Last season finish: 3rd (Runners up)
It will be interesting to see how Head coach Mike Rayer’s side fare this season in the wake of losing players like top prospect Josh Basset and former Scotland Under-21 captain Neil Cochrane to the Premiership. They have recruited well in former Jersey utility back Michael Le Bourgeois while former academy product Corey Hircock returns after a stint in Ireland with Munster and with stalwart Paul Tupai signing a new deal late last season and Canadian international James Pritchard continuing to lead the side another slant at the play-offs may materialise this year.
Last season finish: 5th
With Andy Robinson at the helm and a clutch of signings from the Premiership, Bristol’s 125th anniversary year could be the one which sees them return to the top flight. Among the signings are Wales international fly-half Nicky Robinson, Mark Sorenson from Northampton Saints and Bath’s Ben Skirving to name a few among an impressive shopping list. Bristol finished last season in fifth place, narrowly missing out to Leeds Carnegie in the race for the fourth play-off place.
Despite pre-season thrashings from Bath and Exeter Chiefs, expectations are high and it is difficult to look past them finishing near the summit, if not the top of it come the end of the season.
Last season finish: 6th
Phil Burgess’ call up to the England 7s is a blow for the Penzance outfit and is the latest in a long line of bright young talents to be poached from the Pirates. Recruiting Canada captain Aaron Carpenter is a real coup and he has immediately been appointed club captain for the forthcoming season. It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, Josh Lewsey had during his fleeting spell as acting Chief Executive.
A top-half finish should be achievable but they need the younger members of the squad to step up quickly.
Last season finish: Nat1 Champions
Having five Harlequins players dual-registered, most notably England Junior World Cup-winning captain Jack Clifford, for the season certainly doesn’t hinder their chances of survival however the Championship is an extremely tough league. They have recruited vastly but the squad is very young and inexperienced. Head coach Mike Cudmore faces a long season ahead and a good start will be needed to take some momentum into the tough winter months.
Last season finish: 11th
Jersey surprised many by staying up last season but they fully deserve their place. The loss of Michael Le Bourgeois is a blow but the signing of fly-half Niall O’Connor is a great signing for head Coach Ben Harvey. The former Ulster man joins alongside former London Wasps lock Alex Rae. Experienced at England Under-18, U19, U21 levels, Rae has been installed as captain straight away and will be a huge presence as Jersey look to capitalise on the retention of a Championship place.
Last season finish: 4th
New head coach James Lowes will be extremely pleased to retain the core of the squad which got them to the play-offs last season. Winger David Doherty will look to produce the same kind of form which saw him top the Championship try scoring chart with 13. Joe Ford’s departure to Sale leaves them exposed at fly-half but the security of returning to their Headingley stadium for all home fixtures will be a welcome sight.
The squad definitely has enough quality to reach the play-offs again but their tally of 15 bonus points last season, the most in the league, may need replicating.
By Rich Elkins
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images