelihood is that the winners of the League and Cup last season will again be a step ahead. A club who can afford to omit Steve Ojomoh from yesterday's first match of the season is hardly in decline. Mike Catt's baptismal season as the regular fly-half will be less fiery if his forwards continue to resist all-comers.

Recruits: Andy Nicol (scrum-half); Simon Geoghegan (wing); Jon Sleightholme (wing); Gary French (hooker).

Comments