Ultimate Aviva Premiership Team by Team Guide

Aviva Premiership Rugby

Bath RugbyTeam: Bath Rugby
Coach: Steve Meehan
Home ground: The Rec

Players In:
Tom Biggs (Newcastle Falcons), Mark McMillan (Glasgow Warriors), Lewis Moody (Leicester Tigers), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), Sam Vesty (Leicester Tigers), Ross Batty (Rotherham)

Players Out:
Mike Baxter, Scott Bemand, Daniel Browne, Rhys Crane, Ryan Davis, Rob Hawkins, Nicky Little, Joe Maddock, Julian Salvi, Matt Spelman, Michael Stephenson.

Strengths:
After an impressive run to the play-offs last season and with a new chairman in Bruce Craig, Bath have used their cash wisely in the off-season to sign some serious talent. Lewis Moody is England captain and in the form of his life and his arrival has been complemented by the versatile Simon Taylor in the back-row (or second row!). Taylor’s career has been up and down but there’s no doubting his talent and he should thrive as part of Bath’s offloading game plan.

At times last season Sam Vesty was the pick of the Premiership fly-halves and he has also come to Bath “invigorated” and with “juices flowing”, looking to squeeze into England’s World Cup plans. His first job will be to break into a back-line containing Olly Barkley and Butch James. However, having released Ryan Davis and Nicky Little there should be plenty of opportunities for Vesty whose focus is the play-making roles rather than cover at 15.

Weaknesses:
Not many to speak of, and with Sir Ian McGeechan on the coaching team, he’ll be sure to iron them out pretty quickly.

One to watch:
One of the biggest transfer headlines of the summer was England’s captain leaving the Tigers after 14 years at Welford Road. How well Lewis Moody adjusts to his new club might just be key to Bath’s chances, but the prospect of Moody, Luke Watson and Simon Taylor in the back row is very compelling.

Last season:
4th

Prediction:
Despite having lost a fair few players, the quality of Bath’s squad has improved and nothing less than a play-off place and a strong showing in Europe will suffice. If key men stay injury free the Premiership could well be heading South-West this year. 1st

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Exeter ChiefsTeam: Exeter Chiefs
Coach: Rob Baxter
Home ground: Sandy Park

Players In:
Luke Arscott (Bristol Rugby), Garrick Cowley (Esher), Ryan Davis (Bath Rugby), Ignacio Elosu (Viadana), Eoghan Grace (Shannon), Andrew Higgins (unattached), James Phillips (Bristol Rugby), Jason Shoemark (Hawke’s Bay), Jon Vickers (Northampton Saints), Chris Whitehead (London Welsh)

Players Out:
Tom Bedford (Bedford Blues), Richard Bolt (Bristol Rugby), Sam Blythe (Taunton), Matt Cornwell (Northampton Saints), Toby Freeman (Ordizia), Danny Gray (unattached), Shane Kingsland (Manawatu), Steve Jones (unattached), Emyr Lewis (retired), Sean Marsden (Bristol Rugby), Alan Miller (unattached), Saul Nelson (London Welsh Clive Stuart-Smith (Esher), Sean Tomes (Bedford Blues)

Strengths:
The Premiership new boys will have the wind in their sails and a massive surge of home support and goodwill going into the new season. Furthermore, they arrive on the back of Leeds’ impressive season last year proving results are there to be had if fitness and effort are the core facets of the squad.

Few teams will know what to expect from a visit to Sandy Park, and this could work to their great advantage. Results in home fixtures will be crucial for Exeter but it is doubtful they will be anywhere else than in and around the relegation dog-fight as the season draws to a close.

Weaknesses:
The lack of proven Premiership quality could well be their undoing. Rob Baxter has made a few shrewd signings, but the general dearth of experience in the squad could mean they are caught like rabbits in headlights during the first half of the season, and then find that there’s no way back.

One to watch:
Former Bath wing Andrew Higgins could be one of the signings of the season, with one or two ghosts to banish after his miscreant behaviour and a stage on which to do so with the underdog side.

Last season:
Promoted from The Championship

Prediction:
I’d love to see another survival story, but I’m not brave enough to predict anything other than 12th.

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GloucesterTeam: Gloucester Rugby
Coach: Bryan Redpath
Home ground: Kingsholm

Players In:
Matt Cox (Worcester Warriors), Brett Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh)

Players Out:
Jake Boer (retired), Marco Bortolami (Aironi), Gareth Delve (Melbourne Rebels), Adam Eustace (Northampton Saints), Ben Phillips (Birmingham Solihull), Apo Satala (Sale Sharks), Greg Somerville (Melbourne Rebels), Carlos Spencer (Lions), Semi Tadulala (Leeds Carnegie), Andy Williams (Worcester Warriors)

Strengths: Gloucester boast one of the most hostile grounds in the Premiership, and their home form is usually up there with the best. After several seasons battling it out at the top, they now look like a mid-table team, but if they are consistent at home and surprise a few sides away, then the playoffs aren’t necessarily out of reach.

Weaknesses: Gloucester have lacked conviction for some time. Under Dean Ryan, they were usually exposed only in the knockout stages, but last season their soft centre was seen regularly to leave them languishing in 7th. Not a huge amount has changed as far as I can tell, so mid-table mediocrity looms.

One to watch: Dave Attwood is quickly becoming one of my favourite players, and he’s suddenly one of the senior squad members thanks to his experience with England. Regular towering performances in the second row could lift his team well into the top half of the table.

Last season:
7th

Prediction:
Ought to push for the playoffs, but slightly shy of top four quality – 6th.

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Leeds CarnegieTeam: Leeds Carnegie
Coach: Neil Back
Home ground: Headingley Carnegie

Players In:
Miguel Alonso (Viadana) Daniel Browne (number eight, Bath), Warren Fury (scrum-half, Wasps), Sean Hohneck (lock, Viadana), Michael Stephenson (wing, Bath), Semi Tadulala (wing, Gloucester), Steve Thompson (hooker, Brive), James Tincknell (winger, Wharfedale), Christian Lewis-Pratt (Northampton), Jesus Moreno Rodriguez (Spain), Lachlan Mackay (Brive)

Players Out:
Scott Armstrong (wing, Northampton), Joe Bedford (scrum-half, Rotherham), Peter Bucknall (prop, Leicester), Calum Clark (flanker, Northampton), Joe Ford (fly-half, Northampton), Andy Gomarsall (scrum-half, released), Jon Goodridge (full-back, released), Jonny Hepworth (winger, Rotherham), Erik Lund (lock, Biarritz), Tommy McGee (prop, Wharfedale), Vili Ma’asi (hooker, London Welsh), Alex Moreno (prop, retired), Phil Murphy (number eight, released), Henry Paul (centre, Rotherham), Seru Rabeni (centre, La Rochelle), Rob Rawlinson (hooker, retired), Jason Strange (fly-half, released), George Warner (hooker, Moseley), Richard Welding (wing, Rotherham), Adam Greendale (released)

Strengths:
Physical fitness and mental determination kept Leeds up last year, and Leeds have made some astute signings to help their survival and progression in the Premiership this season. Steve Thompson, Sean Hohneck, Daniel Brown and Michael Stephenson are all Premiership quality and should slot straight into the first team at Leeds to complement the talent of Ceiron Thomas at fly-half and Hendre Fourie in the back-row.

Neil Back has been assisted by the money men behind Leeds allowing the club to freeze their loan repayments for a season and increase the player quantity and quality. It’s a long term view that should pay off if the team continues to improve on the pitch.

Weaknesses:
Leeds are lacking real firepower outside Thomas, suggesting they’ll continue to grind out victories rather than dismantle opposition sides with pace and precision. They’ve a strong pack that should see them survive again, but I can’t see them opening up in the way that teams above them are able to.

One to watch:
Wing Michael Stephenson has been signed from Bath to boost that firepower in the backs, so it will be interesting to see how much ball he gets. He wasn’t getting a lot of gametime at Bath, but there’s a chance he could flourish in this side.

Last season:
10th

Prediction:
We think they’ll do enough to avoid a relegation battle going into the last couple of rounds, but can’t yet see them mid-table – 10th.

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Leicester TigersTeam: Leicester Tigers
Coach: Richard Cockerill
Home ground: Welford Road

Players In:
Horacio Agulla (winger, Brive), Peter Bucknall (prop, Leeds), Rob Hawkins (hooker, Bath), Lee Robinson (winger, Bristol), George Skivington (lock, Wasps), Thomas Waldrom (number eight, Crusaders)

Players Out:
Mefin Davies (hooker, Ospreys), Brett Deacon (back-row, Gloucester), Harry Ellis (scrum-half, retired), Robbie Harris (prop, released), Ben Kay (lock, retired), Aaron Mauger (centre, retired), Lewis Moody (flanker, Bath), Johne Murphy (wing, Munster), Greig Tonks (full-back, Northampton), Sam Vesty (utility back, Bath)

Strengths:
Every season, Leicester manage to couple European rugby with a strong domestic showing and plenty of opportunities for trophies as the season draws to a close. Squad management, long-term succession planning and an eye for a marquee player are traits handed down through generations of coaches and this season looks set to follow the same path.

Weaknesses:
That said, the Tigers’ aura of invincibility seems to be dissipating slightly, and defeats to Saracens and Northampton towards the end of last season will give hope to the rest of the teams. And they’ve lost Lewis Moody who certainly won’t be easy to replace.

One to watch:
Thomas Waldrom is an incredible signing given that he shone for the Crusaders last season and has been unlucky not to be in the All Black reckoning recently. His style of play will suit the Premiership perfectly and he’ll slot perfectly into a back row of Tom Croft and one of Ben Woods or Craig Newby.

Last season:
1st

Prediction:
I think Bath and Saracens will kick on from last season and may well finish above the Tigers in the league, but when it comes down to the play-offs, Leicester will be involved and it will take an immense effort to stop them. 3rd

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London IrishTeam: London Irish
Coach: Toby Booth
Home ground: Madejski Stadium

Players In:
Darren Allinson (Cardiff Blues), Guy Armitage (Wellington College), Daniel Bowden (Canterbury Crusaders), Brian Blaney (Leinster), Sam Edgerley (Wellington College), Marland Yarde (Whitgift School)

Players Out:
Danie Coetzee (Retired), Charlie Gower (Released), Peter Hewat (Suntory), Andy Perry (Released), John Rudd (Retired), Peter Richards (Retired)

Strengths: On their day, the Exiles can play at devastating pace, with big strong runners hitting gaps and putting their side on the front foot. They’ve been able to surprise a few teams with such speed, and if they can minimise their off days on which they don’t seem to perform, they should challenge at the right end of the table.

Weaknesses: The off days were becoming slightly more frequent as the season progressed last year, and it’s this inexplicable propensity for them to lose their way that is likely to hinder their chances this term. Chief executive Andy Martin has cited a top four finish as the minimum requirement, but the squad is largely unchanged and they are no longer the surprise package in the league.

One to watch: The precocious Tom Homer made a big impact in a few matches towards the end of last year, and this season could become a fixture at full-back. He looks confident at the back and the schoolboy 100-metre sprinter has pace to burn.

Last season:
6th

Prediction:
We’re expecting another hard-fought but ultimately fruitless season with London Irish falling away towards the end of the season – 8th

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London WaspsTeam: London Wasps
Coach: Shaun Edwards
Home ground: Adams Park

Players In:
Bob Baker (Wasps Academy), Nic Berry (Racing Metro), Charlie Davies (Stade Francais), Riki Flutey (Brive), Richard Haughton (Saracens), Seb Jewell (Harlequins), Tom Lindsay (Wasps Academy), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues), James Cannon (Northampton Saints)

Players Out:
Gabriel Bocca (Unattached), Danny Cipriani (Melbourne Rebels), Hugo Ellis (Newport Gwent Dragons), Warren Fury (Leeds), Eoghan Hickey (Unattached), James Honeyben (unattached), Dan Leo (Bordeaux), Lachlan Mitchell (Melbourne Rebels), Mark Robinson (Retired), Paul Sackey (Toulon), George Skivington (Leicester Tigers), Lee Smith (Leeds Rhinos)

Strengths:
Although Wasps have parted company with their brightest talent, Danny Cipriani, they have put their faith in club stalwart Dave Walder to guide them through the new season. The Wasps midfield has been a key strength for several years, and with Riki Flutey returning from France to rejoin Walder and Dominic Waldouck, they should have the talent to unlock opposition defences.

Weaknesses:
Losing two dynamic young forwards in George Skivington and Hugo Ellis is a concern. Ellis has failed to turn immense promise into Premiership dominance but Skivington seems to be maturing into an international-class lock and will now give his power and ball-carrying to the Leicester effort.

One to watch:
Andy Powell will be a crowd favourite and should be able to pick the team up throughout the season, and no doubt Wasps will hope that he remains out of favour with the Wales national setup.

Last season:
5th

Prediction:
I think Wasps will be lucky to make the play-offs, but if they do who’s to say they wont be able to resurrect the spirit of ’04 and steal the crown again? 5th

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Newcastle FalconsTeam: Newcastle Falcons
Coach: Alan Tait
Home ground: Kingston Park

Players In:
Luke Eves (centre, Bristol), Darren Fearn (prop, Northumbria University), Luke Fielden (fullback, Bedford), James Fitzpatrick (centre, Blaydon), Joe Graham (hooker, Tynedale), James Hall (prop, Coventry), Andrew Henderson (centre, Montauban), Joel Hodgson (RGS Newcastle), Ally Hogg (back row, Edinburgh), Jeremy Manning (fly half, Munster), Redford Pennycook (Bristol), Glen Townson (lock, Doncaster), Mark Wilson (flanker, Blaydon)

Players Out:
Adam Balding (back row, Worcester), Tom Biggs (wing, Bath), Peter Browne (lock, Harlequins), Spencer Davey (centre, retired), Carl Hayman (prop, Toulon), Chris Micklewood (utility back), Rob Miller (fly half, Sale), Laurence Ovens (prop, Bedford), Mark Sorenson (lock, Northampton), Alex Walker (hooker, Esher)

Strengths:
The manner in which Jimmy Gopperth has taken over from Jonny Wilkinson as the North-East’s favourite fly-half has been mightily impressive. There were concerns last year that they’d struggle with the loss of a few key players, but Gopperth has become a real asset, orchestrating proceedings at 10, kicking the points when they are on and ensuring the team does just enough to stay in the game. All of that means that they are a very difficult side to beat, and apart from the anomalous 58-14 thrashing by Saracens, no team was able to open them up last season.

Weaknesses:
Newcastle’s home form has been a concern, with only two victories at Kingston Park last year (although they drew three), and they might need to perform in front of their fans to keep the Newcastle faithful faithful. The Falcons have suffered another big loss in the shape of Carl Hayman, and again there is a mismatch between the quality of outgoing players and that of the incoming players, so they might need to rely on vocal home support to get them through tight games.

One to watch:
Prop Jon Golding caught the eye last year with his solid scrummaging, impressive tackle counts and general omnipresence in the loose. So much so that he’s in the England Elite Squad, and another strong start to the season should see him in the mix for the Autumn Internationals – and having another talismanic prop will do no harm to Newcastle’s league campaign either.

Last season:
9th

Prediction:
Having unsuccessfully predicted their relegation for the last two seasons (sorry Newcastle fans!), we think they’ll do enough to finish ahead of the likes of Leeds and Exeter, but it will be another season of looking over their shoulder rather than up the ladder – 9th.

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Northampton SaintsTeam: Northampton Saints
Coach: Jim Mallinder
Home ground: Franklins Gardens

Players In:
Scott Armstrong, Calum Clark (both Leeds), Stuart Commins (Western Province), Matt Cornwell (Exeter), Adam Eustace (Gloucester), Joe Ford (Leeds), Tom Mercey (Saracens), Ryan Powell (Worcester), Mark Sorenson (Newcastle), Greig Tonks (Nottingham), Tom Wood (Worcester)

Players Out:
Neil Best (Worcester), Santiago Bonorino (retired), John Brake (released), James Cannon (Wasps), Alan Dickens (retired), Barry Everitt (retired), Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe (TBC), Joe Gray (Harlequins), Scott Gray (retired), Mark Hopley (retired), Juandre Kruger (Blue Bulls), Chris Mayor, Darren Morris (both released), Jon Vickers (Exeter)

Strengths:
An extremely strong home record in the Premiership saw Northampton have one of their best seasons in recent times last year. With Shane Geraghty, Chris Ashton, Ben Foden and Bruce Reihana all around again this season it should be another entertaining one for the Saints, particularly at Franklins Gardens if they can keep on pleasing the home crowd.

Weaknesses:
A few first team regulars have been lost, with Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe and Neil Best amongst the most disappointing departures. Their signings have been solid if not spectacular, so it will be interesting to see whether those departures have an impact on the squad.

One to watch:
Courtney Lawes was on the ascendancy during the first half of last season, but then lost his way slightly – perhaps because he was moved around the back five of the scrum rather than through any fault of his own. However, this could be his breakthrough season, taking the Premiership and England by storm just in time for the World Cup.

Last season:
3rd

Prediction:
They’ll be in the reckoning once again, and the top 4 is very close to call, but I’m going for Saints in 4th.

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Sale SharksTeam: Sale Sharks
Coach: Mike Brewer
Home ground: Edgeley Park

Players In:
Aston Croall (prop, Harlequins), Rob Miller (fly-half/centre, Newcastle), Matty James (Manawatu), Kyle Tonetti (Leinster), Mike Petri (New York Athletic Club), Wame Lawaravu (Parma), Paul Williams (Auckland Blues), Karena Wihongi (Bourgoin), Mikaele Pesamino (Auckland), Chris Brightwell (Birmingham/Solihull), Iain Thornley (Wigan Warriors), Nic Rouse (Nottingham), Rhys Crane (Bath), James Lewis (Coventry).

Players Out:
Luke Abraham (flanker, Lyon), Brent Cockbain (lock, released), David Doherty (utility back, released), Dafydd James (wing, released), Rob O’Donnell (prop, Rotherham), Oriol Ripol (wing, Worcester), Dean Schofield (lock, Toulon), Lee Thomas (centre, Lyon), Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half, Saracens), Mark Atkinson (London Wasps), Ryan Glynn (Northampton Saints), Ed Styles (Loughborough Students), Alex Shaw (Coventry), James Jones (released)

Strengths:
Any team with a backbone consisting of Andrew Sheridan, Charlie Hodgson and Mark Cueto ought to be taken seriously, and regardless of all the change that’s been happening at Sale, no visiting team will take anything for granted.

Weaknesses:
There’s something not quite right about the club at the moment, arguably stemming from Jason Robinson’s departure and Mike Brewer coming in all guns blazing. Quotes like “I will ask those guys [current squad members] where they see themselves fitting in as I may be bringing in new players and they won’t get much rugby” won’t necessarily endear him to the squad.

Plenty of players have come in and they’ll take time to gel, and Hodgson will be missing for the first month of the season so they won’t have his guidance to help them through that transition. With fixtures against Saracens, Harlequins and Bath in that month they may find themselves at the bottom of the pile early on with a big mountain to climb.

One to watch:
Slightly unusually, we’ve picked the coach Mike Brewer as the one to watch at Sale this season – much will depend on how the squad responds to his direction and whether he can pull off a Brendan Venter rather than a Fabio Capello.

Last season:
11th

Prediction:
We think Sale will be involved in a two-horse relegation battle, and will edge it to finish 11th.

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SaracensTeam: Saracens
Coach: Brendan Venter
Home ground: Vicarage Road

Players In:
Kelly Brown (back-row, Glasgow), Deon Carstens (prop, Sharks), Nils Mordt (centre, Harlequins), Matt Parr (prop, Nottingham), David Strettle (wing, Harlequins), Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half, Sale)

Players Out:
Matius Aguero (prop, Aironi), Richard Haughton (wing, Wasps), Glen Jackson (fly-half, retired), Kas Lelamanua (prop, released), Justin Marshall (scrum-half, retired), Tom Mercey (prop, Northampton), Fabio Ongaro (hooker, Aironi), Michael Owen (number eight, retired), Moses Rauluni (scrum-half, retired), Kevin Sorrell (centre, retired), Wikus van Heerden (Lions)

Strengths:
Saracens showed very different sides to their personality last season. Early on, they played a dull, conservative and highly effective game that won them more games than admirers, but then later in the season, they let themselves play with more width and put together some of the most exciting performances – not least in the season climax that so nearly won them the trophy.

Weaknesses:
One concern may be in the back-row where two of last season’s top performers, Michael Owen and Wikus van Heerden, have both left the club. Owen has been forced to retire at the ripe old age of 29 after talks with other clubs broke down due to failed medicals. Kelly Brown ought to be able to slot in with Ernst Joubert and Andy Saull but there’s a slight lack of depth there.

One to watch:
Alex Goode had a phenomenal season last year, and many felt that he should have been higher up the England pecking order. Another strong showing could see him force his way into the reckoning for the Rugby World Cup next year.

Last season:
3rd

Prediction:
If Saracens can maintain their camaraderie and keep the squad relatively injury-free they should be able to pick up some big wins during international weekends as they are unlikely to be troubled by too many call-ups – 2nd

5 thoughts on “Ultimate Aviva Premiership Team by Team Guide

  1. Very safe predictions…. more than likely very accurate mind.

    Saracens one to watch is very similar to Leicester!

  2. Safe? That’s not what the Tigers fans have been telling me! Any of the top 6 or 8 could finish in any order…should be a cracking season though if all the talk of running rugby comes to fruition.

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