Over the last few years the Aviva Premiership has rapidly grown to become just about the most competitive domestic league in World Rugby. Whilst I’m sure many would choose to disagree it is hard to argue with 6 different winners in the last 10 years (only the Top 14 can match this), whilst the last 3 years have yielded 3 different winners.
This year has been no different with 6 teams still in the hunt for a play-off spot with just two games to go whilst Worcester still retain slim hopes of survival and 3 sides are fighting it out for 7th spot and a shot at Champions Cup qualification. It is this kind of open league that helps to ensure fans are kept entertained right up until the final games of the season year after year.
Whilst many will complain that the top 3 or 4 can be pretty much predicted year on year the reality is that with a number of clubs strengthening the battle for a play-off spot is becoming more competitive, and this year has seen Bath slip in ahead of Harlequins assuming they don’t throw their 6 point advantage away. The exciting prospect however is that the Aviva Premiership looks set to be even more competitive in 2014/15.
Whilst the top sides like Saracens, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers will be looking to continue their dominance Sale Sharks and Bath Rugby will also look to maintain the progress they have shown this season. In addition to this the likes of Gloucester and London Wasps are building strongly with some big name signings and will be looking to break back into the top 6 at the very least. Further down the table the likes of London Irish and Worcester Warriors are investing heavily in new playing staff for the new season.
Whilst it looks likely that Worcester will be facing the drop come the end of the season barring a minor miracle (or an issue with the winner of the Championship) it looks likely they will be replaced by a team at least as strong. Bristol have to be favourites to come up next season and with the acquisition of players like Anthony Perenise, Ryan Jones and Dwayne Peel they should be more than capable of competing.
It also seems like the general quality of the existing teams in the Premiership is likely to step up significantly as Wasps and Irish have been given a significant financial boost by new owners whilst the additional money from the BT Sport and new Champions Cup deal has been put straight into a rise in the wage cap. Just take a look at the list of acquisitions below to see the amount of talent coming into the league next season;
In: Henry Thomas (Sale), Nick Auterac (Saracens), Sam Burgess (South Sydney RL)
Out: Anthony Perenise (Bristol), Nick Adendanon (Clermont Auvergne), Tom Biggs (Worcester Warriors), Josh Ovens (Retirement), Nick Koster (Bristol)
In: Thomas Waldrom (Leicester), Moray Low (Glasgow)
Out: Hoani Tui (Lyon OU), Craig Mitchell (Cardiff), Romana Graham (La Rochelle), Chris Whitehead (Retirement)
In: John Afoa (Ulster), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Mariano Galarza (Worcester), Greg Laidlaw (Edinburgh), Tom Isaacs (Ospreys), Aled Thomas (Llanelli), Mark Atkinson (Bedford) Tom Palmer (Wasps) Steve McColl (Leeds)
Out: Freddie Burns (Leicester?), Matt Cox (Worcester), Ryan Mills (Worcester), Tavis Knoyle (Cardiff), Andy Hazell (Retirement), Akapusi Qera (In Season-Toulouse), Tim Taylor (Retirement), Will James (retirement) Tim Molenaar (In season – Harlequins)
In: Marland Yarde (London Irish) Tim Molenaar (Gloucester)
Out: Tom Guest (London Irish), Sam Smith (Worcester)
In: Freddie Burns (Gloucester?), Laurence Pearce (Rotherham), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Christian Loamanu (Treviso)
Out: Toby Flood (Toulouse), Thomas Waldrom (Exeter), Boris Stankovich (Newport)
In: Tom Court (Ulster), Luke Narraway (Perpignan), Tom Guest (Harlequins), Eoin Griffin (Connacht), James Short (Saracens(Wasps Loan)), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh)
Out: Marland Yarde (Harlequins), James O’Connor (Toulon)
In: Juan Pablo Socino (Rotherham)
Out: Chris Pilgrim (Leeds), Carlo Del Farva (Retirement), James Fitzpatrick (Leeds), Michael Tait (Edinburgh), Franck Montanella (Unknown-Immediate)
Out: GJ Van Velze (Worcester)
In: Nathan Hines (Clermont), Chris Cuisiter (Glasgow), Alberto Di Marchi (Treviso)
Out: Dwayne Peel (Bristol), Henry Thomas (Bath), James Gaskell (Wasps), Rob Miller (Wasps)
Out: Nick Auterac (Bath), Matt Stevens (Natal Sharks), Max Crumpton (Bristol), James Short (London Irish)
In: Andries Pretorius (Cardiff), Matt Cox (Gloucester), Ryan Mills (Gloucester), GJ Van Velze (Northampton), Charlie Mulchrone (Rotherham), Joe Rees (Ospreys), Heath Stevens (Plymouth Albion), Neil Arnott (Ulster), Dan Sanderson (Rotherham), Ben Sowery (Rotherham), Sam Smith (Harlequins)
Out: David Lemi (Bristol), Josh Matavesi (Ospreys), Mariano Galarza (Gloucester)
In: Bradley Davies (Cardiff), James Gaskell (Sale), Rob Miller (Sale), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow), Lorenzo Cittadini (Benetton Treviso)
Out: Neil Cochrane (Edinburgh) James Short (Loan Ends-London Irish) Tom Palmer (Gloucester)
As you can see the likes of Gloucester, Wasps and London Irish are making a real bid for the top 4/6 next season whilst the likes of Sale will be looking to at least retain their spot in the top 6. There are also likely to be a few signings yet to be announced (Saracens in particular are conspicuous by their general absence from the transfer markets so far) whilst is likely to bolster several teams even further.
Despite the signings we are likely to see one or two sides fail to live up to expectations (see Gloucester and Exeter this year), however despite this it is nigh on impossible to predict league positions next year. With the additions outline above it is easy to see how any team is capable of winnings against anyone else with several sides likely to cause some major upsets.
Who do you think will claim the Premiership crown next season?