Aviva Premiership
Saints and Saracens the teams to beat
Tom Hamilton
September 3, 2014
Champions Northampton Saints will be the team to beat © Getty Images

Following on from Tuesday's first part of our Aviva Premiership we run the rule over the others six teams as we assess the fortunes of those at the top of the table and others who will be hoping to avoid the drop.

London Welsh

Auckland's Piri Weepu barks an order, Auckland v Counties Manukau, ITM Cup, Eden Park, Auckland, September 4, 2013
© Getty Images

Coach: Justin Burnell brought London Welsh into the Premiership and is the man charged with keeping them up in their first season back since they fell through the trapdoor at the end of the 2012-13 campaign. He is one of the most personable people in the league and has overhauled his squad in the summer bringing in 26 players.

In: Eddie Aholelei (prop, Melbourne Rebels), Olly Barkley (fly-half/centre, Scarlets), Shane Cahill (prop, Cornish Pirates), Ben Cooper (prop, Bedford), Gareth Davies (fly-half, Cardiff Blues), Matthew Dobson (hooker, Griquas), James Down (second-row, Cardiff Blues), Chris Elder (fullback, Plymouth), Jack Gilding (prop, Viadana), Cameron Goodhue (flanker, Worcester), Pablo Henn (prop, Limoges), Jesse Liston (flanker, Blackheath), Jimmy Litchfield (prop, Hartpury College), Lachlan McCaffrey (back-row, Brunbies), Josh McNally (second-row, Henley Hawks), Tim Molenaar (centre, Harlequins), Ricky Reeves (prop, Wasps), Nic Reynolds (centre, Scarlets), Tristan Roberts (fly-half, Bristol), Paul Rowley(scrum-half, Plymouth), James Sandford (second-row, Cornish Pirates), Dean Schofield (second-row, Worcester), Nathan Taylor (hooker, Hartpury College), Taione Vea (prop, Wasps), Darren Waters (No.8, Dragons), Piri Weepu (scrum-half, Blues)

Out : Joe Ajuwa (winger), Rob Andrew (second-row), Kevin Davis (prop), Mike Denbee (flanker), Peter Edwards (prop, Scarlets), Ollie Frost (scrum-half), Cai Griffiths (prop, Ospreys), Alec Hepburn (prop), Mitch Lees (second-row, Exeter), Toby l'Estrange (fly-half), Nathan Morris (hooker, Wasps), Billy Moss (prop, Bedford Blues), Ian Nimmo (second-row), Sonny Parker (centre, retired), John Quill (flanker),James Tideswell (prop), Andy Titterrell(hooker), Hudson Tonga'uiha(centre), Tai Tuisamoa (lock)

Key Player: London Welsh will have to take their points when they are on offer and new recruit Olly Barkley will be integral to that. The former Bath fly-half-come-centre is accurate from the tee and he will have to maintain those standards throughout the season.

Signing to watch: Piri Weepu and Dean Schofield are the two eye-catching recruits alongside Barkley, and the former has the ability to play a huge role in their campaign. Weepu is hugely talented and experienced and if he can stay fit, he could be the catalyst behind survival.

Odds: London Welsh are favourites for the drop priced at 2.00 with Barkley 61.00 to be top points scorer.

Prediction: For us, it is between the Falcons and London Welsh for who drops down to the Championship. We think it will be London Welsh but on the final day.

© Getty Images

Newcastle Falcons

Newcastle Falcons boss Dean Richards at the Championship launch, Twickenham, London, August 21, 2012
© Getty Images

Coach: Dean Richards is the man presiding over the Falcons this term as they look to improve on their 11th-placed finish last season. He is blessed with some promising young talent coming through the ranks and expect to see plenty of Scott Wilson and Zach Kibirige this season.

In: Eric Fry (prop, London Scottish), Josh Furno (second-row, Biarritz), Callum Green (second-row, Leeds), Rob Hawkins (hooker, Leicester), Uili Kolo'ofai (second-row, Colomiers), Juan Pablo Socino (fly-half, Rotherham), Semisi Taulava (No.8, Worcester), Ruki Tipuna (scrum-half, Bristol), Andy Tuilagi (centre, Dragons), Alesana Tuilagi (winger)

Out: Alex Crockett (centre, retired), Andy Davies (scrum-half, Rotherham), James Fitzpatrick (centre, Leeds), Joel Hodgson (scrum-half/ fly-half, Northampton), Fraser McKenzie (second-row, Edinburgh), Franck Montanella (prop, Biarritz), Ben Morris (second-row, Rotherham), Chris Pilgrim (scrum-half, Leeds), Grant Shiells (prop, Bath), Harry Spencer (second-row, Macon), Michael Tait (centre, Edinburgh)

Key Player: Kieran Brookes has a good chance of being part of England's 2015 Rugby World Cup squad. He is a hugely talented tight-head and will be the cornerstone of the Falcons' scrum this season.

Signing to watch: The Tuilagi brothers will cause also sorts of destruction in opposition's defences but Josh Furno is likely to be integral to their set piece. He brings 21 caps of international experience with Italy to the team. He should have a big season.

Odds: Rory Clegg and Phil Godman are 51.00 to be top points scorers in the Premiership with the Falcons priced at 2.33 to be relegated come the season's end.

Prediction: Falcons to finish in eleventh.

© Getty Images

Northampton Saints

Jim Mallinder and Keith Barwell celebrate victory , Saracens v Northampton Saints, Aviva Premiership final, Twickenham, May 31, 2014
© Getty Images

Coach: Jim Mallinder led the Saints to the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup last term; he is in a wonderful position at Franklin's Gardens. He's kept his able lieutenants Dorian West and Alex King and the Saints are in a good place.

In: Jon Fisher (back-row), Joel Hodgson (scrum-half/ fly-half, Newcastle)

Out: Fa'atoina Autagavaia (fullback, Nevers), Paul Diggin (winger, retired), Ryan Glynn (scrum-half, Jersey), Gerrie-Jan van Velze (No.8, Worcester), Karl Wilkins (second-row, Clermont)

Key Player: He missed much of last season through injury but Alex Corbisiero is reportedly over his knee troubles and if he can get a whole campaign under his belt, the Saints' pack will a fearsome prospect.

Signing to watch: The Saints have refrained from spending big in the summer; that business was done prior to the start of last term. They have brought in two players with Joel Hodgson added as cover for the half-back spots

Odds: Saints are second-favourites to win a second title in as many years. Jamie Elliott at 36.00 to be top try-scorer is worth a look.

Prediction: We think the Saints will finish in third, but qualify for the final

Sale Sharks

Sale Sharks' new signing Luke McLean pings the ball out, Carrington, Manchester, July 22, 2014
© Getty Images

Coach: Steve Diamond led Sale to a top-six finish last term and hopes for bigger and better things at the Sharks this term. He has lost some important players to pastures new but has brought in a few experienced heads who will help the team's evolution.

In: Chris Cusiter (scrum-half, Glasgow), Darren Fearn (prop, Bedford Blues), Nathan Hines (lock, Clermont), Magnus Lund (back-row, Biarritz), Alberto De Marchi (prop, Treviso), Luke McLean (fullback, Treviso)

Out: James Gaskell (second-row, Wasps), Tom Holmes (second-row, Rotherham), Kiril Kulemin (second-row, Perpignan), Rob Miller (fullback, Wasps) Dwayne Peel (scrum-half, Bristol), Henry Thomas (prop, Bath)

Key Player: Players like Danny Cipriani and Mark Cueto will be integral to the Sharks this term but new signing Nathan Hines is a very astute bit of business from Diamond. He is in the twilight years of his career but Hines is still a great player and will bring a gnarly presence to the Sharks' pack.

Signing to watch: He has been out of the spotlight the last couple of seasons due to injury but Magnus Lund will hope to re-find the same sort of form which saw him win 10 England caps between 2006 and 2007.

Odds: Sale are 51.00 to win the league with Cueto a generous 41.00 to be top try-scorer.

Prediction: Sale will finish in eighth.

© Getty Images


Owen Farrell celebrates his try, Saracens v Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Cup, Twickenham, April 26, 2014
© Getty Images

Coach: Mark McCall spent the summer assessing exactly where his side fell at the final hurdle last season as they suffered the heartbreak of getting to two finals only to leave empty handed. He admits some players took it harder than others but with a morale-boosting pre-season trip to Chicago enjoyed, Sarries will want to ensure they are not the bridesmaids come the final throws of the season.

In: Michael Ellery (winger, England Sevens), Juan Figallo (prop, Montpellier), Jim Hamilton (second-row, Montpellier), Kieran Longbottom (prop, Western Force), Phil Thiel (hooker)

Out: Nic Auterac(prop, Bath), Steve Borthwick (second-row, retired), James Short (winger, London Irish), Matt Stevens (prop, Sharks), Michael Tagikacibau (centre/winger, Scarlets)

Key Player: Jim Hamilton has big boots to fill. Even though he has already played in the Top 14, Premiership and won numerous caps for Scotland, he has joined Saracens to step into the void left by the retired Steve Borthwick.

Signing to watch: Juan Figallo arrives at Saracens with the billing as one of the world's best tight-heads. He replaces Matt Stevens and will want to force James Johnston out of Sarries' starting line-up.

Odds: Saracens are favourites to win the Premiership, priced at 3.25, while David Strettle is good value at 15.00 to be top try-scorer

Prediction: Saracens will finish first and end up champions.

© Saracens.com


Wasps' Ashley Johnson celebrates his try, London Wasps v Gloucester Rugby, Aviva Premiership, Twickenham, April 19, 2014
© Getty Images

Coach: It has been another busy summer for Dai Young. He has brought in 12 new players and switched his captaincy to the enthusiastic James Haskell. Rumours continue to do the rounds concerning just where Wasps will be playing their rugby next season but Young will be focusing on getting Wasps into the top six alongside a cup run.

In: Lorenzo Cittadini (prop, Treviso), Bradley Davies (second-row, Cardiff Blues), James Gaskell (back-row, Sale), Ruaridh Jackson (fly-half, Glasgow), Buster Lawrence (flanker, Moseley), Alapeti Leiua (centre, Hurricanes), Alex Lozowski (fly-half, Leeds), Rob Miller (fullback, Sale), Nathan Morris (hooker, London Welsh), Ed Shervington (hooker, Worcester), Sailosi Tagicakibau (winger, London Irish), Thomas Young (flanker, Gloucester).

Out: Tommy Bell (fly-half, Jersey), Joe Carlisle (fly-half, Treviso), Neil Cochrane (hooker, Edinburgh), Liam O'Neill (winger, Nottingham), Tom Palmer (second-row, Gloucester), Rory Pitman (No.8, Scarlets), Ricky Reeves (prop, London Welsh), Brett Sheehan (scrum-half, Narbonne), Hugo Southwell (fullback), Lee Thomas (fullback), Taione Vea (prop, London Welsh)

Key Player: Nathan Hughes emerged as a future star in Wasps' back-row last season and should push on this time around. He has the potential to be a household name at Wasps but needs to avoid the difficult second season-itis.

Signing to watch: Keep your eyes on Alapeti Leiua. The versatile back is likely to spend most of his time in the centres but if his form in last season's Super Rugby tournament for the Hurricanes is anything to go by, Wasps have a gem.

Odds: Wasps are 34.00 to win the league with Leiua priced at 37.00 to be top try-scorer.

Prediction: Wasps will finish in seventh.

© Getty Images

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

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