Rugby Union's Kick-off: Club-by-club guide

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BATH

Captain: Andy Robinson. Coach: Jack Rowell. Last season: champions. Prediction: 1st.

INNOVATION leading to constant renovation is the secret of Bath's enduring success - and also why it is impossible to back anyone to overtake them. The individuals are important but Bath are best because of their collective strength, and if Sean O'Leary can solve their one persistent problem, line-out possession, we can anticipate a title hat-trick.

In: Dean Cotterell (Clifton), Dave Hilton (Bristol), Sean O'Leary (Wasps), Craig Raymond (Aldermaston), Ben Rouse (Havant), Ashley Tapper (Oxford University). Out: Jim Fallon (Leeds RL), Duncan Willett (Bristol).

BRISTOL

Captain: Derek Eves. Coach: Rob Cunningham. Last season: 10th. Prediction: 9th.

ROB CUNNINGHAM has until 1994 to fulfil the expection expressed last year of a win in either league or cup in three years. The coach's prediction for last season was half-right: Bristol reached the cup quarter-final but were four places short of a top-six league finish. Greater circumspection is now in order, though they should just avoid the relegation scramble.

In: Bob Armstrong (Plymouth Albion), Francois du Preez (Eastern Transvaal), Tim Griffin (Richmond), Paul Gutteridge (Richmond), Andy May (Combe Down), Alastair Saverimutto (Northampton), Duncan Willett (Bath). Out: Paul Collings (New Zealand), Dave Hilton (Bath), Kerry Locke (Clifton).

GLOUCESTER

Captain: Ian Smith. Coach: Keith Richardson. Last season: 4th. Prediction: 7th.

THE summer exodus was important for its effect on Gloucester's strength in depth rather than on the young team who developed well last season. No one who has gone, not even Mike Teague (and they long since learned to live without him), had a long-term future at Kingsholm but without them the problem will come when injuries strike.

In: None. Out: Kevin Dunn (Wasps), Mike Hamlin (London Welsh), Nick Marment (Bedford), Richard Mogg (Cheltenham), Malcolm Preedy (Cheltenham), Nigel Scrivens (London Welsh), Mike Teague (Moseley).

HARLEQUINS

Captain: Peter Winterbottom. Coach: Colin Osborne/Bob Templeton. Last season: 8th. Prediction: 3rd.

FEWER England commitments, not to mention the guru-like quality of the Australian coach, Bob Templeton, make Harlequins more hopeful that they can graft consistency on to their players' unarguable quality. Even so, when the international season sidetracks the likes of Carling and Moore, Quins' league aspirations will probably hit the buffers yet again.

In: Stewart Davies (Rosslyn Park), Mark Evans (Rosslyn Park), Johannes Roux (Northern Transvaal), Alex Snow (Heriot's FP). Out: Paul Ackford (retired), Ron Eriksson (London Scottish), Simon Halliday (retired), Craig Luxton (Richmond), Mick Skinner (Blackheath).

LEICESTER

Captain: John Wells. Coach: Ian Smith. Last season: 6th. Prediction: 4th.

AT LAST Leicester are putting the era of Hare and Cusworth behind them, having developed a lively pack (no longer a case of Dean Richards and others) to supply backs who have massive strike-power out wide. All they need is an outside-half, and they have one in Jez Harris, who must be given the confidence of a fair and decent run.

In: Richard Cockerill (Coventry), Andy Grimsdell (Burton-on-Trent), Ian Harris (Willenhall), Wayne Kilford (Nottingham), Stuart Potter (Nottingham), Nigel Richardson (Loughborough Univ). Out: Gerry Ainscough (Orrell), Stuart Redfern (retired), Tom Smith (Bedford), Chris Tressler (retired).

LONDON IRISH

Captain: Paul Collins. Coach: Hika Reid. Last season: 9th. Prediction: 12th.

THE Irish dodged relegation last season with a coach whose brief was to do just that and dispensing with George Hook in favour of the former All Black Hika Reid will not guarantee continuing safety. That makes three coaches in three seasons, revealing a ruthlessness which coincidentally means an end of the romance of the Irish. After all, Hook is an Irishman.

In: Paul Burke (Durham Univ), Colin Hall (Northampton), Liam Mooney (Bath), Brian Robinson (Ballymena), Richard Smith (Blackheath). Out: Tom Clancy (Lansdowne), Brian Mullen (retired).

LONDON SCOTTISH

Captain: Richard Cramb. Coach: Alastair McHarg. Last season: Second Division champions. Prediction: 11th.

AS THEIR coaches include Allan and Margot Wells, the Scottish will be fit, which was a priceless asset as they rose from Third Division to First in three seasons. Gadabout forwards tend to be nullified at this level, however, and though they do have some bulk, provided by Damian Cronin and Rob Scott, the worst is threatened.

In: Ron Eriksson (Harlequins), Crawford Henderson (Oxford Univ), Logan Mair (Waterloo), Steve Wichary (Kelso). Out: John Beazley (ret).

NORTHAMPTON

Captain: John Olver. Coach: Glenn Ross. Last season: 3rd. Prediction: 2nd.

WAYNE SHELFORD may be diminishing as an individual player but his lustre continues to rub off. Under the coaching of another New Zealander, Glenn Ross, Northampton made striking progress last season, developing a tactical flourish once Ross and Shelford had sorted out the forwards. More of the same and Saints will provide Bath's closest challenge.

In: Lee Baker (Moseley), Nick Beal (High Wycombe), Paul Flood (Bridgend), Derwyn Jones (Llanelli), Peter Walton (Newcastle Gosforth). Out: Colin Hall (London Irish), Julian Lamb (Clifton), Bill Renwick (retired), Alastair Saverimutto (Bristol).

ORRELL

Captain: Steve Taberner. Coach: Billy Lyon. Last season: 2nd. Prediction: 5th.

ORRELL bear the psychological scars of last season, when only a last-kick defeat at Wasps cost them the title, and it is expecting too much of them to be instantly rehabilitated. Dewi Morris and his forwards are a match for all the rest but Orrell have an insuperable problem: their consistent fallibility whenever a prize stands glittering before them.

In: Gerry Ainscough (Leicester), Steve Griffiths (Vale of Lune), Paul Hamer (Vale of Lune), Russell Nairn (Moseley), Mark Ridehalgh (Fylde), Ian Taylor (Macclesfield). Out: None.

RUGBY

Captain: David Bishop. Coach: Alan Foster. Last season: 11th. Prediction: 13th.

RELEGATION was avoided by a whisker five months ago and there is no reason, other than a season's harsh experience, to suggest imminent improvement. Rugby's recruitment has been as assiduous as ever but lower-division players, however promising, do not hold the key to survival in the highest.

In: Spencer Bromley (Liverpool St Helens), Dean Chater (Newbold-on-Avon), John Cockerill (Newbold-on-Avon), Kenneth Dax-Aiken (Loughborough Univ), John Gardner (Nuneaton), Keith Jones (Blackheath), Dave Manders (Coalville), Rob Milner (Nuneaton), Hamish Robson (Army), Gavin Wright (Headingley). Out: Richard Perkins (Plymouth Albion).

SARACENS

Captain: Brian Davies. Coach: John Davies. Last season: 5th. Prediction: 8th.

SARACENS are a deserving case: they deserve to keep the players they develop and, succouring the rugby talent of Hertfordshire and Essex, they deserve better than a battle against relegation. For once they have succeeded in the former; as for the latter, last season's fifth place will be hard to repeat but they maximise resources well enough to ensure survival.

In: Richard Castleton (Army), Alan Clark (Blackheath), Chris Dossett (Loughborough Univ), Cameron Glanville (Bedford), Gareth Hughes (Askeans), Rick James (Blackheath), Chris Wright (from retirement). Out: Samuela Domoni (Plymouth Albion), Andy Roda (Parma).

WASPS

Captain: Dean Ryan. Coach: Rob Smith. Last season: 7th. Prediction: 6th.

THE coach resigned, the captain was injured, Rob Andrew went to France; no wonder Wasps were in turmoil last season. Now the coach, Rob Smith, is back, the player-committee wrangling has been addressed by club-management streamlining, but Andrew is still in Toulouse and that is why the 1989-90 winners will be hard pressed to be champions again.

In: Marc-Andre Domergue (Nice), Kevin Dunn (Gloucester), Andy Gomarsall (England Schools), Matthew Greenwood (Nottingham), Simon Holmes (Rosslyn Park), Adrian Thompson (Rosslyn Park). Out: James Allan (Richmond), Chris Hornung (Richmond), Sean O'Leary (Bath).

WEST HARTLEPOOL

Captain: John Stabler. Coach: Dave Stubbs. Last season: Second Division runners-up. Prediction: 10th.

WEST have a rugged pack, but in the end their inexperience of rugby at this level after proceeding straight through the Second Division following promotion from the Third could prove their undoing. On the other hand, it is important for the geographical balance of English rugby that an other northern club accompany Orrell in the top flight.

In: David Blyth (Waterloo), Steve Havery (Gateshead Fell), David Mitchell (Harrogate), David Ince (Wasps), Leigh Johnson (Hartlepool Rovers), Mick Thomas (Army), Kevin Westgarth (Northern). Out: Paul Pook (Cardiff), Peter Robinson (Darlington).

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