Ahead of the first round of Aviva Premiership matches this weekend, we cast our eyes into the crystal ball and predict who will finish where:
1. Leicester – The deepest squad in the league, eight Premiership finals in a row. Hard to bet against them making it nine. A big season for Manu Tuilagi, also worth watching the battle at fly half between George Ford and Toby Flood
2. Harlequins – A fantastic season last year, but they will be under pressure as champions this year. Likely to lose more players to internationals which could stretch their squad. Keep an eye on Joe Marler, could be a huge season for him.
3. Saracens – The arrival of Chris Ashton has been the big talking point at Saracens, and he will certainly add some firepower. The real focus needs to be on expanding their game though to use his skills. How they balance the midfield will be key.
4. Northampton – Have been on the verge of big success for a few years now, but it just seems as though the other are pulling away slightly. The loss of Ashton will hurt, but Roger Wilson moving to Ulster could cause more problems. A true unsung hero.
5.Â Gloucester – There is such promise in this young Gloucester side, with the likes of Sharples, May and Burns. If they can start the season well they can be a real threat to anyone this year. How they fare on their travels will be key.
6. Bath – After a complete overhaul of coaching staff this summer and a fair amount of change in playing staff, Bath are a bit of an unknown quantity this year.
7.Â Sale – Obviously Cipriani has grabbed the headlines of Sale this summer, but they have recruited astutely elsewhere, particularly with Scottish lock Richie Gray who could form an excellent partnership with James Gaskell.
8. London Irish – Brian Smith is back in charge, and Exiles fans will be hoping he can re-energise the club like he did in his first stint. Some real talent in the form of Joseph and Homer, Irish have the potential they just have to find the consistency.
9. Exeter – When oh when will we stop underestimating Exeter? Likely to suffer a bit this season due to their Heineken Cup commitments, but don’t let that fool you into believing this year might be the year they get found out. They’ll be more than safe enough.
10. Worcester – Worcester will be how Worcester have always been recently, very solid from 1-10. The key to their season will be how well they can start to involve their outside backs. WIll find it tough but should be able so avoid the drop.
11. Wasps – Need to rediscover their attitude. Bringing back Haskell and Palmer will help, but Wasps have a lot to do to bring back the belief and power of their mid 000’s sides. Lots of useful young talent at the club, they must fight to stay up.
12. London Welsh – It looks likely to be a tough season for London Welsh, but they should be carried in the early season by the wave of emotion surrounding their entry into the Premiership. They have recruited well, and if the risk that is Gavin Henson pays off they could finish much higher up the table. Sensible to retain a Welsh core, it will give them a common purpose.