Guide to 2016/2017 Aviva premiership season
Guide to the Aviva Premiership season: All 12 teams rated plus predictions for the new campaign
The Aviva Premiership season began in earnest last weekend with a thrilling new campaign expected.
Set out below is our guided to the teams, players and coaches involved.
Saracens once again look the team to beat as top-flight rugby returns but Wasps, Northampton, Leicester and more will have something to say about that.
Last season: 9th.
Director of rugby: Todd Blackadder
Captain: Guy Mercer
Stadium: Recreation Ground (capacity 13,500)
Top recruit: Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons). Big loss: Kyle Eastmond (Wasps).
Key man: George Ford – The England fly-half is a creative genius when the force is with him. Tour deeds suggest he is on the rise again.
Verdict: Blackadder has not had much preparation time since arriving from New Zealand, but the slump of last season was an aberration. With so much all-round quality in the ranks, expect a revival, although maybe not to the heights of a play-off place – yet.
Last season: Promoted from the Championship.
Director of rugby: Andy Robinson
Captain: Jack Lam
Stadium: Ashton Gate (capacity: 27,000)
Top recruit: Jordan Crane (Leicester).
Big loss: Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues).
Key man: Crane – The experienced No 8 knows his way around this competition and has ample nous as a multiple title-winner in his time at the Tigers.
Verdict: A traditional powerhouse club of the English game are back where they belong, with grand ambitions. But promoted teams are always hampered in their recruitment and Robinson lacks real depth of Premiership quality, so a daunting campaign awaits.
Last season: 2nd/runners-up.
Head coach: Rob Baxter
Captain: Jack Yeandle
Stadium: Sandy Park (capacity: 12,300)
Top recruit: Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs).
Big loss: Alex Brown (Perpignan).
Key man: Henry Slade – Eddie Jones says he is waiting to see what all the fuss is about. He shouldn't have to wait long. A sublime talent, at 10, 12 or 13.
Verdict: The Devon side are now an established threat to the old order and Baxter has seemingly recruited shrewdly again, with the signings of Dennis, Greg Holmes and Ollie Devoto. Armed with great collective spirit and superbly-coached, they will be in the mix again.
Last season: 8th.
Director of rugby: David Humphreys
Captain: Greig Laidlaw Stadium:
Kingsholm (capacity: 16,500)
Top recruit: Matt Scott (Edinburgh).
Big loss: Nick Wood (retired).
Key man: John Afoa – The 32-year-old ex-All Blacks prop must set a powerful, aggressive example for the rest of the Gloucester pack, in the scrum and open play.
Verdict: Gloucester were once perennial challengers, but they require a stunning transformation to reclaim that lost status. Humphreys took over with a fine reputation, but pressure will mount if results don't improve. The barren era is destined to go on…
Last season: 7th.
Director of rugby: John Kingston
Captain: Danny Care
Stadium: The Stoop (capacity: 14,816)
Top recruit: Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps).
Big loss: Nick Easter (retired).
Key man: Mike Brown – England's fiery full-back detests losing, so he is just the man to drive better standards after last season's frustrations.
Verdict: The appointment of Kingston as successor to Conor O'Shea provides continuity and Graham Rowntree can galvanise the pack. Quins have rookies such as Jack Clifford and Kyle Sinckler who can become consistently dominant figures in the league, but a revival may take time.
Last season: 4th.
Director of rugby: Richard Cockerill
Captain: Tom Youngs Stadium:
Welford Road (capacity: 25,800)
Top recruit: Matt Toomua (Brumbies).
Big loss: Vereniki Goneva (Newcastle).
Key man: Tom Youngs – The Tigers have added flair to their back line, but the onus is on the captain to preserve the traditional set-piece platform.
Verdict: With Toomua's creativity and JP Pietersen's finishing, allied to Manu Tuilagi's carrying clout, Leicester have the firepower to run amok, if the pack are as reliable as ever. Test call-ups won't hit them as badly as some rivals, so yet another play-off finish seems inevitable.
Last season: 11th.
Director of rugby: Dean Richards
Captain: Will Welch
Stadium: Kingston Park (capacity: 10,200)
Key recruit: Vereniki Goneva (Leicester).
Big loss: Andy Goode (retired).
Key man: Goneva – Signing the Fiji wing was a coup for Richards, as he has the scoring pedigree to turn tight games in the Falcons' favour.
Verdict: So much of their climb to safety last season was inspired by Goode, who is not around now. The Tyneside club continue to harness local talent, Welch is a fine captain and Sinoti Sinoti is a lethal runner, but they may lack the all-round quality to survive again.
Prediction: 12th (relegated).
Last season: 5th.
Director of rugby: Jim Mallinder
Captain: Tom Wood
Stadium: Franklin's Gardens (capacity: 15,500)
Top recruit: Louis Picamoles (Toulouse).
Big loss: Kahn Fotuali'i (Bath).
Key man: Courtney Lawes – Motivated by renewed England hope and when fully fit, he can provide the aggressive impetus the Saints need.
Verdict: Picamoles is already making a gigantic impact on his new team-mates and Wood will lead with manic intensity. There is a collective desperation to atone for missing the play-offs last season, but if they can't regularly unleash George North, they won't hit the heights.
Last season: 6th.
Director of rugby: Steve Diamond
Captain: Josh Beaumont
Stadium: AJ Bell (capacity: 12,000)
Top recruit: Josh Charnley (Wigan rugby league).
Big loss: Danny Cipriani (Wasps).
Key man: Mike Haley – Full-back made more metres than anyone else in the league last season, excelled for the Saxons and earned an England call-up.
Verdict: There is fresh hope in Salford, thanks to a takeover and investment. The Sharks are tough up front and – despite the loss of Cipriani – dangerous out wide. They are also nigh-on invincible at home, so a few scalps on the road and they could even come into play-off contention.
Last season: 1st/champions.
Director of rugby: Mark McCall
Captain: Brad Barritt
Stadium: Allianz Park (capacity: 10,000)
Top recruit: Schalk Burger (Stormers).
Big loss: Jacques Burger (retired).
Key man: Maro Itoje – the forward prodigy started 26 games last season and won the lot. European Player of the Year is a once-in-a-generation talent.
Verdict: The Premiership and Champions Cup Double is a hard act to follow, but McCall has a group of unusually driven men. Their pragmatic approach at times means they are not universally adored, but they are a team apart and must be title favourites again.
Last season: 3rd.
Director of rugby: Dai Young
Captain: Joe Launchbury
Stadium: Ricoh Arena (capacity: 32,609)
Top recruit #1: Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs). Top recruit #2: Danny Cipriani (Sale). Top recruit #3: Willie le Roux (Sharks). Top recruit #4: Kyle Eastmond (Bath).
Big loss #1: Charles Piutau (Ulster). Big loss #2: George Smith (Suntory Sungoliath/Queensland Reds.
Key man: Cipriani – with Beale unfit until November and Le Roux arriving in February, the English No 10 must electrify the back-line from day one.
Verdict: Well, they're not going to die wondering! If the Wasps pack can cope with the loss of Smith and the temporary absence of injured James Haskell, to match their rivals, the all-star backs can make hay. But Young faces a race to knit the new pattern together. Expect fireworks.
Last season: 10th.
Director of rugby: Carl Hogg
Captain: Gerrit-Jan van Velze
Stadium: Sixways Stadium (capacity: 12,024)
Top recruit: Ben Te'o (Leinster).
Big loss: Sam Smith (retired).
Key man: Te'o – The cross-code centre made waves in the Pro12 with Leinster. He will wreak havoc on his way to an inevitable England debut. Verdict: Management upheaval in the midst of pre-season is never ideal and the departure of Dean Ryan to the RFU was a major setback. But with decent support and a reasonable depth of experience and Test caps in their ranks, the Warriors should manage to stay afloat.
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Posted on August 31st, 2016