Coach: Umberto Casellato
Key players in: Jayden Hayward (Western Force), Rupert Harden (Gloucester), Joe Carlisle (London Wasps), Salesi Manu (Force), Sam Christie (Waikato)
Key players out: Luke McLean (Sale Sharks), Manoa Vosawai (Cardiff Blues), Tobias Botes (Eastern Province Kings), Alberto de Marchi (Sale), Lorenzo Cittadini (Wasps), Christian Loamanu, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Robert Barbieri, Michele Rizzo (all Leicester)
Strengths: With plenty of established faces leaving the squad, Treviso have still managed to recruit well, bringing in a good mix of youth and experience to plug the gaps left by those on their way out.
Weaknesses: Treviso are generally regarded as the better of the two Italian sides, but given the qualification process of the European Champions Cup, with the highest placed Italian side are automatically qualified, this leaves no real ambition to push for a higher position in the league. You get the sense that the Italian sides only really strive to finish higher than each other, rather than push for greater things.
Last season: 11th
Coach: Mark Hammett
Key players in: Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Gareth Anscombe (Chiefs), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Craig Mitchell (Exeter), Tavis Knoyle (Gloucester), Jarrad Hoeata (Highlanders), Manoa Vosawai (Treviso)
Key players out: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon), Robin Copeland (Munster), Bradley Davies (London Wasps), Harry Robinson (Scarlets), Chris Czekaj (Colomiers)
Strengths: The Blues had a horrid time last season, in particularly the few months either side of Christmas, which is poor considering the talent in their ranks. Paul John and Dale McIntosh turned things around briefly after Phil Davies’ departure. Hopefully, their experiences from last season, combined with the ability of new arrival Mark Hammett, will lead the benefits on the field.
Weaknesses: With the departure of Leigh Halfpenny, so leaves a guaranteed steady supply of points. New signing Gareth Anscombe will be expected to plug the gap when he arrives, but in the meantime there’s plenty of pressure on Rhys Patchell and Gareth Davies to keep the scoreboard ticking over at crucial times.
Last season: 7th
Coach: Pat Lam
Key players in: Tom McCartney (Blues), Mils Muliaina (Chiefs), Bundee Aki (Chiefs)
Key players out: Dan Parks (retired), Eoin Griffin (London Irish), Brett Wilkinson, Craig Clarke (both retired)
Strengths: Unlike the other Irish provinces that boast a large range of internationals amongst the ranks, Connacht don’t quite have the same calibre of players. This will perhaps play into their hands in the long run, as their players won’t suffer the same fatigue or sustain as many injuries from the vigorous international set up.
Weaknesses: Connacht’s history of being a development team for the other three Irish provinces means their wealth of players hasn’t quite flourished like the others. Whilst things turned around in May with more funding being allocated to the province, Connacht are still very much the weakest Irish side, with no real talismen threatening to overcome the bigger sides.
Last season: 10th
Coach: Alan Solomons
Key players in: Neil Cochrane (London Wasps), Anton Bresler (Sharks), Brett Thompson (USA Sevens), Tom Heathcote (Bath), Fraser McKenzie (Newcastle), Phil Burleigh (Highlanders)
Key players out: Greg Laidlaw (Gloucester), Nick De Luca (Biarritz), Geoff Cross, Sean Cox (both London Irish), Ross Rennie (Bristol), Harry Leonard (Carnegie), Lee Jones (Glasgow), Aleki Lutui (Gloucester)
Strengths: Having coached a host of Super 15 sides, as well as Ulster, top dog Solomons has the credentials to make things happen at Edinburgh. Already pushing for greater things following an eighth placed finish last season, the effects of his coaching seem to have paid off, and if Edinburgh play anything like they do against Glasgow in the 1872 Cup on a more regular basis, they should cause a few upsets this season.
Weaknesses: They have said farewell to a lot of players this Summer – 21 to be exact – and whilst they have signed a lot of players too, it will no doubt take time before these players gel together. They have lost a host of international stars too, which is a shame for not only the club, but the fans too.
Last season: 8th
Coach: Gregor Townsend
Key players in: Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors), James Downey (Munster), Rossouw de Klerk (Cheetahs)
Key players out: Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks), Ruaridh Jackson (London Wasps), Carlin Isles (USA Sevens), Moray Low (Exeter)
Strengths: Glasgow finished the back of last season on fire with some impressive wins, including a 52-0 thrashing of Zebre, culminating in a second-placed finish, the first time since the inception of the PRO12. If Glasgow can build on that momentum and get some early results, then they should at least be able to emulate their success of last year.
Weaknesses: They provide the lion’s share of the Scotland squad (and rightly so, given the quality of their performances over the past few years), and this means that the bulk of their first team will be missing for large parts of the season – not ideal for continuity. They’ll rely on the next generation to step up again but it’s a big ask.
Last season: 2nd
Coach: Matt O’Connor
Key players in: Ben Te’o (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Kane Douglas (Waratahs)
Key players out: Leo Cullen, Brian O’Driscoll (both retired)
Strengths: Leinster have built up a very experienced and tight team over the years; the likes of Jamie Heaslip, Gordon D’Arcy and Rob Kearney becoming the backbone for club and country. Their tempo and style of play is one step ahead of anyone else in the league, and this is down to the strong bond and trust within the side.
Weaknesses: Whilst Brian O’Driscoll began to show his age in the latter stages of his career, he still produced occasional masterclasses last season (Ireland v Italy, Leinster v Saints) and there’s no doubt that he will be missed on and off the pitch for Ireland and Leinster alike. Club captain Leo Cullen will no doubt also be missed on the field, even though his presence remains as a coach at the club. Leinster are the strongest side in the league, but replacing these two will be nigh on impossible.
Last season: 1st
By Jack Hoare (@jackhoare)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images