BATH, ENGLAND – Here’s Part 2 of our Aviva Premiership rankings – here’s Part 1 – with some detailed playoff predictions. about how the bottom half of the table shapes up…
Players In: Leroy Houston, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Jonathan Joseph, Matt Garvey, Dave Sisi, Anthony Watson, George Ford, Micky Young, Martin Roberts, Gavin Henson, Alafoti Fa’osilvia
Players Out: Lee Mears, Michael Claasens, Ben Skirving, Stephen Donald, Dan Hipkiss, Jack Cuthbert, Sam Vesty, Simon Taylor
Analysis: With the great Stephen Donald experiment done and dusted, Bath turns to George Ford at fly-half. The youngster didn’t want to wait behind Toby Flood at Leicester, and now he will have a team to put on his shoulders at the tender age of 21. Bath has relatively solid talent across the park, but doesn’t really stand out in many areas. Tellingly, one of the club’s main focuses this season lies off the pitch, as they attempt to renovate and expand their wreck of a stadium, the Recreation Ground. A decent result this season would see advancement beyond the pool stages of the Challenge Cup, but we can’t see them sneaking into the Heineken Cup next year, falling just shy of Wasps, who lie 6th in our table.
8. Exeter Chiefs
Players In: Tom James, Dave Lewis, Ceri Sweeney, Fetu’u Vanikolo, Greg Bateman, Don Armand, Romana Graham
Players Out: Gonzalo Camacho, Neil Clarke, Myles Dorrian, Mark Foster, Ignacio Mieres, Aly Muldowney, Josh Tatupu, Watisoni Votu, Junior Polueuligaga, Nic Sestaret, Simon Alcott, Kevin Barrett, Richard Baxter, Chris Budgen,
Analysis: Exeter’s great strength lies in their stable management situation, with Kevin Baxter at the helm for the umpteenth straight year. They made a decent enough showing in the Heineken Cup last year, opening brightly with a respectable loss to Leinster before falling apart. They maintained their fingerhold in Europe however, finishing sixth for a second consecutive year. However, the loss of lifetimer Richard Baxter will hurt, as will the improvement of the two teams immediately above them. We’re not sure Exeter did enough to strengthen their squad in the offseason to stave off a fall in the table.
9. Sale Sharks
Players In: Daniel Baines, Kirill Kulemin, Jonathan Mills, Phil Mackenzie, Tom Arscott, Andy Forsyth, Michael Paterson, Joe Ford
Players Out: Alasdair Dickinson, Richie Gray, Richie Vernon, Andy Powell, Corne Uys, Charlie Amesbury
Analysis: Sharks fans will remember the glory days of their 2006 championship with fondness, but without any expectation of a repeat showing. Sale had a truly shocking start to the campaign, and looked in real danger of relegation before a late push (combined with London Welsh’s bad luck) kept them up comfortably. Though the Sharks have lost some star power in the form of Richie Gray, in truth, he didn’t do too much for the club during his season there. A ninth place finish seems about right. Comfortable survivors, but without too much hope at cracking the top six places unless absolutely everything breaks right for the side.
10. Worcester Warriors
Players In: Paul Andrew, Jérémy Bécasseau, Ofa Fainga’anuku, Chris Brooker, Agustin Creevy, Michael Williams, Jonathan Thomas, Cameron Goodhue, Leonardo Senetore, Jeremy Su’a, Ignacio Mieres, Paul Warwick, James Stephenson
Players Out: Matt Mullan, Joe Carlisle, Andy Goode, Ollie Hayes, Aleki Lutui, Neil Best, Matt Kvesic, Blair Cowan, Nikki Walker, Errie Claassens, Craig Gillies
Analysis: The loss of Kvesic hurts, and the rest of the squad lacks the quality to compete with the top teams in the league. However, the Sixways remains a difficult place to play, and as long as Worcester can maintain impressive home form, they stand a very chance of surviving the drop. The lack of star power is evident across the park, and though the list of transfers in is long, it lacks any truly standout names. The Warriors best home is to remain relevant until the last month or so of the season, and then fade quietly into the night with dignity intact, and a place in the Premiership assured for another season.
11. London Irish
Players In: Jamie Hagan, Johnny Harris, Jimmy Stevens, Patrick Phibbs, Alex Lewington, Matt Parr, Nic Rouse, Blair Cowan, Myles Dorrian, Eamonn Sheridan, Fergus Mulchrone, Andy Fenby
Players Out: Alex Corbesiero, Max Lahiff, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, James Buckland, Scott Lawson, James Sandford, Matt Garvey, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, David Sisi, Jack Moates, Steven Shingler, Joe Ansbro
Analysis: It was always going to be tough for the Irish to hang on to their star players without results to keep them around, and an absolutely torrid start to last campaign probably made up the minds of Corbesiero and Joseph long before pen was actually put to paper for their respective transfers out of the club. Like Sale, they had too much quality to go the entire season without putting in some redeeming performances, but this season things will demonstrate that as bad as things were, they will get worse before they get better. A bright spot will be Marland Yarde, but without service on the wing, all his speed and power may go for naught.
12. Newcastle Falcons
Players In: Franck Montanella, Scott Lawson, Dominic Barrow, Fraser McKenzie, Andy Saull, Mike Blair, Rory Clegg, Phil Godman, Danny Barnes, Noah Cato
Players Out: James Hall, Michael Mayhew, James Hudson, Taiasina Tui’fua, Jordi Pasqualin, Rory Lawson, Jon Golding
Analysis: It’s the easy pick to say that the just-promoted side will return to the Championship, but that’s exactly where we see the Falcons come 2014. The glory days of Wilko and Toby Flood are long gone, and though the side did extremely well to win promotion first try, their spell in the Championship may doom them to West Bromwich-esque yo-yo purgatory. They may give some sides trouble, and certainly will rely upon their home-field advantage, but in the end, professional rugby has become far too competitive to rely on results in only half your games.
Leicester vs Glocester: Leicester just edges a thriller, with the match coming down to a battle between the boot of Toby Flood versus the play making ability of Freddy Burns. A classic matchup between two sides with no love lost, and if last season’s encounter at Kingsholm is anything to go by, it should be a competitive affair. In the end, experience pushes the Tigers over the finish line.
Northampton vs Saracens: A rematch of last year’s semifinal, this time the Sarries just manage to edge a Northampton side who had appeared to be gelling as the season entered its final weeks. Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell puts to rest doubters, as he proves that he has well and truly come of age with a stand-out performance. Billy Vunipola puts in a massive shift, and Northampton has no answer. Dylan Hartley avoids a red card though, which is a nice change.
Leicester vs Saracens: Though RugbyWrapUp correspondant Junoir Blaber certainly isn’t thrilled about the prospect, for the second consecutive year, the Leicester Tigers takes: home the crown. On the back of solid performances from their England stars, the overall cohesion of the Tigers is just too much for the isolated brilliance of Saracens, who falter away from their artificial turf.
That’s how we see the Aviva Premiership shaking out, feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.