With the new season lurking over the horizon and the new Premiership arrivals moulding in to their new club set-ups, predictions of this year’s high flyers can now truly begin. With quality English youngsters coming to the fore and a handful of supreme talents switching within or moving into the Premiership we certainly won’t be short of exuberant, extraordinary rugby.
Being able to view all the action from an unbiased, unique vantage point would be superb and in this article I will try and give an overview of each club’s chances this season from that very stand point.
Ground: The Rec
Last Season Finish: 7th
Captain: Stuart Hooper
Bath is a superb place to watch a game of Rugby Union. For many years Bath has been the stand-out team in the West Country. After the last few years of mixed performances and inconsistent League finishes, it is time for Bath to really work their way back into the Top 4 and battle for Aviva Title Holders and European status. With plenty of pace and youth in the backline especially, I’m in no doubt that Bath will open up defences this season and regularly score some inspiring 5 pointers.
Juan Pablo Orlandi-Prop
George Ford-Fly Half
Micky Young-Scrum Half
Martin Roberts-Scrum Half
Gavin Henson-Fly Half
Pre Season Fixtures & Results-
Bath 69-5 Bristol
NG Dragons 22-20 Bath
Bath 27-10 Ospreys
High Expectations- Kyle Eastmond:
Eastmond impressed on England’s tour to Argentina and has conveyed his brilliance going forward. If he impresses early on for Bath this season I imagine he could secure a spot in the England 12 shirt.
Big Impact- Jonathan Joseph:
The 22 year old partnered Eastmond on occasions in Argentina however fell out of favour with Lancaster. If Joseph can ignite a pairing with Eastmond and develop his defensive game, he could also push Tuilagi for the 13 shirt.
No Pressure- Gavin Henson:
Enough said. At his what feels like, 2oth club. Hope it doesn’t affect Carl Fearns’ performances…
If the management can suss a good backline combination with the likes of Joseph, Banahan, Watson and Heathcote, Bath could really tear the best teams apart. I think they will finish mid table-6th.
Ground: Sandy Park
Last Season Finish: 6th
Captain: Dean Mumm
With Rob Baxter still at the helm the Chiefs have once again recruited cleverly and impressively. The recent signing of New Zealander Romana Graham from the Chiefs is a statement from Rob Baxter and his men are pushing for Play-Offs. With a handful of English U20s and the addition of outstanding Celtic League Wingers Tom James and Fetu’u Vanikolo. Exeter have always played a very high standard without some of the games big names. Solidity has always been the key in their Premiership performances with monumental defence and ruthless in attack. If Henry Slade or Gareth Steenson can keep that scoreboard ticking over Exeter’s ability to claim a few scalps will help them to a successive top 6 finish.
Dave Lewis-Scrum Half
Ceri Sweeney-Fly Half
Pre-Season Fixtures & Results-
Scarlets 15-23 Exeter
Exeter 51-7 Bristol
Exeter 26 v 29 Glasgow
High Expectations- Luke Cowan-Dickie and Fetu’u Vanikolo:
The Mullet Man, Cowan-Dickie has been pipped to become one of England’s best Hookers. Following on from a notable JWC, Luke now needs to maintain regular first team starts and refine some key skills to make him a rounded Hooker. Former Connacht man, Vanikolo was one of the League’s best finishers last year and I wouldn’t put it past him to recreate such form this campaign.
Big Impact- Romana Graham:
The 6’7 New Zealand International will partner Club Captain and trans-Tasman Dean Mumm in the Second Row. Not only will his sheer stature create a massive impact in the pack, but his experience and consistent set-piece will help to take Exeter to the next step.
No Pressure- Jack Nowell:
After being named in the England Saxons squad, Jack Nowell is slowly becoming one of England’s best prospects following the likes of Christian Wade and Marland Yarde. If he can really secure a spot at 14 or 15 and hit the heights again this year, then Nowell will remain on the cusp of a Senior England Cap.
Exeter along with Gloucester and Bath are really pressing for a mid-table finish, however I think Bath will pip the last top 6 place. Exeter will finish 7th.
Stadium Capacity: 16,500
Last Season Finish: 5th
Captain: Tom Savage
The Cherry and Whites recruitment this Summer has been minimal with only 5 players being brought into the squad. However Nigel Davies and co. should be more than impressed with the signings they’ve made including German born Matt Kvesic and 11-times capped Welshman, Tavis Knoyle. After a winning JP Morgan 7s, and blooding new talent in the pre-season, Gloucester’s team looks inundated with quality especially from its English contingent. With Freddie Burns and Twelvetrees now pushing for a consistent first XV England spot, let’s hope the backline comes out with all guns blazing in the new season. After being named Club Captain, the young Tom Savage will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders, especially with the strength in depth in the Second and Back Row, to secure a regular starting spot.
Matt Kvesic-Back Row
Tavis Knoyle-Scrum Half
Johnny Bentley-Fly Half
Pre-Season Fixtures & Results-
Toulon 41-17 Gloucester
Munster 28-17 Gloucester
Gloucester 22-13 Plymouth
Gloucester 31-17 Llanelli
High Expectations- Freddie Burns:
For many England fans, Burns is deemed to be the best pick at 10. A Fly Half who attacks the gain line, maintains a continual go forward and applies pressure, Burns is certainly not short in confidence. His creativity and ability to identify space is what sets him apart from England contenders like Toby Flood, and with a Gloucester backline inundated with pace, if Burns can create space out wide or in behind, players like May, Sharples and Sinbad will be able to benefit and hopefully cross the whitewash on a regular basis.
Big Impact- Matt Kvesic:
Every club needs a player like Matt Kvesic. After his trip to Argentina with a young, less experienced England squad, Kvesic stood out as one of the main tacklers, jacklers and line breakers. He is without doubt set to be the regular England Back Row selection and could resultantly cause Robshaw to drop to the bench. If he can maintain such influential form, he will help Gloucester to push the top teams in England and Europe.
No Pressure- Jonny May:
The quickest in the side, May is a Shed favourite and with a clinical streak he will be challenging for top spot on the Try scoring charts. With a handful of young English talent on the Wings, May seems to be a step behind Wade and Yarde. He needs a big season with plenty of demonstrations proving his attacking and defensive class respectively.
5th. Gloucester will maintain their unbelievable record at home, but will probably not come out on top enough away from home.
Ground: Twickenham Stoop
Stadium Capacity: 14,816
Last Season Finish: 3rd
Captain: Chris Robshaw
Quins would have been massively disappointed that they were unable to reach the Final let alone regain the title last season. Conor O’Shea’s side have vowed that they will be even better this year. Having only secured LV= Champion status, Harlequins will now look to storm through the Heineken group stages with inconsistent Clermont and Racing teams and a beatable Scarlets outfit. The introductions of Kennedy and Sackey to the Stoop especially has given an added depth in experience and proven quality which should help the team to winning performances during the International window.
Pre-Season Fixtures & Results
Racing Metro 92 40-28 Harlequins
Harlequins 40-15 London Scottish
Harlequins 19-16 Glasgow Warriors
High Expectations- Luke Wallace & Jack Clifford:
Back Row talent in England is extraordinary. With an impressive 2012/13 season, Luke Wallace will also be vying for starting selection for the England Saxons and will need to compete with his Club Captain Robshaw. Academy mam Jack Clifford will be eager to earn as many first team appearances as he can and as a result will be able to test himself at the toughest level. Let’s hope that both make huge strides this season as it only be looked upon in a positive nature, planning ahead for the 2015 and 2019 RWCs.
Big Impact- Nick Kennedy:
Now a Heineken Cup Champion, Kennedy will be looking to help propel Quins to European victory. Having now experienced top-flight rugby in France, like many English players, Kennedy should now be more rounded as an individual for his time in the working class town of Toulon.
No Pressure- Chris Robshaw:
Matt Kvesic, Tom Wood, Luke Wallace, Will Fraser….these are just four reasons why Robshaw has to have one of the best season’s of his career. Failing to make the Lions tour to Australia must have been painful enough for the 27 year old from Redhill, however losing his England place and Captaincy could be the defining moment in his career. However, as a huge Robshaw fan, I’m in no doubt he will lead from the front and live up to expectation.
4th in the Table. 3rd in the Play-Offs. Harlequins will lose key players during the International period however will regain momentum going into the Play-Offs. Conor O’Shea will be insistent on getting to the Premiership Final, however they may just fall short again.
The next instalment will look at last seasons Champions, London Irish, Wasps and their vast new signings and the returning Falcons.