Aviva Premiership
Premiership Preview: Club by Club Guide - Part 2
Tom Hamilton
August 30, 2012
Gavin Henson feels the force of Michael Claassens, Bath v London Welsh, The Recreation Ground, Bath, August 11, 2012
All eyes will be on Gavin Henson this season - once he's returned from injury © Onside Images

With the start of the new season of Aviva Premiership rugby just around the corner ESPNscrum gives the run down on the second bunch of contenders. Miss our first instalment? Check it out here.

London Welsh

Coach: Former Ospreys coach Lyn Jones has the unenviable task of keeping the Exiles in the Premiership. He claims they are "four years behind Harlequins" in terms of development and he faces a mission to keep them in the top flight.

Captain: Jon Mills led the Exiles to Championship glory last year and he's the man charged with leading from the front this year. The second-row recently penned a new deal with his side.


In: Gavin Henson (unattached), Tom Arscott (Worcester), Daniel Browne (Grenoble), Paulica Ion (London Irish), Kirili Kulemi (Castres), Sonny Parker (Ospreys), Neil Briggs (Sale Sharks), Nick Runciman (Gloucester), Ed Williamson (Newcastle), Matt Keyte, Billy Moss, Nick Scott (Bath), Gareth Evans (Plymouth), Phil Mackenzie (Esher), Alfie To'oala (La Rochelle), Franck Montanella, Arthur Joly (Bourgoin)

Out: Will Hurrell (Rotherham), Gary Johnson (Cornish Pirates), Robert Lewis (Cardiff Blues), Paul Mackey (Rosslyn Park), Mike Powell (Moseley)

Key Player: It's far too easy to go for Gavin Henson, so we'll opt for Neil Briggs. The former Sale hooker will need to be at his consistent accurate best throughout the campaign with basics such as the lineout and the scrum essential to any chance the Exiles have for survival.

Prediction: They are a relatively unknown package having just been promoted from the Championship but their pre-season matches saw them lose to Bath and also to the Scarlets. The injury to star signing Gavin Henson will do little to boost the mood at their new Oxford home. They'll battle valiantly, but will succumb to the drop.

Northampton Saints

Wasps' Dom Waldouck fends off the Bordeaux Begles defence, Amlin Challenge Cup, Adams Park, Wycombe, England, January 22, 2012
Dom Waldouck will add another option in the centres © Getty Images

Coach: Jim Mallinder leads the Saints into the new season with the same coaching set-up as last term. In the aftermath of the World Cup, Mallinder had the distraction of being linked with the England job but with Stuart Lancaster sitting securely in the hotseat, there will be no excuses for the Saints boss.

Captain: England hooker Dylan Hartley keeps the captaincy. In terms of leading by example, he's up there with Jim Hamilton for playing a physical brand of rugby, but similar to the Gloucester captain, he also toes the disciplinary tightrope and sometimes falls foul of the referees.


In: Gerrit-Jan van Velze (Blue Bulls), Dom Waldouck (Wasps), Ken Pisi (North Harbour, New Zealand), James Wilson (Bourgoin), Luther Burrell (Sale Sharks), Sam Dickinson (Rotherham)

Out: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Roger Wilson (Ulster), James Downey (Munster), Jon Clarke (Worcester), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh), Andy Long (retired), Ben Prescott (Cornish Pirates), Brett Sharman (released)

Key Player: The return of Tom Wood, if he regains his full fitness, will be a like a new signing for Mallinder's side. He was absent for much of last year due to injury but if he can find the same sort of form that he exhibited in the 2011 Six Nations for England then he will be a great asset in their back-row.

Prediction: They finished fourth last year and have had a solid pre-season including a 43-0 win over Leinster at Franklin's Gardens. They've shuffled their pack with centres James Downey and Jon Clarke both leaving while England flyer Chris Ashton has also gone to pastures new with Ken Pisi stepping into the latter's shoes. The Saints will be there or thereabouts but we think they may struggle with a sixth or seventh-place finish a slightly controversial shout.

Sale Sharks

Danny Cipriani in action for Sale during pre-season, Sale v Leinster, Salford City Stadium, Manchester, England, August 24, 2012
Danny Cipriani will wear Sale colours this term © PA Photos

Coach: Former Gloucester boss Bryan Redpath is now in charge of the Sharks with his controversial move going through in the off-season. He will hope to take Sale back to the glory days of 2006 when he played for the side that lifted the Premiership title. Former boss and now chief executive Steve Diamond still casts a significant shadow so expect him to feature in front of the television cameras at some stage.

Captain: They have opted to give the captaincy to one of their most consistent performers last term - Dave Seymour. The flanker was superb throughout the whole of last season and with former skippers Sam Tuitupou and James Gaskell in the side, the Sharks have a solid leadership group.

Transfers: In: Danny Cipriani (Melbourne Rebels), Richie Gray (Glasgow), Eifion Lewis Roberts (Toulon), Cameron Shepherd (Western Force), Corne Uys (Newcastle)

Out: Andrew Sheridan (Toulon), Luther Burrell (Northampton), Andrew Higgins (Newcastle), Tommy Bell (Wasps), Wame Lewaravu (Mont-de-Marsan), Scott Mathie (Eastern Province), Iain Thornley (Wigan Warriors RL), Joaquin Tuculet (Grenoble), Onosai Tololima-Auva'a (released)

Key Player: All eyes will be on Danny Cipriani but Richie Gray is also a huge signing. But our key player is young prop Henry Thomas. The tight-head endured an injury plagued 2011-12 season but with a full pre-season under his belt, the future international will be a key player for the Sharks.

Prediction: They sneaked into the Heineken Cup last term with a sixth-place finish and had a solid if unspectacular pre-season with wins over Fylde and Glasgow and a draw at home to Leinster. This season could see Sale finish nearly anywhere in the top eight but we reckon they'll improve marginally on last season's sixth-place finish and end up in fifth.


Saracens wing Chris Ashton runs with the ball, Saracens training session, St Albans, England, August 21, 2012
Chris Ashton has swapped the Saints for Sarries © Getty Images

Coach: Mark McCall will lead Sarries into the new season but he will have a different lieutenant with Kevin Sorrell replacing Andy Farrell in his support staff. Brendan Venter is still influential at Saracens so the powers that be will hope that they don't feel Farrell's departure to the England set-up.

Captain: Steve Borthwick will lead from the front in their second-row but he is not a guaranteed starter with Mouritz Botha an established England international, new signing Alistair Hargreaves hoping for substantial game time and George Kruis a hugely promising lock.


In: Chris Ashton (Northampton), Alistair Hargreaves (Sharks, South Africa), Nick Fenton-Wells (Western Province, South Africa), Lorenzo Romano (Aironi)

Out: Hayden Smith (New York Jets, NFL), Hugh Vyvyan (retired), Michael Tagicakibau (Bristol)

Key Player: Chris Ashton's their marquee signing but Saracens will hope for more from David Strettle. He's out of the EPS and has much to prove to the England selectors so watch out for Strettle this year, he could have a massive season.

Prediction: A 61-17 thrashing of Stade Francais was the highlight of their pre-season with wins over the Bedford Blues and Rotherham mixed with a loss against Treviso. Last season they finished third but lost in the semi-finals against Leicester Tigers. A club with the ambition of Saracens will hope that they can mark their first season in their new stadium in Barnet with some silverware and we think that will be the Premiership crown.


England's James Haskell poses with his Man of the Match medal, England v Wales, Six Nations Championship, Twickenham, England, February 6, 2010
James Haskell is back in Wasps colours for the first time since 2009 © Getty Images

Coach: "I fail to see how this season can be any worse" is the assessment of head honcho Dai Young when asked how he sees his side fairing this term. It was a baptism of fire for Young's side last year as they only retained their Premiership survival on the last day of the season. He has recruited heavily and remains hopeful that the takeover of the club will be completed soon which will give Young a more stable campaign.

Captain: With John Hart retiring last year - just one of many Wasps players forced to call time on his career - Young has turned to Hugo Southwell to captain the side. New signing James Haskell was one potential candidate for the captaincy but the Scottish fullback got the nod.


In: Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), James Haskell (Otago Highlanders), Andrea Masi (Aironi), Rhys Thomas (Cardiff Blues), Lee Thomas, James Bailey (both Lyon), Ashley Johnson (Cheetahs, South Africa), Fabio Staibano (Aironi), Phil Swainston (Leeds Carnegie), Tommy Bell (Sale Sharks), Will Taylor (Ospreys)

Out: Tom Rees, John Hart (both retired), Riki Flutey (Ricoh Black Rams, Japan), Dom Waldouck (Northampton), Ben Broster (Biarritz), Jeremy Castex (Perpignan), Tom Prydie (Newport Gwent Dragons), Richard Haughton (Jersey), Ross Filipo (Wellington), Ed O'Donoghue, Lee Robinson (released)

Key Player: Lions fly-half Stephen Jones is a superb signing for Wasps. He will vie with Nick Robinson for the half-back berth this term but will keep the scoreboard ticking over for Wasps whenever he is presented with a kickable penalty.

Prediction: Wasps fell to Treviso in the first of their two pre-season clashes but recovered to thrash Leeds a week later. We think Wasps will improve this season but will miss out on Heineken Cup qualification with an eighth-place finish.

Worcester Warriors

Racing Metro's Josh Matavesi, Cardiff Blues v Racing Metro, Heineken Cup, Cardiff City Stadium, January 22, 2012
Josh Matavesi is a new arrival at Sixways © PA Photos

Coach: Richard Hill remains in control of the Warriors though he has changed around his backroom staff. Phil Vickery and Nigel Redman have both arrived with Mathieu Rourre taking on a part-time role. Corin Palmer has taken on the position of rugby operations director.

Captain: New signing Dean Schofield has been awarded the captain's armband. Having previously captained the Sale Sharks, Schofield is no stranger to hard work and although he has barely had the chance to touch the ground at Sixways, the Warriors faithful will hope he can guide them up the table.


In: Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Nikki Walker (Ospreys), Jon Clarke (Northampton), Dean Schofield (Toulon), Josh Matavesi (Racing Metro), Semisi Taulava, Rob O'Donnell (both Rotherham), John Andress (Exeter)

Out: Miles Benjamin (Leicester), Marcel Garvey (Castres), Kai Horstmann (Exeter), Tom Arscott (London Welsh), Bruce Douglas (Bristol), Alex Crockett, Oliver Tomaszczyk, Adam Balding (all Newcastle), Mike Penn (Edinburgh), Ben Gulliver (Bedford), Dale Rasmussen, Sione Tu'ipulotu (both released), Chris Fortey (retired)

Key Player: Openside Matt Kvesic has all the ability to be a future England international. Aged just 20, Kvesic is still learning his trade but with seasoned veterans such as Schofield and Neil Best around him in the pack, he could flourish this season and establish himself as one of the Premiership's best back-rowers.

Prediction: They were pretty unspectacular last season and finished in tenth place but started their pre-season with an impressive 30-25 win over the Cardiff Blues. This was followed up by wins over the Scarlets and Rotherham. This time around, the Warriors will finish one place lower than last season - eleventh.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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