Rugby Union: PLAYING AND PAYING: GUIDE TO THE PROSPECTS OF THE PREMIERSHIP CLUBS

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BATH

On-field: The Heineken European Cup holders, who will be unable to defend their trophy because of the political breakdown between the clubs and the organisers, again have Andy Robinson, assisted by Jon Callard, at the coaching helm. The second-team coaches will be John Palmer and Nick Maslen.

Off-field: Blackthorn cider have taken over from Teacher's and Allied Domecq as the club's sponsors with a pounds 2m deal spread over the next three years. A new kit deal has been signed with Adidas. The club are also talking to their local authority about increasing the Recreation Ground's capacity from 8,200.

Head Coach: Andy Robinson

In: Jim Fallon (Richmond), Ben Sturnham (Saracens), Jon Preston (Wellington, New Zealand), Gareth Cooper (Pencoed), Steve Borthwick (Preston)

Out: Ricky Pellow (Exeter), Joe Ewens (Bedford), Charlie Harrison (Bedford), Gary French (London Welsh), Federico Mendez (Northampton), German Llanes (Argentina), Simon Johnson (Munster)

Last season: 3rd Prediction: 1st

BEDFORD

On-field: After sweeping the board in Premiership Two last season, Bedford, under the former England manager Geoff Cooke and director of coaching Paul Turner, should be in a positive mood about their first season back in the top flight.

Off-field: The boxing promoter Frank Warren's Sports Network group continue to be the main shareholders, despite question-marks raised by litigation against Don King. A new sponsor is due to be unveiled next month. Charles Wells remain clubhouse sponsors, and 10 new corporate hospitality units have been built.

Director of Rugby: Geoff Cooke

In: Joe Ewens (Bath), Andy Duke (Newbury), Virgil Hartland (West Hartlepool), Dan Zaltzman (Coventry), James Cooke (Moseley), Darragh O'Mahoney (Moseley), Mike Mainwaring (Currie), Charlie Harrison (Bath), Rob Ashforth (Cambridge University), Richard Elliott (Cambridge University)

Out: Shaun Platford (South Africa), Justin Cullen (New Zealand), Richard Kirke (London Irish), Adel Kardooni (free agent), David Hinkins (Swansea), Richard Stone (West Hartlepool), Daniel Whiston (South Africa)

Last season: 1st in 2nd Div Prediction: 11th

GLOUCESTER

On-field: John Brain has stepped down as forwards' coach because of a work promotion but he will continue to assist the director of rugby Richard Hill and team manager John Fidler with selection. The new forwards' coach is the former head coach Keith Richardson, who has rejoined in a part- time capacity from Newbury.

Off-field: The 1997-98 accounts have not yet been audited but a "low six-figure" shortfall is expected. Overall, the finances are healthy and the main sponsors Eagle Star are starting the second season of a three- year deal. A new children's viewing enclosure has been created around Kingsholm between the advertising hoardings and the main stands.

Director of rugby: Richard Hill

In: Simon Mannix (Sale, New Zealand), Andy Dawling (Newbury)

Out: Raphael Saint-Andre (Romans, France), Andy Gibbs (Romans, France), Alex Morris (Melrose), Craig Emmerson (Leeds Tykes), Martin Roberts (Moseley)

Last season: 6th Prediction: 8th

HARLEQUINS

On-field: The arrival of the great All Black No 8 Zinzan Brooke looks certain to inject some urgency. Not only will Brooke captain, but he will act as chief coach in support of John Gallagher, the new director of rugby. An all-Antipodean coaching team is completed by the Australian Adrian Skeggs and Kiwi Bernie McCahill.

Off-field: Entering a third season of sponsorship with NEC, Quins are under pressure to produce, especially after a couple of expensive years of professionalism which culminated with the departure of several internationals.

Director of rugby: John Gallagher

In: Zinzan Brooke (Auckland Blues, New Zealand), John Schuster (Blackheath, New Zealand), Gary Halpin (London Irish, Ireland), David Barnes (Newcastle), Colin Ridgeway (Blackheath), David Officer (Heriot's FP), Vaughan Going (Hong Kong), Garrick Morgan (Queensland, Australia), Tom Murphy (Cambridge University)

Out: Gareth Allison (Castres), Laurent Belligoi (France), Spencer Bromley (France), Laurent Cabannes (Richmond), Massimo Cuttitta (Italy), Paul Delaney (retired), Luke Gross (Rovigo), Rob Hitchmough (Wakefield), Adam Leach (Australia)

Last season: 10th Prediction: 9th

LEICESTER

On-field: First-team squad remains of similar strength to last season. Dean Richards has been confirmed as rugby manager for two years with John Wells as assistant. Joel Stransky will also double up as the backs' coach, and much will be expected of the England full-back Tim Stimpson, who has arrived from Newcastle.

Off-field: Around pounds 1.2m has been raised from the Tigers' stock-market flotation, while last season's trading loss was confined to pounds 185,000. Since then, two new bars have been built under the Members' Stand, one of which is named Dusty's, after the ex-England and Leicester full-back Dusty Hare, and a third is due to open at Christmas under the Crumbie Stand.

Coach: Dean Richards

In: Pat Howard (ACT, Australia), Dave Lockheed (Toronto Balmy Beach, Canada), Tim Stimpson (Newcastle)

Out: Waisale Serevi (Fiji), Marika Vunibaka (Fiji), Tim Barlow (Bristol)

Last year: 4th Prediction: 3rd

LONDON IRISH

On-field: Dick Best has been joined at Sunbury by his former Harlequins colleague Andy Keast for a season which could well be make-or-break. There is a strong Southern Hemisphere flavour to the new recruits but the loss of the Lion Jeremy Davidson is a big blow.

Off-field: Guinness remain sponsors in the centenary season. Two new strips have recently been unveiled, along with a new chief executive, Geoff Huckstep, who has moved to the club from Wasps.

Director of Rugby: Dick Best

In: Steve Bachop (Wellington, NZ), Simon Berridge (Western Province), Jake Boer (Western Province), James Brown (Coventry), Jarrod Cunningham (Wellington), Rob Gallagher (Manly), Mike Howe (Bay of Plenty), Robert Jones (Moseley), Richard Kirke (Bedford), Kevin Putt (Natal Sharks), Pete Rogers (Transvaal), Ryan Strucwick (Natal Sharks), Robert Todd (London Scottish).

Out: Jeremy Davidson (Castres), Justin Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), Gabriel Fulcher (Lansdowne), Gary Halpin (Harlequins), Niall Hogan (not known), David Humphreys (Dungannon), Robert Kellam (Newbury), Mark McCall (Dungannon), Ian McLoughlin (Blackrock), Ken O'Connell (Castres), Iain Mooney (Blackheath), Anthony Redmond (Blackheath), Barry Walsh (retired).

Last season: 11th Prediction: 10th

LONDON SCOTTISH

On-field: Bob Godfrey, a weights instructor to the last British Olympic team, has been asked to step up his involvement. The main development in the pipeline, though, is the announcement within the next fortnight of the new coach.

Off-field: The club, under the chairmanship of the majority shareholder Tony Tiarks, is entering the second season of its three-year sponsorship with the computer company Morse. There has also been a change of address for the first team, from the Athletic Ground at Richmond, where the players still train and the junior teams will still play, to the Stoop.

Director of rugby: John Steele

In: Guy Easterby (Rotherham), Simon Binns (Rotherham), Damian Cummins (Manly), Brad Hepi (Hull Sharks), Ian McIntyre (Cardiff), Sion Mason (Cardiff), Mark McAtamney (Canterbury), Guy Manson-Bishop (Western Province), Jannie de Beer (Orange Free State, South Africa)

Out: Jon Allan (South Africa), Tom Jankovich (South Africa), Courtney Smith (Canada), Adam Jackson (London Welsh), Jim Kelly (Bracknell), Colin Morley (Rugby)

Last season: 3rd in 2nd Div Prediction: 13th

MANCHESTER SALE

On-field: The club's new 12-month sponsorship from the local company First Software and a three-year kit deal with Cotton Traders should provide John Mitchell with resources to help with team building. Mark Nelson, his assistant coach, has left, but club captain Jim Mallinder is the new backs' coach while the former Bath and England hooker Graham Dawe has taken charge of the forwards.

Off-field: The club are comfortably off thanks to the anonymous backer who guaranteed pounds 2.5m last season, and the 1997-98 accounts for the year which ended on 30 June are expected some time in the next month or so. The club's name has officially changed to give it a more identifiable geographical tag.

Director of rugby: John Mitchell

In: Jan Machacek (Newport), Barrie-Jon Mather (Castleford - joins in January)

Out: Murray Driver (New Zealand), Simon Mannix (Gloucester).

Last season: 7th Prediction: 12th

NEWCASTLE

On-field: Winning the league could prove to be a hard act to follow, but Rob Andrew, who will be 36 in February, intends to put in another full season as a player. The loss of Pat Lam may prove to be significant, but there seems no shortage of money should some early-season team-building be required.

Off-field: The appointment of a new commercial manager, John Oates, a giant of a man who played for England Colts and went on to study PE and marketing, bodes well. Sponsorships with John Smith's and Adidas are firmly established, and the first team will play at the Gateshead Stadium which has a capacity of almost 10,000.

Director of rugby: Rob Andrew

In: Marius Hurter (South Africa), Mike Wood (West Hartlepool), Ian Peel (Wharfedale), Peter Massey (Moseley)

Out: Pat Lam (Northampton), Richard Metcalfe (Northampton), Tim Stimpson (Leicester), Chris Simpson-Daniels (Wakefield), John Bentley (Rotherham), David Barnes (Harlequins), Alan Tait (Edinburgh)

Last season: 1st Prediction: 6th

NORTHAMPTON

On-field: On the coaching side, Ian McGeechan will be assisted by his deputy Paul Larkin, who will have responsibility for the backs, and Matt Bridge, promoted from youth-team coach to take charge of the forwards. After a season of flattering to deceive, Saints hope their recruitment of last season's league player of the year, Pat Lam, will pay dividends.

Off-field: The unveiling of a new club sponsor is imminent and a pounds 750,000, three-year shirt deal has been completed with Tetley's. The club chairman, Keith Barwell, has acquired the hotel and nightclub next door to the ground, and the administration will move into the hotel, which is being renamed The Franklins.

Director of rugby: Ian McGeechan

In: Pat Lam (Newcastle, Western Samoa), Richard Metcalfe (Newcastle, Scotland), Federico Mendez (Bath, Argentina), David Dantiacq (Pau, France)

Out: Gregor Townsend (Brive), Jonathan Bell (Ireland), Allen Clarke (Ireland), Martin Bayfield (retired)

Last season: 8th Prediction: 5th

RICHMOND

On-field: Funding for the first team, captained again by Ben Clarke, seems secure following a new pounds 1.5m, three-year Oracle sponsorship. Other recently negotiated contracts include a kit deal worth pounds 100,000 over three years with Puma and a merchandising agreement with the former French fly- half Franck Mesnel's company Eden Park.

Off-field: The big development has been the 37-mile relocation of the first team to the 25,000-capacity Madejski Stadium, the home of Reading football club. At their traditional headquarters, the Athletic Club, the club have had their ambitions blocked by Richmond council. For home matches this season, all club members will be provided with free transport to Reading.

Director of rugby: John Kingston

In: Laurent Cabannes (Harlequins), Matt Dixon (NSW) Out: Rolando Martin (Argentina), Jim Fallon (Bath), Simon Mason (Ireland), Mike Hutton (retired)

Last season: 5th Prediction: 4th

SARACENS

On-field: After the best season in Saracens' history (winners of the cup and runners-up in the league), Mark Evans, player-coach Francois Pienaar and captain Tony Diprose will have high hopes of a possible double. Sarries are also aiming to improve on last season's impressive average gate of around 10,000 at Vicarage Road.

Off-field: Saracens are entering the second year of a pounds 2m, two-year sponsorship from the stereo firm Kenwood's. Their backer Nigel Wray and marketing manager Peter Deakin are planning to step up the pre-kick-off entertainment on match days, and want to build on their successful cashback and kit incentive schemes for local clubs who sell match tickets.

Director of rugby: Mark Evans

In: Troy Coker (ACT, Australia), Jeremy Thomson (Natal Sharks), Alain Penaud (Brive, France).

Out: Michael Lynagh (retired), Philippe Sella (retired), Tony Copsey (Llanelli), Ben Sturnham (Bath)

Last season: 2nd Prediction: 2nd

WASPS

On-field: The New Zealand lock Mark Weedon has taken over the club captaincy from England skipper Lawrence Dallaglio while young England prop Will Green is the new vice-captain. Unlike many clubs in the Premiership, the majority of Wasps' squad are English with a lot of players set to come through the Under-21 ranks.

Off-field: The club, aiming for a big improvement on last season's average gate of 6,000 at Loftus Road, will still train at Sudbury, where planning permission is being sought for a housing development. Wasps have also embarked on a new joint (50-50) sponsorship deal with Queen's Park Rangers from the mobile-phone firm Ericsson worth pounds 2m over three years.

Director of rugby: Nigel Melville

In: Josh Lewsey (Bristol), Fraser Waters (Bristol), Shem Ttupu (on loan from Northampton).

Out: Richard Kinsey (Rugby), Aaron James (Blackheath), Guy Gregory.(Camberley)

Last season: 9th Prediction: 7th

WEST HARTLEPOOL

On-field: The former All Blacks back-row forward Mike Brewer will continue to be assisted by his coaching team of Colin White, Dave Stubbs and Greg Dougall as West Hartlepool seek to break their depressing recent pattern of always finishing in the relegation zone whenever they find themselves in the top division.

Off-field: Yuill Homes remain the club's sponsors, but Phil Yuill has set up a consortium to fund the entire cost of paying and running the first team independently. West have also reached a 12-month agreement with Hartlepool United football club to share their 7,500-capacity Victoria Park ground this season in the hope of improving on poor gates.

Director of rugby: Mike Brewer

In: Phil Greaves (Northampton), Bill Fuller (Leicester), Richard Stone (Bedford), J J van der Esch (Dundee HSFP), Peter Tanginoa (Northlands)

Out: Mike Wood (Newcastle), Dave Mitchell (Darlington Mowden Park), Phil Harvey (Darlington Mowden Park)

Last season: 2nd in 2nd Div Prediction: 14th

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