Who will triumph in the Premiership?
Last Updated: September 3, 2013 9:59am
Ahead of the start of the Aviva Premiership we take a look at the chances of each side and Stuart Barnes gives his predictions on how each team will fare.
The early signs are that Leicester, Northampton, Harlequins and Saracens will be the teams to beat but the likes of Bath, Gloucester and Exeter will be doing their best to break into the top four.
All eyes will be on Newcastle to see what they will bring to the Premiership under Dean Richards, while former Sky Sports pundit Dean Ryan will have his work cut out for him at Worcester.
Director of Rugby: Gary Gold
Captain: Stuart Hooper
Ground: Recreation Ground
Last season finish: 7th
Sky Bet odds: 25/1
Players in: Juan Pablo Orlandi (Racing Metro), Leroy Houston (Colomiers), George Ford, Micky Young (both Leicester), Matt Garvey, Jonathan Joseph, David Sisi, Anthony Watson (all London Irish), Gavin Henson (London Welsh), Martin Roberts (Northampton).
Players out: Michael Claassens (Toulon), Stephen Donald (Mitsubishi Dynaboars, Japan), Ben Skirving (Bristol), Jack Cuthbert (Edinburgh), Lee Mears, Mark McMillan, Sam Vesty, Dan Hipkiss (all retired), Simon Taylor.
Key men: Francois Louw, George Ford, Gavin Henson
Overview: Finishing mid-table is not acceptable to the Bath supporters who yearn for the days of 80s and early 90s when the club dominated the domestic scene. However the signs are that they will have to wait a little longer for Premiership glory. With an influx of new players and a few coaching changes, it may take some time for Bath to gel and find their feet. New signing Gavin Henson must surely be at the last chance saloon (how many times have we heard that?) but brings plenty of experience. The Bath faithful, will be delighted that Springbok backrower Francois Louw has re-signed until 2017 and the Supporters 'Player of the Season' will no doubt have another huge impact on the Premiership.
Stuart Barnes says: Bath has bucket loads of exciting youngsters behind the scrum and a front five that is as solid as anything they have had for some time; George Ford is the key question mark and David Wilson, a definite answer to those who question the pack. The management also has to prove it can liberate its game to get the best out of Kyle Eastmond.
Director of rugby: Rob Baxter
Captain: Dean Mumm
Ground: Sandy Park
Last season finish: 6th
Sky Bet odds: 33/1
Players in: Greg Bateman (London Welsh), Don Armand (Stormers, South Africa), Dave Lewis (Gloucester), Ceri Sweeney, Tom James (both Cardiff Blues), Fetu'u Vainikolo (Connacht).
Players out: Neil Clark (Oyonnax), Aly Muldowney (Connacht), Myles Dorrian (London Irish), Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester), Ignacio Mieres (Worcester), Mark Foster (Jersey), Josh Tatupu (Carcassonne), Chris Budgen, Simon Alcott, Richard Baxter, Kevin Barrett, Junior Polu (all retired), Nic Sestaret.
Key men: Dean Mumm, Jack Nowell.
Overview: Exeter will continue to be a tough place to visit and it will be more of the same served up by the Chiefs. The older entourage will know exactly what to expect and new skipper Dean Mumm will be looking for them to help their promising academy players to settle into Premiership action as soon as possible. The likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Sam Hill are exciting prospects and Rob Baxter will be looking to make the most of their talents.
Stuart Barnes says: Rob Baxter has not felt the need to buy big. Instead he trusts what has served the club so well and hopes that Exeter's excellent Academy will bring through youngsters like Sam Hill and - in time - Henry Slade. The smartest DOR and a good home record will keep the Chiefs buoyant.
Director of rugby: Nigel Davies
Last season: 5th
Sky Bet odds:16/1
Players in: Matt Kvesic (Worcester), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), James Hudson (Newcastle), Dan George (London Welsh), Tom Hicks (Northampton), Jonny Bentley (Cornish Pirates).
Players out: Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Dave Lewis (Exeter), Alex Brown, Peter Buxton (both retired), Tommaso D'Apice (Zebre).
Key men: Freddie Burns, Matt Kvesic
Overview: Gloucester were one of the most exciting sides to watch last season and Nigel Davies will be looking for a play-off spot at least this season. With plenty of talent in the backs with the likes of Freddie Burns, Billy Twelevtrees and Jimmy Cowan, "Glos" will need their pack to get some them on the front foot. What they lost in the enforcer stakes with Jim Hamilton going to France they have gained at the breakdown with the superb Matt Kvesic joining an already impressive backrow.
Stuart Barnes says: There is some pressure on Nigel Davies to crack the top four. In Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan and Akapusi Qera he has the best back row in England. If the front five provide the platform, Freddie Burns has a fabulous foundation to advance this great rugby club.
Director of rugby: Conor O'Shea
Captain: Chris Robshaw
Ground: Twickenham Stoop
Last season: 3rd (lost in play-offs)
Sky Bet odds: 6/1
Players in: Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton), Nick Kennedy (Toulon), Paul Sackey (Stade Francais).
Players out: James Johnston (Saracens), Chris Brooker (Worcester), Peter Browne, Seb Stegmann (both London Welsh), Rory Clegg (Newcastle), Olly Kohn, Will Skinner (both retired), Tim Fairbrother.
Key players: Chris Robshaw, Nick Evans
Overview: We are used to seeing Quins challenging for top honours but having lost the likes of James Johnston to Sarries and the retirement of Kohn and Skinner, will they have enough? Prop Paul Doran-Jones gives them options in the front row while Nick Kennedy - who helped Toulon to Heineken Cup glory last season - gives them some grunt in the second row along with George Robson. Behind the scrum Danny Care and Nick Evans will continue to run the show with full-back Mike Brown continuing to attack the line at every opportunity. There is plenty of pressure on England captain Chris Robshaw who will need a massive season to hold onto his England place.
Stuart Barnes says: There has been much confident talk in the camp but even with the brilliant singing of Nick Kennedy Quins might be a little light without James Johnston and (whisper quietly) is Nick Evans quite the force of old?
Director of rugby: Richard Cockerill
Captain: Toby Flood
Ground: Welford Road
Last season: Champions
Sky Bet odds: 15/8
Players in: David Mele, Jerome Schuster (both Perpignan), Jamie Gibson (London Irish), Ryan Lamb (Northampton), Neil Briggs, Tim Bristow (both London Welsh), Owen Williams (Scarlets), Sebastian de Chaves (Stade Montois), Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter).
Players out: Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), George Ford, Micky Young (both Bath), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle), Pat Phibbs, Jimmy Stevens, Johnny Harris (all London Irish), Richard Thorpe (London Welsh), Matt Cornwell (Mogliano), Andy Forsyth (Sale Sharks), Geordan Murphy, Ben Woods (both retired).
Key men: Geoff Parling, Ben Youngs
Overview: The defending champions may not have Richard Cockerill on the sidelines until the middle of October due to his ban, but that should not stop their challenge for yet another title. Their strength in depth is impressive as usual and with some clever signings they will be able to compensate when the international windows come around. Triumphant Lions Ben and Tom Youngs, Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole, Tom Croft and Geoff Parling will add even more kudos to the club's proud history. As well as the usual suspects look out for backrower Jamie Gibson and prop Jerome Schusterto, who will fill the gap left by Martin Castrogiovanni.
Stuart Barnes says: David Mele is a masterstroke signing; a top-class nine and ten, he's the cleverest signing of the season. Jerome Schuster, his Perpignan colleague, will fill the Castro hole in the squad and Jamie Gibson will excel at Welford Road.Prediction: Twickenham, here come the Tigers. 1st and runners up.
Director of rugby: Brian Smith
Captain: George Skivington
Ground: Madejski Stadium, Reading
Last season: 9th
Sky Bet odds: 125/1
Players in: Jamie Hagan (Leinster), Pat Phibbs, Johnny Harris, Jimmy Stevens (all Leicester), Matt Parr, Nic Rouse (both Nottingham), Andrew Fenby (Scarlets), Michael Mayhew (Newcastle), Blair Cowan (Worcester), Myles Dorrian (Exeter), Eamonn Sheridan, Fergus Mulchrone (both Rotherham).
Players out: Alex Corbisiero (Northampton), Max Lahiff (Melbourne Rebels), Jonathan Joseph, Matt Garvey, Jamie Gibson, David Sisi, Anthony Watson (all Bath), Jack Moates (Wasps), Jerry Yanuyanutawa (Glasgow), James Buckland (London Scottish), Scott Lawson (Newcastle), Steven Shingler (Scarlets), James Sandford (Cornish Pirates), Joe Ansbro (retired).
Key men: Marland Yarde, Setaimata Sa
Overview: Last season was a tough one for the Exiles and this season looks like it may be even tougher. They have lost the likes of Alex Corbisiero, Matt Garvey and Jamie Gibson and could battle to survive this season. Positives are that Setaimata Sa will be back in action after a knee injury ruled him out for most of last season and they have some exciting strike power outwide with the likes of Marland Yarde
Stuart Barnes says: It has been an awful exodus of London Irish's brightest young talents. Alex Corbisiero is the biggest name but all those promising youngsters and shrewd operators like Jamie Gibson look irreplaceable.
Director of rugby: Dean Richards
Captain: Will Welch
Ground: Kingston Park
Last season: Championship winners
Sky Bet odds: 150/1
Players in: Scott Lawson (London Irish), Kieran Brookes (Leicester), Mike Blair (Brive), Rory Clegg (Harlequins), Phil Godman (London Scottish), Andy Saull (Saracens), Fraser McKenzie (Sale Sharks), Noah Cato (Northampton), Danny Barnes (Munster), Dominic Barrow (Leeds Carnegie),
Players out: Jimmy Gopperth (Leinster), James Hudson (Gloucester), James Hall (Bristol), Michael Mayhew (London Irish), Taiasina Tui'fua (Bordeaux Begles), Jordi Pasqualin (London Scottish), Rory Lawson, Jon Golding (both retired).
Key man: Andy Saull
Overview: Dean Richards is back in the Aviva Premiership four years after he was suspended from coaching in the aftermath of the Bloodgate scandal at Harlequins. Richards will hope his squad has sufficient quality to retain their Premiership status. The loss of Jimmy Gopperth and James Hudson are big blows but Richards has made some astute signings for the battles ahead.
Stuart Barnes says: The long trip, the rotten weather and the influence of Dean Richards are three good reasons to expect Newcastle to survive their first season back. A combination of solid and smart signings suggests that Deano can avoid the dangers of the relegation fight.
Director of rugby: Jim Mallinder
Captain: Dylan Hartley
Ground: Franklin's Gardens
Last season finish: 4th (Beaten finalists)
Sky Bet odds: 5/1
Players in: George North (Scarlets), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Kahn Fotuali'i (Ospreys), Salesi Ma'afu (Western Force), Rob Verbakel, Glenn Dickson (both Otago), Gareth Denman (Rotherham).
Players out: Brian Mujati, Soane Tonga'uiha (both Racing Metro), Paul Doran-Jones (Harlequins), Ryan Lamb (Leicester), Martin Roberts (Bath), Tom May (London Welsh), Tom Hicks (Gloucester), Mark Sorenson (Bristol), Noah Cato (Newcastle), Rhys Oakley (Plymouth Albion).
Key men: Kahn Fotuali'i, George North
Overview: Saints have surely made the most exciting signings of the summer with the acquisitions of Lions duo George North and Alex Corbisiero, as well as Samoa scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i. The foundations of the success in recent years - props Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga'uiha - have both gone but their new signings will bring a new sense of optimism to Franklin's Gardens.
Stuart Barnes says: Had the quantity of players to reach four consecutive play-offs but not quite had the quality and nous to go all the way; George North, Corbisiero and - off the field - Alex King, might steer them over the line.
Prediction: 2nd and Champions.
Director of rugby: Steve Diamond
Captain: Daniel Braid
Ground: Salford City Stadium
Last season finish:10th
Sky Bet odds: 66/1
Players in: Michael Paterson (Cardiff Blues), Joe Ford (Leeds Carnegie), Kirill Kulemin, Jonathan Mills, Phil Mackenzie, Tom Arscott (all London Welsh), Daniel Baines (Rotherham), Andy Forsyth (Leicester), Charlie Walker-Blair (Jersey).
Players out: Richie Gray (Castres), Andy Powell (Wigan Warriors RL), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Glasgow), Jordan Davies (Salford City Reds RL), Charlie Amesbury (Bristol), Lee Imiolek (Leeds Carnegie), Kearnan Myall (Wasps).
Key men: Daniel Braid, Danny Cipriani
Overview: Last season was almost a disaster for Sale Sharks. Marquee summer signings such as Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray failed to spark a challenge for the top four and instead they were left fighting for Premiership survival as they chopped and changed their coaching line-up. They have shunned the glamour signings this summer and will hope for a season of greater stability.
Stuart Barnes says: Stability in the management and consistency on the field. They were both elusive qualities last season and Steve Diamond might have to settle for not much more this season although Tom Arscott and Michael Patersen are interesting singings.
Director of rugby: Mark McCall
Captain: Steve Borthwick
Ground: Allianz Park
Last season finish: 1st (lost in play-offs)
Sky Bet odds:9/4
Players in: James Johnston (Harlequins), Billy Vunipola (Wasps), Richard Barrington (Jersey), Tim Streather (Nottingham).
Players out: Andy Saull (Newcastle), John Smit, Carlos Nieto, Joe Maddock (all retired), Kameli Ratuvou (Zebre).
Key men: Owen Farrell, Schalk Brits
Overview: Saracens finished top of the Premiership last season only to suffer a surprise defeat to Northampton Saints at home in the semi-final. They will be confident of finishing in the top four again and challenging for the Premiership title after bolstering their pack with the sizable additions of Billy Vunipola and James Johnston.
Stuart Barnes says: They lost the big games through insufficient power on the gain line. With Billy Vunipola and Johnston added they have addressed that issue and will be there or thereabouts again. If Owen Farrell can turn the potential of his Lions tour into attacking reality they will be far easier on the eye and harder to defend against.
Director of rugby: Dai Young
Captain: Chris Bell
Ground: Adams Park
Last season finish: 8th
Sky Bet odds: 40/1
Players in: Matt Mullan, Joe Carlisle, Andy Goode (all Worcester), Ben Jacobs (Western Force), Taione Vea (North Harbour), Nathan Hughes (Auckland), Esteban Lozada (Agen), William Helu (Roma), Kearnan Myall (Sale Sharks), Ed Jackson (London Welsh), Jack Moates (London Irish), Guy Thompson (Jersey), Ricky Reeves, Josh Bassett, Neil Cochrane (all Bedford), Rory Pitman (Rotherham), Carlo Festuccia (Zebre)
Players out: Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Nicky Robinson, Jack Wallace (both Bristol), Zak Taulafo (Stade Francais), Rhys Thomas (Newport Gwent Dragons), Tim Payne, Stephen Jones, Lee Thomas, Nic Berry (all retired), Marco Wentzel (Sharks), Fabio Staibano.
Key men: Christian Wade, Ashley Johnson
Overview: The loss of Billy Vunipola is a big blow to Wasps, who threatened to reach the play-offs last season before falling away. Guy Thompson, who was Jersey's top try-scorer last season, and Ed Jackson will have to replace the No 8's ball-carrying dynamism - while Ashley Johnson and James Haskell can also cover at the base of the scrum. The pressure will also be on fly-halves Andy Goode and Joe Carlisle to get the ball to lethal finishers Tom Varndell and Christian Wade out wide.
Stuart Barnes says: The team with the flying wingers but do they have a top-class fly-half and tighthead to turn last season's dramatic improvement into a top-four bid? Unless Taione Vea from North Harbour does a job on the tighthead the answer is probably 'no'.
Director of rugby: Dean Ryan
Captain: Jonathan Thomas
Last season finish: 11th
Sky Bet odds: 150/1
Players in: Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Jeremy Becasseau, Paul Warwick (both Stade Francais), Agustin Creevy (Montpellier), Cameron Goodhue (Auckland), Michael Williams (Blue Bulls), Jeremy Su'a (Crusaders), Ofa Fainga'anuku (Glasgow), Ignacio Mieres (Exeter), Leonardo Senatore (Pampas), Chris Brooker (Harlequins), Paul Andrew (Cornish Pirates), James Stephenson (Bedford).
Players out: Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Matt Mullan, Andy Goode, Joe Carlisle (all Wasps), Aleki Lutui, Nikki Walker (both Edinburgh), Neil Best (London Scottish), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Errie Claassens, Ollie Hayes, Andy Short (all Bristol), Craig Gillies, Shaun Perry (both retired), Tevita Taumoepeau.
Key men: Ignacio Mieres, Jonathan Thomas
Overview: After a spell as forwards coach for Scotland and a long stint in the media, former Gloucester director of rugby Dean Ryan is back in the Aviva Premiership, tasked with taking the Warriors towards the top of the league. The departures of England flanker Matt Kvesic, prop Matt Mullan and fly-half Andy Goode will make his mission that much tougher.
Stuart Barnes says: Dean Ryan might find life tougher in the stands than the studio. There are a shortage of magic wands and Ryan will have to work hard to lift the team to safety. The influence of some excellent Argentine forwards and the shrewd signing of Paul Warwick will be enough.