LONDON, ENGLAND – The Aviva Premiership kicked off this weekend with a series of lopsided, high scoring contests. Here at RugbyWrapUp, we’ll have you covered all season long with the tries, controversies, and talking points. To lead things off after the first round of action, we’ll round out our preview of the Premiership with the final six teams, from the London Welsh to the (formerly London) Wasps.
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)
Outlook: This is definitely the longest transfer list in world rugby. An astonishing twenty six new players entered the ranks of London Welsh this past off-season, with a considerable number of Championship driftwood released. Though it didn’t help in the first round, it’s difficult to imagine that the Welsh will lose by fifty every week. However, there are real worries for the club. After a year in the Championship, many of the underlying issues that contributed to their first relegation remain. The forwards rarely have provided a solid platform for attacks, and the backs have lacked precision during their rare periods of possession. Piri Weepu will hopefully resolve some distribution problems, but the former All Black is a long way off his best form of a few years ago. All in all, it is difficult to see the Welsh avoiding the drop. They will go down, but Newcastle might keep it a competitive relegation dogfight.
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)
Outlook: The Falcons endured a miserable end to the season after soaring to (relatively) rarefied air early last year. Were it not for Worcester’s abysmal luck at points, Newcastle might have been bouncing right back down. Looking beneath the results though, there was some cause for hope. Kieran Brookes is one of the strongest props in the league, while the addition of two Tuilangi brothers will give the Falcons some much needed power and experience. For American supporters, the news that Eric Fry will be getting some experience in a Premiership environment is fantastic news. Newcastle did secure eight losing bonus points last year, so they were able to keep matches relatively close. If they can convert a few of those losing bonus points to victories, then they will be clear of the London Welsh by March. As it stands though, they will take eleventh, safe for another year, but looking over their shoulder.
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)
Outlook: The defending champions managed to have an even quieter summer than the Harlequins, making no major additions to the squad, but losing no significant contributors either. Alex Corbesiero can be fearsome if he stays healthy, and George North is a terrifying proposition for opposing defenses now that he has his footing in England. From one to fifteen, the Saints have one of the deepest in the Premiership, a quality in depth illustrated by the ferocious competition between Lee Dickson and Kahn Fotuali’i for the scrum half berth. Jim Mallinder is steering a ship that shouldn’t sink, and the Saints will be a force to be reckoned with all season long if they can avoid injuries. They will finish in third, setting up another mouth-watering semi-final with Leicester.
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)
Outlook: Sale were the major feel-good story of last season, led by resurgent fly-half Danny Cipriani. Finally focusing on rugby, Cipriani worked his way into contention for the Test shirt, and proved to be a potential impact sub in New Zealand. Suddenly, what had seemed to be a weakness of the England team is a real strength, with Owen Farrell, George Ford, Cipriani, and Stephen Myler all looking like legitimate options at number ten. The rest of the Sale team played extremely well down the stretch last season, keeping the squad in playoff contention far later than anyone expected. Luke McLean is an excellent addition to the back three, but the loss of Henry Thomas will hit the forward pack hard. Sale will finish as the bridesmaids this season, sinking one place to finish in seventh.
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)
Outlook: Saracens were the almost-men last season, finishing as runners up in both the Premiership and the Heineken Cup. They were the best team by some distance during the regular season, but have yet to convert that dominance into effective playoff performances. Owen Farrell has continued to mature enormously, with Charlie Hodgson still proving an extremely effective fly-half emeritus off the bench or for the occasional start. Saracens have probably the deepest forward pack in the league, bolstered by the Vunipola brothers and Scots Kelly Brown and Jim Hamilton. Mark McCall’s side is always terrifying going forward, and despite Chris Ashton’s failings as an international winger, he is more than effective as a poacher in the Premiership. David Strettle offers another outlet on the opposite wing, and spectators can always count on Sarries for plenty of tries. Once more, Saracens will finish the regular season in first.
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)
Outlook: The Wasps were the most exciting team in the Premiership two years ago, bolstered by the emergence of Christian Wade and Elliot Daly. Unfortunately, with Wade gone for almost all of last season thanks to an injury, the Wasps took a major step backward. In the meantime, they have lost some of the forward talent that had looked like it would provide the basis for a revival of the former European champions. Joe Launchbury sometimes struggles to replicate his international form on the domestic stage, though when he is on, it changes the complexion of the match. Dai Young has done good things with a team that barely clung to Premiership status in 2011/12. Unfortunately, the squad still lacks the depth to return to its place at the big boys’ table, and will finish in eighth.
Note: This preview was compiled before the results of this weekend’s fixtures were known. Nothing has changed, though Saints certainly look like a force to be reckoned with, and Exeter might be better than expected. The best thing is, we have twenty one more rounds to find out. Watch this space over the next nine months as we cover the ins and outs of the Aviva Premiership every week on RugbyWrapUp.