Season's greetings: The ins and outs of all the Courage National League One clubs

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Last year lost Jack Rowell and Stuart Barnes; this year the retirees are the highly valued Jon Hall and Tony Swift. Yet 's strength in depth will see them through the transition - who knows, maybe even Eric Peters (eight full Scottish caps) may get a regular place - and it makes them odds-on favourites to take back from Leicester the championship which, after four consecutive triumphs, had seemed theirs by right. Andy Nicol, the Scottish international scrum-half, is finally fit and, having missed the whole of last season, is likely to make a huge impact on the Courage League. Mike Catt is likely to play at fly-half rather than full-back, as once requested, which leaves him and Nicol as the first-choice half-back pair - quite a prospect.

Championship odds: 5-6

Last year's position: 2nd

Players in: None

Players out: Jon Hall, Tony Swift (both retired), Dave Crompton (Saracens), Jon Bamsey (Weston-super-Mare).


Out goes Derek Eves, the try-scoring flanker, and in come three back-rowers (Corry, Rollitt and Dickson). It would seem likely, then, that Bristol will miss most the talismanic qualities in their former captain, yet Brian Hanlon, their director of rugby, believes they will be better without him, saying their game revolved around him too much and can now open out. Bristol have recruited heavily and they have a gem in Arwel Thomas, a stand-off, who may displace Mark Tainton - the division's biggest points- scorer last season - when qualified to play. Bristol were one of two sides to beat Leicester in the league last season (the other was Gloucester), yet they still look a side to cause upsets rather than suffer them.

Championship odds: 9-1

Last year's position: 6th

Players in: Gareth Archer, Martin Corry (both Newcastle Gosforth), Arwel Thomas (Neath), Jason Keyter (Harlequins), Eben Rollitt (Cambridge University), Andy Furley (Nottingham), Ian Dickson (London Scottish).

Players out: Derek Eves (Coventry), Mark Chudleigh (Moseley).


There has been such uncertainty about who would be at Kingsholm this year that pre-season training could have included the hokey-cokey. Mark Mapletoft was out, having signed for , and then in again, Frank Bunce was in, out and now seems back in. Mapletoft is a great talent and his retention is crucial to a club that had a long look at relegation last season. Bunce is due to arrive in November; registration rules only allow him to coach, though the considerable effect of an All Black off the pitch could be maximised if, as is possible, the rules are relaxed, and he is allowed on it. If Richard West and Dave Sims (England and England A) fulfil their potential to be the best pair of jumpers in the league, this season need not mirror the struggle of the last.

Championship odds: 50-1

Last year's position: 7th

Players in: Nigel Richardson (Cambridge Univ), Mike Joy (Oxford Univ), Phil Vickery (Redruth), Colin Gibson (Swansea), Neil Matthews (Bristol).

Players out: Mike Teague (retired), Ben Maslen (Harlequins).


The horrors of last season, when a win on the last day saved them from relegation, should not be repeated. A positive air pervades The Stoop for two reasons: Jason Leonard has taken over the captaincy from Brian Moore and is already proving a more personable leader, and the coach Dick Best, who arrived halfway through last season with the club already in trouble, has been there right from the start this time round and is letting everyone know it. Fitness will not be a problem. Other reasons for optimism: Peter Mensah and Rory Jenkins were two of the most impressive players on the England A summer tour, and David Pears and Jim Staples, two internationals who leave the pitch more often on stretchers than on foot, are both fit and well. Staples broke a tooth in training but their problems end there.

Championship odds: 25-1

Last year's position: 8th

Players in: Richard Dix (Cambridge Univ), Adam Jackson (Orrell).

Players out: Jason Keyter (Bristol), Gavin Thompson (London Scottish).


Though top of the league last season, Leicester were halfway down it on try count (Wasps were top, Northampton were bottom) and this is an area that is to be addressed. Tony Russ, their director of rugby, is intending to expand on last season's winning formula and is advocating a wider game this time round. With Steve Hackney and a pair of Underwoods in the wings (Tony Underwood will miss the first month while recovering from a post-World Cup operation), he certainly has the equipment in place to do so. The team to defend the championship will be much the same as the one which won it, though watch out for Eric Miller, a former Under-19 Irish international, who is likely to be a force in the back row.

Championship odds: 2-1

Last year's position: 1st

Players in: Eric Miller (Leinster), Murray Craig (Waterloo), Gary Becconsall (Moseley), James Overend (Otley), Dorian West (Nottingham).

Players out: Tom Smith (retired).


The sight of Tuigamala on the team sheet may alleviate worries for what will undoubtedly be a tricky season. Lewis, younger brother of Va'aiga, has, according to Orrell's coach, Phil Moss, the physical attributes of his Wigan sibling and is also "one of the nicest people you could hope to meet". Tuigamala, however, is not yet certain of a first-team place and so will not necessarily give the much- needed boost to a side that will miss two retirees: the inspirational Dewi Morris, Orrell's all-time leading try-scorer, and the full-back Simon Langford, the last two seasons' leading points-scorer. Austin Healey will move in from the wing to scrum-half and the new recruit Simon Mason will play at No15. Should these selections not work, the prospects are not good.

Championship odds: 80-1

Last year's position: 5th

Players in: Simon Mason (Newcastle Gosforth), Alex Bennett (Otley), Tim Woods (Liverpool St Helens), Garry Lloyd (Rhyl).

Players out: Dewi Morris, Simon Langford (both retired).


The surprises of last season. Sale were tipped for relegation but their open, fast-moving game proved hard to combat and, having scored more tries than all League One bar Wasps, they finished an impressive fourth. It will be the same show this time round - "There's no other way to survive," says their director, Paul Turner. The question then arises as to how long Turner can continue playing. He is 36 and intends, eventually, to hand over the stand-off berth full-time to his understudy, Rob Liley. Last season Liley played in just two league games this season he will probably be in the starting line-up. If Liley really can replace his evergreen player-coach, then Sale are safe. If he cannot, then Turner will have to go on wheeling himself out.

Championship odds: 33-1

Last year's position: 4th

Players in: Paul Hewitt (Pontypool), Matt Dobson (Ballymena), David Rees (Tynedale), Graham Higginbotham (Broughton Park).

Players out: Rory Goodwin (Waterloo), Paul Underhill (Old Aldwinians).


The small promoted side from Enfield, north London, are due a baptism of a fiery nature in the top tier on Saturday when they face Leicester away. The fixture will show how effective their pre-season - eight days in Ireland, Dave Alred coaching the kickers - has been. In fact Saracens have been preparing for this ever since February when their rise out of League Two became virtually assured. Though they come into League One vowing to play the sort of open rugby that has served Sale so well, their supreme strength is in the back row, where Richard Hill and Tony Diprose, one of the few successes of the England A summer tour, are certain to make an impact.

Championship odds: 50-1

Last year's position: League Two winners

Players in: Garry Holmes (Wasps), Alastair Metcalfe (Cambridge Univ), Kris Chesney (Barking), Todd Wolfe (Taranaki), Iestyn Lewis (), Matt Singer (Neath), Craig Yandell (Swansea Univ).

Players out: John Cooke (Rosslyn Park).


The entertainers of last season won all the plaudits but none of the prizes. They planned to run everything but, as winter conditions worsened, ran into trouble. The refined game-plan with which Wasps ended the season, though, had the beating of and Leicester, which augurs well for this time round. Pre-season has been impressive - they beat Pontypridd and Blackrock in a tournament in Holland - and they can cover for the injured Norman Hadley (one month out) and Chris Wilkins (four), competition for places coming from the promising Peter Scrivener and Richard Pool- Jones, the Cambridge blue, who has looked sharp in training. The most coveted of all Wasps' talents is Andy Gomarsall, the scrum-half who was flown out to South Africa to join England, but can't get a starting spot at Sudbury.

Championship odds: 4-1

Last year's position: 3rd

Players in: Richard Pool-Jones (Biarritz), Matt Griffiths (Blackheath).

Players out: Garry Holmes (Saracens).

West Hartlepool

The objective last season - League One survival - must be the same this time and must be harder to achieve if, as expected, the number of relegated clubs increases to three. On the plus side, two giants are on the scene: Richard Metcalfe, the 7ft 1in England A lock, who must wait until January to play league rugby, and Jim Williams, an Australian centre who, at 6ft 4in and 18 stone, is just an inch and a stone short of Jonah Lomu. If he could move at the same speed, West would probably win the league, but as it is, they face a struggle which won't be helped by a month without John Stabler (injured), as stand-off is a position in which West have little cover. Expect to see Kevan Oliphant (a full-back) or Paul Hodder (a centre) as replacements.

Championship odds: 100-1

Last year's position: 9th

Players in: Richard Arnold, Richard Metcalfe (both Newcastle Gosforth), Graham Childs (Wasps), Rob Leach (Harlequins), Phil Belgian (), Andrew Blyth (Tyndale), Craig Lee (Stockton).

Players out: Kevin Westgarth (Northern), John Dixon (Acklam).