Aviva Premiership: Club-by-club guide to the 2013-14 season

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Chris Hewitt looks at how each club is shaping up ahead of the new season and makes his predictions on who will compete for the play-offs and those that should be wary of the relegation trap door

 

Bath

Director of rugby: Gary Gold

Captain: Stuart Hooper

They train in rugby’s equivalent of Brideshead and are almost as dysfunctional as the Marchmain family of Evelyn Waugh’s great novel. (If the now notorious summer “bonding” session was anything to go by, these blokes could out-drink Sebastian Flyte himself). Yet those convinced of the corrupting power of wealth – and Bath are among the very richest clubs in the land, thanks to Bruce Craig’s extravagance – must also acknowledge that it aids recruitment. Still short in the back-row department but full of potential in midfield, they will consolidate if the two Daves, Wilson and Attwood, fire up front.

Warm welcomes: George Ford (Leicester), Matt Garvey (London Irish), Gavin Henson (London Welsh), Leroy Houston (Colomiers).

Fond farewells: Michael Claassens (Toulon), Stephen Donald (Mitsubishi Dynaboars), Lee Mears (retired), Simon Taylor (retired).

The tealeaves say: Fair to middling. Maybe 7th.

Click 'VIEW GALLERY' to launch our guide to the players to watch this season

 

Exeter

Director of rugby: Rob Baxter

Captain: Dean Mumm

Where did it all go right down there in the far south-west? If Premiership clubs up and down the country could answer that little conundrum, they would all be as happily placed as Exeter, who have, in no time at all, established themselves as a very serious top-flight concern. One of their fixed points, the long-serving No 8 Rich Baxter, has called it a day, but big brother Rob’s intelligent recruitment and a thriving academy eases the pain. Fit, organised, increasingly confident and devilishly difficult to beat at Sandy Park, they have a realistic shot at the play-offs.

Warm welcomes: Don Armand (Western Province), Romana Graham (Waikato), Tom James (Cardiff Blues), Ceri Sweeney (Cardiff Blues).

Fond farewells: Simon Alcott (retired), Rich Baxter (retired), Neil Clark (Oyonnax), Ignacio Mieres (Worcester).

The tealeaves say: Top five looks on.

 

Gloucester

Director of rugby: Nigel Davies

Captain: Tom Savage

Even though it’s been going on for the best part of a decade now, it is still weird to think of a Gloucester side, of all teams in Christendom, being lightweight up front. Once again, they appear ill-equipped in the arm-wrestling department, but but they look quite something everywhere else. Now the brilliant breakaway prospect Matt Kvesic has arrived to form a Test-class loose partnership with Ben Morgan, the Cherry and Whites have a forward axis to balance the Freddie Burns-Billy Twelvetrees version in midfield. The downside? All four could miss a good deal of rugby thanks to international calls.

Warm welcomes: Dan George (London Welsh), James Hudson (Newcastle), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Matt Kvesic (Worcester).

Fond farewells: Peter Buxton (retired), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Dave Lewis (Exeter).

The tealeaves say: The play-offs beckon.

 

Harlequins

Director of rugby: Conor O’Shea

Captain: Chris Robshaw

The Londoners, reigning champions as recently as last spring, are hardly in free fall, but there are signs of some slippage even so. They have filled the hole left by the supersized Samoan prop James Johnston, one of the key figures in their ascent to the title, with Paul Doran-Jones, which is akin to replacing an aircraft carrier with a pedalo. Another giant, Olly Kohn, has been succeeded by the rather more spindly Nick Kennedy. Quins will be intelligently coached, as per usual, and there will be no shortage of buzz, but they look a little lightweight suddenly.

Warm welcomes: Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton), Nick Kennedy (Toulon), Paul Sackey (Stade Francais), ???

Fond farewells: Peter Browne (London Welsh), Rory Clegg (Newcastle), Olly Kohn (retired), Will Skinner (retired).

The tealeaves say: Lower end of top six.

 

Leicester

Director of rugby: Richard Cockerill

Captain: Toby Flood

Richard Cockerill is going through one of his “woe is me” phases: the new scrum laws are pants, the Lions wrecked two of his best players, nobody loves him, blah blah. It is an act of which Jack Lemmon, that great exponent of tragi-comic performance, might have been proud. When the boss moans and groans about his lot, he does it with the twinkling eye of a man who knows he has the armoury to stage a successful title defence – especially outside the scrum, where Mathew Tait’s form at full-back is game-breakingly good. They will not lose many matches post-Christmas.

Warm welcomes: Neil Briggs (London Welsh), Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter), David Mele (Perpignan), Jerome Schuster (Perpignan).

Fond farewells: Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), Geordan Murphy (retired), Richard Thorpe (London Welsh), Micky Young (Bath).

The tealeaves say: At the business end, naturally.

 

London Irish

Director of rugby: Brian Smith

Captain: Declan Danaher

There are an awful lot of people out there who believe the Exiles, stripped bare of their assets by bigger-spending rivals, already have the dead look of the relegated in their eyes. You can see the logic in the argument, but Brian Smith believes the loss of a big name or two is more than balanced by the improvement in dressing-room harmony. The Australian still has enough back-line talent to prosper – Tom Homer, Shane Geraghty, the thrilling Marland Yarde – and if he can keep his best forwards fit and on the field, survival not out of the question.

Warm welcomes: Blair Cowan (Worcester), Myles Dorrian (Exeter), Andrew Fenby (Scarlets), John Yapp (Exeter).

Fond farewells: Jamie Gibson (Leicester), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Max Lahiff (Melbourne Rebels), Steven Shingler (Scarlets).

The tealeaves say: A fraught, fidgety 10th.

 

Newcastle

Director of rugby: Dean Richards

Captain: Will Welch

Dean Richards was cast to the back end of beyond following the disgrace of the fake blood affair at Harlequins and geographically speaking, he is still there. Newcastle may have won the inaugural Premiership title a decade and a half ago, but they have always been on the outside looking in. Richards wants to put the Tynesiders at the heart of things but his priority is to set down fresh roots after promotion. The recruits are more than capable of doing a job and as no one likes schlepping all the way up to Kingston Park, he has a chance.  

Warm welcomes: Mike Blair (Brive), Scott Lawson (London Irish), Franck Montanella (London Welsh), Andy Saull (Saracens).

Fond farewells: Jon Golding (retired), Jimmy Gopperth (Leinster), Rory Lawson (retired), Taiasina Tu’ifua (Bordeaux-Begles).

The tealeaves say: Milk and honey land:11th

 

Northampton

Director of rugby: Jim Mallinder

Captain: Dylan Hartley

Marquee signings bring a marquee-sized problem by generating unrealistic levels of expectation – in the worst cases, a Etonian sense of entitlement - amongst the paying public. The Midlanders could hardly have signed bigger or better: two of the Lions who did most to win the summer series in Australia, together with a world-class No 9 who can also do a turn at No 10, a Wallaby Test prop and a new attack coach in Alex King, one of English rugby’s brighter sparks. Therefore, the stakes are high. Nothing short of a top three finish will be remotely satisfactory.

Warm welcomes: Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Kahn Fotuali’i (Ospreys), Salesi Ma’afu (Western Force), George North (Scarlets).

Fond farewells: Ryan Lamb (Leicester), Brian Mujati (Racing Metro), Martin Roberts (Bath), Soane Tonga’uiha (Racing Metro).

The tealeaves say: Top three…or else

 

Sale

Director of rugby: Steve Diamond

Captain: Dan Braid

What to make of them? Sale have pushed their spikey brand of northern non-conformity just a little too far in recent seasons, to the point where they are now seen as a basket-case. Dan Braid, the high-performing All Black flanker, will lead the club this term and there are honest-to-goodness recruits in Tom Arscott and Jonathan Mills, both excellent for London Welsh last time out. But with Danny Cipriani showing precious few signs of coming to terms with his own talent and some of the bright young things struggling to kick on, the prospects are deeply worrying.

Warm welcomes: Tom Arscott (London Welsh), Joe Ford (Leeds), Jonathan Mills (London Welsh), Michael Paterson (Cardiff Blues).

Fond farewells: Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Richie Gray (Castres), Kearnan Myall (Wasps), Andy Powell (Wigan Warriors).

The tealeaves say: Nice knowing you

 

Saracens

Director of rugby: Mark McCall

Captain: Steve Borthwick

There are times, usually in the dark mid-winter, when watching Saracens is more of a chore than a pleasure, but there is no disputing their efficiency or their hard mental edge. With major recruits in James Johnston and Billy Vunipola adding some serious poundage to the pack, they are fully equipped in the grunt-and-groan department. Outside of the scrum, Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell know they must hit their levels if they are to hang onto their England shirts. All things considered, then, the runes make for happy reading in the northern reaches of the capital.

Warm welcomes: Richard Barrington (Jersey), James Johnston (Harlequins), Michael Tagicakibau (Bristol), Billy Vunipola (Wasps).

Fond farewells: Joe Maddock (retired), Carlos Nieto (retired), Adam Powell (Newcastle), John Smit (retired).

The tealeaves say: Top of the log, again.

 

Wasps

Director of rugby: David Young

Captain: Chris Bell

The ability to talk a good game butters precious few parsnips, but for anyone with a beating rugby heart it is good to hear Wasps waxing lyrical about their future after the near-death experiences of the last few seasons. They have some financial stability, a fine rugby director in the three-tour Lions prop David Young and the usual batch of outstanding youngsters, although whether their academy will survive the departure of the brilliant Rob Smith is open to debate. Having just dragged themselves off their knees, they cannot be expected to make a giant leap just yet. Be patient.

Warm welcomes: Jake Cooper-Woolley (Cardiff Blues), Ed Jackson (London Welsh), Esteban Lozada (Agen), Matt Mullan (Worcester).

Fond farewells: Stephen Jones (retired), Tim Payne (retired), Nicky Robinson (Bristol), Marco Wentzel (Natal).

The tealeaves say: Somewhere in the squeezed middle.

 

Worcester

Director of rugby: Dean Ryan

Captain: Jonathan Thomas

Fascinating. Dean Ryan’s return to big-time rugby can only enrich the Premiership – if there is a sharper analyst of the modern game, he remains incognito – and with three excellent Argentine players surfacing at Sixways, there is a fresh sense of ambition about the place. The Midlanders will find it tough to break into the top six this side of the home World Cup in 2015: not to put too fine a point on it, the top eight looks challenging enough. But the new coaching team are in for the long haul and intend to have some fun along the way.

Warm welcomes: Agustin Creevy (Montpellier), Leonardo Senatore (Toulon), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Paul Warwick (Stade Francais).

Fond farewells: Neil Best (London Scottish), Joe Carlisle (Wasps), Craig Gillies (retired), Nikki Walker (Edinburgh).

The tealeaves say: A low, safe rung on the ladder.

Click 'VIEW GALLERY' to launch our guide to the players to watch this season

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