Rugby Union: Steve Bale's club-by-club guide to the Courage National League One

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BATH

Captain: John Hall. Coach: Brian Ashton. Last season: champions. Prediction: 3rd.

ONLY a fool would back against Bath. OK I'm a fool, but in this of all seasons they deserve to be able to consolidate after the change of coaches and more especially the loss of Stuart Barnes's unsurpassed tactical vision to television. The other factor in favour of everyone else is England, who in this World Cup season will demand more of the champions than ever before.

In: Richie Butland (Harlequins), Gary French (Orrell), Simon Geoghegan (London Irish), Iestyn Lewis (Swansea), Andy Nicol (Dundee HSFP), Jon Sleightholme (Wakefield).

Out: Stuart Barnes (retired), Tim Beddow (Moseley), Richard Hill (retired), Ed Rayner (Leicester).

BRISTOL

Captain: Derek Eves. Coach: Brian Hanlon. Last season: 4th. Prediction: 4th.

BRISTOL are everyone's favourites to make the giant step into the elite that has come to dominate club rugby and they have the absolute prerequisite with a ball-winning pack. Exploiting the possession they provide is another matter, but Paul Hull and Kyran Bracken are ball-users of quality and another top-four finish, at least, is probable.

In: Dave Bennett (Newcaste Gosforth), Mark Chudleigh (Moseley), Nick Edmonds (Bridgwater & Albion), Richard Lancaster (Cumbria), Glyn Mann (Gloucester), Derrick Morgan (Gloucester), Gavin Sharpe (Henley), Darren Watkins (Redruth), Mark White (Newcastle Gosforth).

Out: Matt Brain (Clifton), Dan Cottrell (Clifton), Rob Kitchin (Harlequins), David Palmer (retired).

GLOUCESTER

Captain: Andy Deacon. Coach: Viv Woolley. Last season: 8th. Prediction: 7th.

THIS is the most fervent rugby town in all England but Gloucester themselves have no higher pretensions than mid-table and even that would represent progress over last season. The old forward grind with which opponents used to be laid waste is no longer an option as a means of league success and, miraculously, Gloucester have actually begun running the ball.

In: Warwick Bullock (Coventry), Mark Mapletoft (Rugby), Lee Osborne (Berry Hill), Adey Powles (Berry Hill), Chris Raymond (Moseley), Mike Teague (Moseley).

Out: Jeremy Bennett (rteired), Lloyd Gardner (Spartans), Glyn Mann (Bristol), Derrick Morgan (Bristol).

HARLEQUINS

Captain: Brian Moore. Coach: Keith Richardson. Last season: 6th. Prediction: 6th.

EVEN with a Gloucester old boy as coach and Brian Moore as captain, it is still impossible to imagine the great under-achievers taking to the grind of weekly league rugby - not, at any rate, until we see it with our own eyes. Never mind the plentiful talent, this is a club with attitude - the attitude, often to their own detriment, that England are more important.

In: Lawrence Boyle (Leicester), Spencer Bromley (Rugby), Bill Davison (Rosslyn Park), Will Greenwood (Durham University), Rory Jenkins (London Irish), Rob Kitchin (Bristol), Peter Mensah (Old Millhillians), Jim Staples (London Irish), Chris Wright (Wasps).

Out: Richie Butland (Bath), Craig Luxton (retired).

LEICESTER

Captain: Dean Richards. Coach: Ian Smith. Last season: 2nd. Prediction: Champions.

LIKE Bath, Leicester will be weighed down by England commitments this season. But, unlike Bath, they have had no important departures and with Dean Richards again their standard bearer they appear more than ready to take advantage should there be any hiatus at the Rec. They still have to convince that, for all their blistering pace on the outside, they are capable of using, as well as winning the ball and this will need a far smoother delivery through midfield than was always apparent last season. If they do, this will be their season.

In: Diccon Edwards (Wakefield), Rob Field (Coventry), Lee Mansell (Bedford), Ed Rayner (Bath).

Out: Lawrence Boyle (Harlequins), Alex Gissing (Coventry), Wayne Richardson (retired).

NORTHAMPTON

Captain: Tim Rodber. Coach: Paul Larkin. Last season: 5th. Prediction: 5th.

THE SAINTS have taken the plunge on Ian McGeechan, just as McGeechan as the new director of rugby has on the Saints. If the chemistry works, which McGeechan succeeding at club level as he did with Scotland, they have enough maturing ability under Tim Rodber's abrasive leadership to become title contenders again, as they were before last season's travails.

In: Martin Hynes (Orrell).

Out: Phil Pask (retired), Gary Pearce (retired), John Steele (retired), Steve Miles (Coventry), Seb Tubb (Australia).

ORRELL

Captain: Dewi Morris. Coach: Phil Moss. Last season: 7th. Prediction: 9th.

THE bludgeoning pack that took Orrell to the brink of the title in 1992 have now broken up and, in the expectation that such a force will not easily be put together again, the emphasis has turned to bright back play as the best means of progress. Sounds a bit like Gloucester, really, but to avoid a struggle the ball has to be won in the first place.

In: Jason Cundick (Winnington Park), Austin Healey (Waterloo), Alex Moffatt (Fylde), John Nicholson (Newcastle Gosforth), John Russell (Broughton Park), Martin Scott (Edinburgh Academicals).

Out: Neil Ashurst (Sale), Gary French (Bath), Martin Hynes (Northampton), Mark Ridehalgh (Sale), David Southern (retired).

SALE

Captain: Mike Kenrick. Coach: Paul Turner. Last season: 2nd Division champions.

Prediction: 8th.

SALE have recruited busily and any team who have Paul Turner at their tactical heart must have a head start in avoiding the fate of most promoted sides: instant relegation. Richard McCartney's broken ankle is, however, a savage blow to the strength of their forwards before the league season has even started and survival, though a limited ambition, is also for now the limit of Sale's ambition.

In: Mark Appleson (London Scottish), Neil Ashurst (Orrell), Dean Crompton (Liverpool St Helens), Lee Denham (Army), Rory Goodwin (Broughton Park), Rob Liley (Wakefield), Andy Morris (Nottingham), Mark Ridehalgh (Orrell), Christian Saverimutto (Waterloo), Charlie Vyvyan (Wharfedale).

Out: Max Duthie (Rosslyn Park), Paul Harrison (Coventry), Mike McCarthy (Wakefield), Andy Macfarlane (retired).

WASPS

Captain: Dean Ryan. Coach: Rob Smith. Last season: 3rd. Prediction: 2nd.

IT MAY be that England call less on Wasps than on their main rivals, in which case the season offers an outstanding chance of repeating the league title of 1989-90. The really significant development at Sudbury is having the gigantic Canadian Norman Hadley fit at last, and if that overcomes Wasps' line-out shortage, even the England absences of Rob Andrew will be surmountable.

In: Guy Gregory (Nottingham), Steve Pilgrim (suspension), Nick Popplewell (Greystones), Shane Roiser (Rosslyn Park).

Out: Fran Clough (Bedford), Chris Oti (retired), Chris Wright (Harlequins).

WEST HARTLEPOOL

Captain: Paul Hodder. Coach: Barry Taylor. Last season: promoted. Prediction: 10th.

AT ONE time half the Scotland team were rumoured to be on their way to Durham but in the event Rob Wainwright, accompanied by two non-internationals and a long list of true-blooded Englishmen, was the only one. Outstanding capture though Wainwright is, West probably need rather more such quality to avoid continuing their annual see-saw between the First and Second Divisions.

In: Justin Grimmond (Manly), Tim Herbert (Manly), Troy Jacques (Eastern Suburbs), Matthew Jensen (Richmond), Chris Kinder (Durham University), Phil New (Henley), Derrick Patterson (Edinburgh Academicals), Mike Shelley (Newcastle University), Tim Stimpson (Durham University), Rob Wainwright (Edinburgh Academicals), James Whitaker (Tynedale), Kevin Whitaker (Heriot's FP).

Out: Paul Whitelock (retired).

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