Guide to the Aviva Premiership 2013/14-Part 3

Northampton Saints-

30981

Ground- Franklin’s Gardens

Capacity- 13,591

Last Season Finish- 4th & Runner-Up

Captain- Dylan Hartley

 

Saints fans are ecstatic after a summer of signings that pretty much every other Premiership club can be envious of. With the addition of two of the best Lions in Oz, Alex Corbisiero and Welsh superstar George North, Saints are now on par for a strong title challenge with the likes of Saracens and Leicester. However, probably the most imperative and overwhelming signing is Samoan and one of the world’s best Scrum Half’s, Kahn Fotuali’i. Last season was once again one game too far for the East Midlands outfit, yet if events had unfolded in the favour of Northampton, it may of been a whole new story. Jim Mallinder and co. are now set for potentially their best season yet. Europe, watch out!

 

Transfers In-

Kahn Fotuali’i-Scrum Half

Salesi Ma’afu-Prop

Gareth Denman-Prop

Alex Corbisiero-Prop

George North-Wing

Rob Verbakel-Lock

Glenn Dickson-Fly Half

 

Pre Season Fixtures & Results-

Bedford 21-45 Northampton

Moseley 32-38 Northampton

Northampton 24-6 Edinburgh

Leinster 13-21 Northampton

 

High Expectations- Alex Corbisiero & Alex King:

It’s tremendous how coming off the back of rumours that he may never be fully fit to play International rugby, and the dismissal of his ability from some fans, Corbisiero swiftly became a Lions legend. After a powerful, try-scoring, big-hitting campaign against the Wallabies with Gatland’s select few, he is now Saints’ Marquee Signing. Looking leaner and appearing in Saints’ opener against the Chiefs at the weekend, if Alex Corbisiero becomes the player he was only a few months ago, the Gardens faithful will be rubbing their hands together gladly. The season looks bright for Hartley’s boys. Another new boy in the shape of the former professional Fly Half turned Backs Coach Alex King, has taken over from Paul Grayson. King, after experiencing the riches of rugby in the Top 14 with Champions and Heineken Runners-up Clermont Auvergne, has much to offer to a Saints backline that has added to its already vast talent. If he can get North, Myler, the Pisi’s and Foden firing, it should be tries plenty for last years Finalists.

Big Impact- Kahn Fotuali’i:

The most underrated signing of the Summer. The former Crusaders and Ospreys 9 is of a similar pedigree to Will Genia. Very creative with ball in hand, Fotuali’i can identify the gaps to help put the big/fast runners through them. Also with incredible upper body strength and a devilish step, Fotuali’i can also play Stand-Off and on the Wing. What’s there not to like…?!

No Pressure- Dylan Hartley:

After his antics in last years Final, Hartley has vowed to keep his head down and out of the shooting range of the officials. It seems like his Captaincy has come under scrutiny, with the likes of Tom Wood tipped to be the future England Captain too. Time will tell if Mallinder made the right decision, because some times Mallinder’s decision making does leave a lot to be desired.

 

Predicted Finish-

3rd. Last in the Play-Offs. They have made some hugely talented signings, but until they get hold of a consistent 10, they won’t be filling that Trophy Cabinet.

 

Sale Sharks-

New-Sale-Sharks-Kit-2013-14

Ground: Salford City Stadium

Capacity: 12,000

Last Season Finish: 10th

Captain: Daniel Braid

 

Well, Sale were the surprise team of the opening weekend. An outstanding performance with good continuity and pressure from Steve Diamond’s side made it hard for a Gloucester team with bags of prowess. After a season that saw Sale drop down into a relegation scrap, 2013/14 is an opportunity for Diamond, Redpath and co. to regroup and aim for a top 6 spot. With a heavy influx of London Welsh players and also the signing of George Ford’s older brother Joe, Sale will have quite a few players who will not want to suffer the angst and heartbreak of finishing bottom again. However, some of Sale’s youngsters did prove themselves last year managing to best the likes of Sarries and the Scarlets to reach the LV= Cup Final. I think Premiership placement will be the main focus for Diamond this season. So far, so good.

 

Transfers In-

Tom Arscott-Wing

Michael Paterson-Lock/Back Row

Charlie Walker Blair-Flanker

Kirill Kulemin-Lock

Phil Mackenzie-Wing

Andy Forsyth-Centre/Full Back

Daniel Baines-Hooker

Joe Ford-Fly Half

Jonathan Mills-Lock

 

Pre Season Fixtures & Results-

Fylde 7-36 Sale Sharks

Sale Sharks 38-3 Leeds Carnegie

Cardiff Blues 45-24 Sale Sharks

 

High Expectations- Daniel Braid & Henry Thomas:

Newly appointed Club Captain Daniel Braid is now ready for his second year at the Salford based club. Solid in the loose and a natural leader, Braid has to help mould and encourage a young, newly built side so that they can challenge the likes of Leicester and Saracens on the away legs. Thomas won his first 2 caps for England over the Summer coming off the bench against Argentina. After being on the edge of continued England caps for a while, he needs to push on to challenge Cole and Wilson for the Tight Head jersey.

Big Impact- Jonathan Mills:

The 29 year old who has represented Wales at all youth levels has decided to give Premiership rugby another opportunity. At 6ft 5 he isn’t quite a like for like replacement for Lion Richie Gray who departed for the sunny skies of Castres, however with experience on his side and the desire to escape relegations he along with fellow lock Kirill Kulemin, will be effective carriers and hopefully secure ball in the Lineout to lay a platform for Peel to work off.

No Pressure- Danny Cipriani:

The chips are down for Cips. Another eventful summer in his recent relationship ordeal has probably led to a hap hazard pre-season. He did begin to show flairs of brilliance last season but became second string to Nick Macleod. One day he may find his playmaker within that was so evident at Wasps, if that day comes, don’t rule out England caps!

 

Predicted Finish-

After the Kingsholm win, 9th. Rounded team with a strong balance.

 

Saracens-

Ashton

Ground- Allianz Park

Capacity- 10,000

Last Season Finish- 1st & Play-Off SF

Captain- Steve Borthwick

 

Unable to regain their title last year, Mark McCall’s High Barnet located team are vying once again for the trophy. After a superb start to the campaign with a convincing win over London Irish, Saracens have managed to maintain most of last season’s squad to help develop the bond and cohesion within the team. The biggest bonus for Sarries is the youthful English prospects that they have pushing for places. After the double try hero Jamie George gained the plaudits at the weekend and Lion Mako Vunipola alongside brother and new recruit Billy also helped a dominant Saracens pack. With a well balanced squad, Saracens will continue to be up there as one of England’s best.

 

Transfers In-

Marcelo Bosch-Centre

Richard Barrington-Prop

Tim Streather-Centre

Billy Vunipola-Number 8

Michael Tagicakibau-Wing

Jack Wilson-Wing

James Johnston-Prop

 

Pre Season Fixtures & Results-

Saracens 61-3 Cornish Pirates

Saracens 71-12 Bedford Blues

 

High Expectations- Mako Vunipola & Will Fraser:

Vunipola didn’t always come up trumps down under, but still only 22, Vunipola has plenty of time to develop his scrummaging work and improve with ball in hand. Potentially, he is the biggest prospect in the Front Row within the British Isles and it’ll be interesting to see whether he is first choice Loose-head in future Lions tours to come. The 23 year old Fraser is one of a long line of top notch English Back Rowers and needs to hit the ground running when he returns for Saracens after missing some of last season due to a unique Latissimus Dorsi injury.

Big Impact- Billy Vunipola:

Saracens already have two solid, powerful ball carrying Number 8s in Jackson Wray and Ernst Joubert. However, the addition of Big Billy will give Saracens an extra dimension in attack. Vunipola has the ability to drag in a handful of defenders and get over the Gain Line resultantly allowing Sarries to utilise the space out wide.

No Pressure- Chris Ashton:

Ash Splash has been a deteriorating event over the last year. Ashton will probably be bitter after missing out on Lions selection, even though he hadn’t shown a vain of form impeccable enough to gain it. Probably behind Wade and Yarde in the England Wing rankings, Ashton needs to continue tracking the ball carrier and hopefully his tremendous try-scoring form will return.

 

Predicted Finish-

1st in the table. Runners-Up overall. A superbly talented squad with thriving class in every position. However Cockerill’s men will know how to win the crucial encounters.

 

Worcester Warriors-

Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors - Aviva Premiership

Ground-Sixways Stadium

Capacity-12,024

Last Season Finish-11th

Captain-Jonathan Thomas

 

The Warriors Premiership form has been jinxed ever since they finished 8th in their first season in the top flight. After years of new formula’s and combinations that haven’t worked former Bristol and Gloucester Head Coach Dean Ryan has been appointed as DOR at the club. Ryan has added Carl Hogg, Simon Cross and Shane Howarth to help develop Worcester into a top 6 side, yet Ryan has stated the importance of time and ensuring it’s a long-term effort. With only one player signing made by Ryan himself, Club Captain Jonathan Thomas, Ryan doesn’t have the easiest season ahead by any means, but he is a hard, gritty character who will help Worcester to clinch those all important close games.

 

Transfers In-

Agustin Creevy-Hooker

Ignacio Mieres-Fly Half

Leonardo Senatore-Back Row

Paul Warwick-Fly Half/Full Back

Paul Andrew-Prop

Chris Brooker-Hooker

Ofa Fainga’anuku-Prop

James Stephenson-Wing

Jeremy Becasseau-Prop

Jeremy Su’a-Scrum Half

Cameron Goodhue-Back Row

Mike Williams-Lock

Jonathan Thomas-Flanker

 

Pre Season Fixtures & Results-

Worcester 29-18 Rotheram Titans

Worcester 17-21 Cardiff Blues

Ospreys 23-19 Worcester

 

High Expectations- Ignacio Mieres & Chris Pennell:

Former Exeter Chief Mieres has taken over the mantle from Andy Goode as first choice Fly Half. In competition with former Munsterman and Stade Francais versatility back Paul Warwick, Mieres needs to re-invent a Worcester backline and is expected to create a few openings in the midfield so that Lemi, Matavesi and co. can exploit them. Whilst Pennell who has looked bulkier and sharper than last season, started this season with class at Welford Road. As the year’s have passed Pennell has developed time and time again. A player that looked nervous in defence and low in self-belief with the ball, Pennell has now become the most trustworthy cog in Worcester’s backs engine. Even against Leicester he looked composed, read Lamb’s boot on many occasions and was by far the Warriors best player.

Big Impact- Jonathan Thomas:

The best Flanker’s do their jobs without a whisper on a rugby field. If they are regularly unnoticed, un-penalised and generally non-existent, they are doing their job expertly. Thomas who had been loyal to the Ospreys, rejected a more lucrative offer from Top 14 side Biarritz to be part of Ryan’s long-term goal. A former Welsh Captain, Thomas has the leadership qualities and determination to help Worcester through what could be an extremely aggravating season.

No Pressure- Dean Ryan & Co.:

If Dean Ryan can’t crack the Sixways code, who can?! A whole clear-out at the club with new coaches, backroom staff, the works, the team have to put 100% into ensuring Worcester are a competitive Premiership side for seasons ahead.

 

Predicted Finish-

11th. After the performance at Welford Road, Worcester will make life hard for themselves with poor discipline and composure. As a Worcester fan, this season may just be a case of being thankful for every away point we can gain. Let’s hope Ryan can at least ensure Sixways becomes a fortress!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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