Coaches: Justin Burnell, Gordon Ross, Ollie Smith, Matthew Ferguson
Key players in: Olly Barkley, Nic Reynolds (both Scarlets), Tristan Roberts (Bristol), Taione Vea (Wasps), Cameron Goodhue, Dean Schofield (both Worcester), Koree Brotton (Gloucester), Tim Molenaar (Harlequins), Darren Waters (Dragons), Laclan McCaffrey (Brumbies), Pablo Henn (Limoges), Piri Weepu (Blues), Eddie Aholelei (Rebels), James Down (Cardiff)
Key players out: Mitch Lees (Exeter), Peter Edwards (Scarlets), Cai Griffiths (Ospreys), Sonny Parker, Andy Titterrell (both retired), Joe Ajuwa, Mike Denbee, Ian Nimmo, Hudson Tonga’uiha (all released)
Strengths: In the signings of Schofield, Barkley, Weepu and Molenaar, Welsh have endured that they have plenty of experience of top level rugby. Add evergreen captain Tom May into the mix and you have a core of players that will not panic if things aren’t going their way, and should have the nous to avoid yo-yoing back to the Championship.
Weaknesses: With a total of 26 new names through the door, and plenty of others on the way out, bringing the new faces together to play as a team will be a struggle early on, you fancy. Burnell claims the culture at London Welsh is such that the new guys have fitted in seamlessly, which is no doubt true, but it’s still a massive task to get so many new guys playing together cohesively from the word go.
Big season for: Olly Barkley. He’s been somewhat of a journeyman in recent seasons, but as a Premiership veteran and their playmaker/kicker, he’ll have a huge say in Welsh’s survival chances this year.
Last season: Promoted from Championship.
Prediction: They’ve certainly got enough quality to stay up, and it almost feels like they’ve got unfinished business with the Premiership after the controversy that shrouded their stint last time. They’ll stay up, by the skin of their teeth. 11th.
Coaches: Dean Richards, John Wells, Graham Steadman, Micky Ward, Calum McRae
Key players in: Juan Pablo Socino (Rotherham), Ruki Tipuna (Bristol), Calum Green (Carnegie), Rob Hawkins (Leicester), Alesana Tuilagi (NTT Shining Arcs), Anitelea Tuilagi (Dragons), Josh Furno (Biarritz), Kane Thompson (Chiefs)
Key players out: Michael Tait (Edinburgh), Franck Montanella (Biarritz), Alex Crockett (retired), Joel Hodgson (Northampton), Fraser McKenzie (Edinburgh), Grant Shiells (Bath)
Strengths: Kingston Park is a venue no team really enjoys travelling to, especially as it seems to always rain there. Newcastle were far from flashy last season, but there were certainly dogged, and ground out some important victories early in the season that effectively saved them, despite a torrid late season run. They’ll hope to do something similar this year.
Weaknesses: Try-scoring. Their attack was horridly blunt last season, and while the signings of the Tuilagi brothers to join promising talents Sinoti Sinoti and Zach Kirbridge should go some way to helping them make inroads towards the try-line, you feel it will take more than that. With some talented playmakers at relegation rivals London Welsh, they will need to play more expansively.
Big season for: Kieran Brookes. Made his England debut over the summer and looks like he could be a real contender for the future for England.
Last season: 11th.
Prediction: It’s likely to be a head to head battle between them and Welsh for relegation, and it looks like they could lose this year. 12th.
Coaches: Jim Mallinder, Dorian West, Alex King, Alan Dickens
Key players in: Joel Hodgson (Newcastle), Jon Fisher (London Irish)
Key players out: GJ van Velze (Worcester), Fa’atoina Autagavia (USO Nevers), Paul Diggin (retired)
Strengths: The Saints can boast a proper all-court game: a strong scrum, a powerful and dynamic back row and plenty of flair in the backs. Their try tally last season (72, the highest in the league) points to as much. The coaching trio of Mallinder, West and King was superb last year and there’s no reason the Saints shouldn’t be similarly dangerous this year.
Weaknesses: With hardly any new signings and the title in the bag from last season, will things become a little stale? The Saints thrived on the ‘Why not us?’ underdog mentality – as champions, they no longer have that. Mallinder’s challenge is to keep motivation levels up. Elsewhere, while Joel Hodgson is a fine young player, they will sweat on Stephen Myler’s fitness all season, without an experienced replacement in such a key position.
Big season for: Alex Corbisiero. Can England’s best loosehead stay fit? He needs to, if he’s to have a tilt at the World Cup jersey. The superb Alex Waller will be snapping at his heels, too.
Last season: 2nd (Champions).
Prediction: They know how to win it now, but can they do it again? Only one side in the Premiership’s history has won back to back titles, so the odds are against them. 3rd.
Coaches: Steve Diamond, Brian Redpath, Mike Forshaw
Key players in: Nathan Hines (Clermont), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow), Alberto de Marchi (Treviso), Luke McLean (Treviso), Magnus Lund (Biarritz)
Key players out: Henry Thomas (Bath), Dwayne Peel (Bristol), James Gaskell, Rob Miller (Wasps), Kirill Kulemin (Perpignan), Tony Buckley (retired)
Strengths: Last season’s surprise success was built on a miserly defence, a solid pack and a resurgent Danny Cipriani. All three things will be needed again, and in that regard they’ve recruited well. Luke McLean can be dangerous from fullback but can also slot in at 10, to take some of the heat off Cipriani if necessary. Hines adds a great amount of experience and no little grunt.
Weaknesses: Their backline looks to lack a little flair, outside of Cipriani and McLean. That said, when you have runners as powerful as Jonny Leota and Sam Tuitupou in the centres, who needs flair? Their strategy will likely be running over, rather than round, people.
Big season for: Michael Paterson. The lock had a breakthrough season last year, and with the veteran Hines next to him he will look to soak up his experience and build on that.
Last season: 6th.
Prediction: A similarly mid-table campaign beckons. 8th.
Coaches: Mark McCall, Paul Gustard, Alex Sanderson, Kevin Sorrell
Key players in: Juan Figallo, Jim Hamilton (both Montpellier), Mike Ellery (England 7s), Kieran Longbottom (Western Force)
Key players out: Steve Borthwick (retired), Nick Auterac (Bath), Matt Stevens (Natal Sharks), James Short (London Irish), Joel Tomkins (Wigan Warriors), Michael Tagicakibau (Scarlets)
Strengths: Where to start? A massive tight five has been bolstered by the powerful and mobile Juan Figallo and the ever-abrasive Jim Hamilton, while there is quality and big game experience across the board.
Weaknesses: Very difficult to pinpoint. Alistair Hargreaves has a massive responsibility, filling the captaincy and leadership void left by Steve Borthwick. Other than that, they look to have two, and sometimes three, quality options in each position.
Big season for: Will Fraser. Big things are expected of the young flanker but injuries have frustrated so far. This could be his breakthrough season, if he stays fit.
Last season: 1st (runners-up).
Prediction: They have comfortably the deepest squad, which means it’s tough to see them finishing anywhere other than top of the regular season log. Nailing the knockouts is all that’s left. 1st.
Coaches: Dai Young, Brad Davis, Stephen Jones
Key players in: Bradley Davies (Cardiff), James Gaskell, Rob Miller (both Sale), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow), Alapati Leiua (Hurricanes), Ed Shervington (Worcester), John Yapp (Edinburgh), Sailosi Tagicakibau (London Irish)
Key players out: Hugo Southwell (retired), Tom Palmer (Gloucester), Tommy Bell (Jersey), Rory Pitman (Scarlets), Joe Carlisle (Treviso), Charlie Hayter (England 7s)
Strengths: There are tries in this team. A backline that could include new signings Leuia, Miller and Tagicakibau, to go along with Joe Simpson, Elliot Daly, Andrea Masi, Will Helu, Tom Varndell and Christian Wade is nothing short of mouthwatering. If they get the platform from a tight five that has been bolstered impressively, they could be hugely dangerous.
Weaknesses: Over the past few years their big weakness has been their tight five, but the arrivals of Davies and Cittadini to join the likes of Matt Mullan and Joe Launchbury should mean they are solid. Depth here could be an issue, however, as their reserves look weak and almost their entire first choice tight five will be on international duty at times.
Big season for: Christian Wade. Dogged by injury last year, this is the diminutive speedster’s time to shine.
Last season: 7th.
Prediction: It’s going to be immensely difficult to make it into the European spots this year, but Wasps have the quality to at least make that play-off again. 7th.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images