Our Guinness Premiership expert, Jon Hobbs, has put together a run down of every club’s transfer activity and offers his team-by-team predictions for the coming season.
What are your thoughts? Will the Premiership finish in this order, with Gloucester finally lifting the trophy and Bristol plummeting into National One? Who do you think are the most exciting signings to watch?
Don’t forget, you can join The Rugby Blog’s predictions league and maybe even show Hobbs that you know better…
2007/08 league position: 1st; finish losing play-off semi
2008/09 league prediction: 1st: finish Champions
The only thing that will stop Gloucester winning the league this season is if they bottle it at the final hurdle…again. Somerville is a peach of a signing, Barkley and Watkins are up there too, plus they haven’t lost anyone of real note.
It is a shame that Paterson couldn’t be fitted into the team to either the club or the player’s satisfaction but Glaws wont really miss him.
2007/08 league position: 6th
2008/09 league prediction: 2nd – Finish runners up
Quins missed out on a play-off place on the last day of the regular season and look like a team on the up. Nick Evans is a magnificent signing and will be a significant improvement on the distinctly average Quins 10s of recent seasons (post Mehrtens!) if they play him there.
Second place is a bold shout and could depend on how many of the Quins 1st XV get the England nod but Dean Richards is creating a promising scene in West London.
2007/08 league position: 4th; finish runners-up
2008/09 league prediction: 3rd; finish losing play-off semi
Having gone off the rails with a bout of xenophobia last season, Leicester fans will be hoping new head coach Heyneke Meyer “fits in” well and helps the team get back on track.
Getting into the play-offs (just) and making it to the final wouldn’t necessarily constitute a bad season for many clubs but a trophyless season at Welford Road is not something the club will want to repeat.
Their success may depend on how much they miss Goode and how quickly Hougaard and Flood bed in.
2007/08 league position: 2nd; play-off winners
2008/09 league prediction: 4th – finish losing playoff semi
Two decent signings for Wasps in Betsen and Robinson, neither of whom will have international teams calling, but Craig Dowd, Lawrence Dallaglio and Fraser Waters are big losses on the presence and influence front.
With Cipriani out until November at least and England likely to rely on Haskell, Rees and possibly Flutey as 1st XV starters it will be another one of those peak and trough campaigns for Wasps.
As usual I would expect them to do enough to make the play-offs but this season might be a bridge too far to actually win the thing. Could well be in the running for the Heineken Cup though.
2007/08 league position: 3rd
2008/09 league prediction: 5th
Two big losses in Olly Barkley and Steve Borthwick could destabilise a squad that had begun to regularly challenge for top honours.
Bath will hope Justin Harrison is not past his best and that Shontayne Hape becomes a convert in the mould of Robinson or Tuqiri rather than say, a Karl Pryce, but I expect them to just miss the playoffs this year.
2007/08 league position: 10th
2008/09 league prediction: 6th
Worcester are my surprise package of the season. Their performances at the end of last year were excellent and a back line with Latham, Tuitupou and Gear will always score tries…plus the pack is strong enough to compete with the rest of the premiership.
One interesting loss is that of Uche Odouza – he of spectacular England Sevens try – to the Japanese club Suntory where George Gregan has gone. Never mind Europe thieving the best players the Southern Hemisphere has to offer, what’s up with Japan thieving a young England winger about to hit his prime?!
2007/08 league position: 5th
2008/09 league prediction: 7th
Sale are a difficult team to predict this season. Tait might well be deployed at full back which will suit him (and England) and this could be the move that really helps his career progress to the level his talent warrants.
Wigglesworth’s eyebrows must have been raised when he saw Dwayne Peel had been signed – an interesting selection battle will ensue. However, with the re-emergence of Harry Ellis from injury and Danny Care’s late season form, it might be that Wigglesworth is surplus to international requirements this season so will get plenty of game time during November and Feb/March.
2007/08 league position: 8th
2008/09 league prediction: 8th
One inverted phrase will best describe Saracens squad as always – the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Borthwick is a decent coup and Wikus Van Heerden will add steel to the pack but it will take at least a season for this squad to gel and they wont be in the play-off hunt.
Richard Hill’s retirement is bound to leave a big hole in the Sarries squad – his boots will be nigh on impossible to fill.
2007/08 league position: 7th
2008/09 league prediction: 9th
London Irish might find it difficult to build on their steady improvements of the past few seasons having lost coach Brian Smith to the England machine and their signings don’t carry the sufficient clout to improve a squad that came up short last season.
They may well be able to pull off a few big victories here and there as they have done in the past but I don’t expect them to be in the play-off mix.
2007/08 league position: Champions Division One
2008/09 league prediction: 10th
Northampton played some inspiring and exciting rugby last season and will take plenty of confidence with them back into the Premiership.
Ben Foden is a cracking signing but I’d imagine one of his terms is that he is primarily considered as a scrum-half which, if true, would be such a shame given his form last year at 15. Neil Best will also revel in the premiership and should add grit to the back row.
However, the sheer volume of transfers the Saints have made might be a disadvantage as it will have created a new dynamic in what must have been a settled and determined squad.
The immediate future doesn’t look particularly rosy for Newcastle with the loss of three of their brightest young players in Flood, Woods and Tait.
Looking at their incoming box they haven’t really replaced that quality although Tu’ipulotu will be interesting to watch in the midfield. It will take a massive effort for Newcastle to stay clear of the relegation dogfight and I think one or two hard fought home wins might just keep them in the Premiership.
2007/08 league position: 9th
2008/09 league prediction: 12th RELEGATED
Bristol struggled for form at the end of last season and haven’t bolstered their squad with anyone of particular note. It will be a very tough season for them and they will hope that the partisan residents of the Memorial Stadium prove to be a big help.
I can’t see it and their only real rivals for relegation would seem to be Newcastle.