The bottom of last season but with the arrival of Johann van Graan there is some hope that things will improve. At least supporters can expect more commitment than was shown in April’s humiliating defeat by Gloucester and, in Chris Cloete, Dave Attwood and Quinn Roux, the South African coach has added a lot to his face. . Orlando Bailey had his eye on the half last term and faces a big season without the helping hand of Danny Cipriani. Most important, however, is how quickly Van Graan can build a consensus after Bath looked anything but big last term.
Last season: 13th Predicted finish this season: 11th Key player: Joe Cokanasiga World Cup Bowler: Ewan Richards.
Bristol had a car crash of a season last term – almost immediately after Pat Lam’s long-term contract extension – with rumblings behind the scenes that all was not well, not to mention too many capitulations on the pitch. Lam has recruited wisely, however, and while attention is being focused on the arrival of Ellis Genge, AJ MacGinty could prove to be the signing of the season. Bristol will always entertain and Lam remains unwaveringly committed to the brand of rugby he wants his team to play. If he can pitch last season and find a way to ensure that his messages and methods are reflected again, that bumper contract might be worth it.
Last season: 10th Predicted finish this season: 4th Key player: Steven Luatua World Cup Bowler: Gabriel Ibitoye
It is not clear what exactly went wrong at Exeter last season and if the new law reforms blunted their close-range scoring weapon to an extent, it was not the Chiefs’ only problem. There are few people you want to do the off-season post-mortem more than Rob Baxter, though, and while he is struggling to manage his squad under the salary cap, he is the envy of rugby’s top directors. Both Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade will have benefited from summer recovery and Baxter will be hoping they are available sooner rather than later. The overhaul of the coaching staff should also help freshen things up.
Last season: 7th Predicted finish this season: 9th Key player: Jacques Vermeulen World Cup Bowler: Patrick Schickerling.
There is much hope at Kingsholm, with George Skivington overseeing a significant upswing in the club’s fortunes. Unsurprisingly given his playing career, Skivington has created a formidable pack at Gloucester, with the driving maul a strong weapon, and some lethal finishes at the back. Their defeat against Harlequins at Twickenham in May was their season in microcosm but Skivington was encouraged by the strides made throughout the campaign. They don’t miss too much in the international windows and if Jake Polledri can get back on the pitch and close to his previous form it will greatly boost Gloucester’s play-off hopes and be a sight to warm the heart given all he has achieved. .
Last season: 5th Predicted finish this season: 6th Key player: Freddie Clarke World Cup Bowler: Ruan Ackermann
Saracens exposed their tendency to over-rely on André Esterhuizen’s ball-carrying in last season’s semi-final, but as effective as he can be, who could blame them. The loss of Hugh Tizard is a big blow – he was among the winningest players across the Premier League last term – but the availability of Will Evans from outside is a big boost. This feels like a big season for Marcus Smith as the World Cup falls on the back of an inevitable plateau towards the end of last term. Fundamentally, however, the main question is whether the coaches can ensure that the spark that made Harlequins so enjoyable to watch in recent seasons does not fade away.
Last season: 3rd Predicted finish this season: 2nd Key player: André Esterhuizen World Cup Bowler: Will Evans
With marquee signings Handré Pollard and Anthony Watson, the defending champions must hope there is still room for improvement after last season’s early success in the Steve Borthwick project. That said, with Ellis Genge and George Ford moving on there are huge vacancies to fill, especially on the leadership side. Hanro Liebenberg filled in admirably as captain last season but old practice shows that it is more difficult to defend a title than to win one and things may be more difficult for the Tigers this season without Ford’s team to manage from half.
Last season: 1st Predicted finish this season: 5th Key player: Julian Montoya World Cup Bowler: Dan Kelly
This is a key season in many ways for the London Irish, who have a rich seam of young English talent running through a squad that also has some established pros. Declan Kidney’s priority will be to find consistency that would add to their ability to entertain – they took part in five draws last season – but, with Henry Arundell set for more game time alongside Will Joseph, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Tom Parton and Ben Loader, they can beat anyone on their day. They will lose Albert Tuisue at No. 8, where they will start the season looking short, and the importance of Sean O’Brien’s cameos from the bench last term should not be underestimated.
Last season: 8th Predicted end of this season: 8th Key player: Curtis Rona World Cup Bowler: Will Joseph
Dave Walder is one of the sport’s good guys so we hope his step to take over after Dean Richards’ departure has been a successful one. There are plenty of chances against Newcastle, however, and the Falcons appear to be forced to cut their clothes for a few outings on the back of a season in which they have finished with just one league win since November. The Falcons will never be wanting for a try and the sooner their Argentinian back three return from the Rugby Championship but it could be a long season for everyone involved in Newcastle.
Last season: 12th Predicted finish this season: 13th Key player: Will Welch World Cup Bowler: George McGuigan
Chris Boyd is gone, even if he will drop in from time to time, but New Zealand’s legacy could be truly felt as another crop of talented youngsters emerges. The Saints finished last season in fine form and gave Leicester an almighty shock in the semi-finals when a more comfortable hand was needed to book a place at Twickenham. A few old ones have gone, some interesting Australian signings have arrived and, with Alex Mitchell and Dan Biggar at half-back, Northampton were always worth a look. How quickly Phil Dowson turns his life around as director of rugby will be crucial to how the Saints fare.
Last season: 4th Predicted finish this season: 7th Key player: Alex Mitchell World Cup Bowler: Aaron Hinkley
A very interesting second season awaits Alex Sanderson, who has repeatedly admitted in a very matter-of-fact style that the job of director of rugby is more of a challenge than he thought. South Africa’s stardust has gone in the form of Lood de Jager and Faf de Klerk, and the investigator could have a problem if Raffi Quirke is away with England for big spells. There was a disciplinary problem last season but Ford’s arrival is to be celebrated and it shows Sanderson’s determination to field his squad with local boys. How quickly Ford can recover from his achilles injury and hit his straps will go a long way toward defining his season.
Last season: 6th Predicted finish this season: 3rd Key player: George Ford World Cup Bowler: Tom Roebuck
Reaching the final in their first season back in the top flight is no mean feat but, make no mistake, Saracens will be looking forward to their final win at Twickenham. As a result they will be very competitive again, have made some smart signings in Hugh Tizard and Eduardo Bello and promoted some promising youngsters from their academy. The coaches rotated the team a lot last season and will reap the rewards this term. The final is still one area of concern but the success of Saracens and Leicester last season showed us that a game plan built on strong defense and accurate kicking is still very effective.
Last season: 2nd Predicted finish this season: 1st Key player: Alex Lozowski World Cup Bowler: Hugh Tizard
The club have struggled with injury problems more than most in recent years and have suffered their own financial struggles recently. Big names such as Jimmy Gopperth and Malakai Fekitoa have left and been replaced and, although the arrival of Vincent Koch is a coup, it could be a long season for Lee Blackett’s side. It would help Joe Launchbury to be fit and there are sure to be memorable days for Wasps when everything clicks – the worry is that it won’t happen often enough.
Last season: 9th Predicted finish this season: 10th Key player: Joe Launchbury World Cup Bowler: Paolo Odogwu
The end of the season at this stage was a great achievement for the financially strapped club but there must be hope that new investment is urgently needed and that Steve Diamond will be able to continue the great job he has already done . It doesn’t feel like empty rhetoric when they’ve heard everything and praised Diamond’s leadership in recent weeks and, if the Warriors can pull themselves out of their slump with the squad largely intact, they’ll be a side that, in the mold of his rugby director. , at least resilient to the end.
Last season: 11th Predicted end of this season: 12th Key player: Owen Williams World Cup Bowler: Ted Hill