Aviva Premiership team-by-team guide — Saracens the team to beat


Aviva Premiership rugby returns on Friday night after a busy off-season for all 12 clubs.

Check out our guide to each club, including a prediction of where they will finish up come May. Just don’t remind us at the end of the season…


Bruce Craig will be expecting big things from his side this term after they had the benefit of a full preseason under Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson. With George Ford now over at Leicester, Freddie Burns and Rhys Priestland hold the keys at No. 10 while Sam Underhill is an eye-catching signing in the back row.

Bath perhaps lack a ball-carrying centre to help get them on the front foot and if they are hoping to cement their spot in the top four come the season’s end, then they must improve their away form.

Coach: Todd Blackadder — The New Zealander is in his second season at the Rec after steering them to fifth last term.

Captain: Matt Garvey — The versatile forward, who plays across the second row and back row, takes over from Guy Mercer.

Key Player: Henry Thomas — The tight-head spent much of last season out with a serious knee injury, but when he returns to the pitch, he will bring solidity to the front row while his ball-carrying will also cause a lot of damage.

In: Darren Allinson (London Irish), Freddie Burns (Leicester Tigers), Shaun Knight (Dragons), Josh Lewis (Ebbw Vale), Anthony Perenise (Bristol Rugby), James Phillips (Bristol Rugby), Sam Underhill (Ospreys)

Out: David Denton (Worcester Warriors), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Robbie Fruean (Edinburgh Rugby), Joe Graham (Rotherham Titans), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), David Sisi (Zebre), Daniel Bowden (released)

Prediction: Bath will battle hard, but will just finish outside of the playoffs in fifth.

Exeter Chiefs

The champions will be hopeful of retaining their title and have made two astute signings in openside Matt Kvesic and Australian scrum-half Nic White. Like Bath, they favour retention over recruitment but will need to utilise their full squad with the international windows likely to rob them of their top talent.

Exeter are the example of how to steer a club from the Championship to the Premiership title, but given they are now champions, they will be expected to be challenging for silverware come the end of the season.

Coach: Rob Baxter — He is Exeter through and through and has been a key figure in their charge to the Premiership title.

Captain: Jack Yeandle — The hooker dovetails nicely with Gareth Steenson, with both driving Exeter’s unrelenting push for success.

Key Player: Ollie Devoto — The fiercely talented playmaker should kick on this term and establish himself as a key player for both club and country.

In: James Freeman (Jersey Reds), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Tom O’Flaherty (Ospreys), Toby Salmon (Rotherham Titans), Wilhelm van der Sluys (Southern Kings), Nic White (Montpellier)

Out: Will Hooley (Bedford Blues), Dave Lewis (Harlequins), Niko Matawalu (released), Geoff Parling (Melbourne Rebels), Damian Welch (Cardiff Blues), Ben White (Cardiff Blues), Matt Jess, Tom Johnson, Haydn Thomas (all retired)

Prediction: They will enjoy a solid run in the Champions Cup and finish in the top four, but will have to travel in the semifinals.

Gloucester Rugby

It was a disappointing 2016-17 campaign for Gloucester and for a club with their proud history, it is high time that they started bringing back some of the old fear factor to Kingsholm. They acted in the summer to bring in Johan Ackermann as their new head coach to work alongside director of rugby David Humphreys but they have endured a turbulent time in the transfer market.

First Carl Fearns decided to stay at Lyon and then Jonny May activated a clause in his contract to go and join Leicester. Ed Slater was brought in to add some much needed grunt to their pack, but Gloucester will be hoping for stability and, ultimately, success this term.

Coach: David Humphreys and Johan Ackermann — Ackermann will bring a wealth of experience from his Super Rugby time with the Lions while Humphreys will be under pressure to deliver.

Captain: Willi Heinz — He takes over the captaincy duties from Greig Laidlaw who has left Kingsholm for Clermont Auvergne.

Key Player: Jason Woodward — It could go down as the signing of the summer. Woodward was so impressive for Bristol last term and brings an attacking presence from fullback and also an option from the tee.

In: Ruan Ackermann (Lions), Fraser Balmain (Leicester Tigers), Gareth Denman (Northampton Saints), Jake Polledri (Hartpury RFC), Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers), Owen Williams (Leicester Tigers), Jason Woodward (Bristol Rugby)

Out: Joe Batley (Bristol Rugby), Darren Dawidiuk (London Irish), Paul Doran-Jones (Wasps), James Hook (Ospreys), Sione Kalamafoni (Leicester Tigers), Matt Kvesic (Exeter Chiefs), Greig Laidlaw (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Joe Latta (Bristol Rugby), Tom Lindsay (Bedford Blues), Salesi Ma’afu (RC Narbonne), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), Mat Protheroe (Bristol Rugby), Dan Thomas (Bristol Rugby), Yann Thomas (Stade Rouennais)

Prediction: Gloucester will finish outside the top six, but will take a few strides forward as a club.


With their England contingent still at the forefront of the club, Harlequins’ challenge will be to maintain a run of form throughout the season and navigate the international windows. They have already started to tie down some of their premier talent with Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler signing new deals, but their summer arrivals need to step up quickly.

Demetri Catrakilis has been signed to fill the huge void left by the retiring Nick Evans while Francis Saili looks to be a smart piece of business. He will work nicely with Joe Marchant in midfield, while Jamie Roberts will be keen to make his presence felt. Also keep an eye on Marcus Smith, the young No. 10 who is on England’s radar.

Coach: John Kingston — The experienced coach takes charge of his second term as top dog at Harlequins.

Captain: James Horwill — The Wallabies veteran takes over from Danny Care as Quins skipper.

Key Player: Demetri Catrakilis — He will have to develop an understanding with Danny Care quickly at half-back and bring the same stability and stardust as Nick Evans did.

In: Renaldo Bothma (Bulls), Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie), Demetri Catrakilis (Montpellier), Ben Glynn (Bristol Rugby), Dave Lewis (Exeter Chiefs), Josh McNulty (Gloucester Rugby), Francis Saili (Munster), Phil Swainston (Wasps)

Out: Owen Evans (Doncaster Knights), Tyler Gendall (Bristol Rugby), Matt Hopper (Oyonnax), Dan Murphy (Hartpury), Matt Shields (Rotherham Titans), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Luc Jones, Robbie Nairn, Niall Saunders (all unattached), Karl Dickson, Nick Evans, Netani Talei, George Naoupu, Mark Reddish (all retired)

Prediction: It will be a seventh-place finish for Quins but they will win the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Leicester Tigers

Leicester boast arguably the most exciting backline in the competition with Jonny May and George Ford slotting in alongside the fit again Manu Tuilagi and Matt Toomua. And when factoring in the likes of Ben Youngs, Telusa Veainu and Adam Thompstone, if they click, they will be lethal.

The Tigers will be expected to deliver this term. After shutting the door on Richard Cockerill last term, they have welcomed back Matt O’Connor as the new head honcho and he knows full well the silverware-laden expectations at Leicester.

Coach: Matt O’Connor — He is back in the hot seat after four years away from the club.

Captain: Tom Youngs — The hooker will lead from the front and will hope to steer the Tigers to the title.

Key Player: George Ford — It is oh so very hard to look past the England fly-half as the man who could change Leicester’s fortunes this term. He is ridiculously talented and playing alongside Ben Youngs, it could be his finest season yet.

In: George Ford (Bath Rugby), Joe Ford (Yorkshire Carnegie), Jonah Holmes (Yorkshire Carnegie), Sione Kalamafoni (Gloucester Rugby), Nick Malouf (Australia Sevens), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Gareth Owen (Scarlets), Dominic Ryan (Leinster)

Out: Fraser Balmain (Gloucester Rugby), Peter Betham (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Riccardo Brugnara (Rovigo), Oli Bryant (Jersey Reds), Freddie Burns (Bath Rugby), Ryan Olowofela (England Sevens), JP Pietersen (Toulon), Jack Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Ed Slater (Gloucester Rugby), Owen Williams (Gloucester Rugby), Sam Yawayawa (Glasgow Warriors), Will Owen (released), Marcos Ayerza (retired)

Prediction: Leicester will finish in the top four and could end up with the league title if their backline stays fit.

London Irish

As Bristol found out last year, getting to the Premiership is tough, but staying there is even harder. They will have to get some wins early doors if they are to retain their top flight status come the end of the season.

Nick Kennedy is as clever a coach as you will find, but he needs his new signings to step up to the Premiership pace from the off. Ben Meehan should be a great signing while they will try and get some more brilliance out of Napolioni Nalaga.

Coach: Nick Kennedy — He was appointed director of rugby last term and steered the Exiles back to the Premiership at the first time of asking. This will be a big challenge for him.

Captain: TBC

Key Player: Petrus du Plessis — At Saracens he was part of a formidable front-row and also benefited from rotation, but he is likely to start week-in, week-out for the Exiles and will need to anchor their scrum.

In: Darren Dawidiuk (Gloucester Rugby), Petrus Du Plessis (Saracens), Saia Fainga’a (Brumbies), Lasha Lomidze (Krasny Yar), Luke McLean (Beneton Treviso), Ben Meehan (Melbourne Rebels), Napolioni Nalaga (Lyon), Teofilo Paulo (Beneton Treviso), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Manasa Saulo (Toulon), Jake Schatz (Melbourne Rebels)

Out: Darren Allinson (Bath Rugby), Gerard Ellis (Dragons Rugby), Luke Narraway (Coventry), Jerry Sexton (Jersey Reds), Jebb Sinclair, Joe Trayfoot, Tevita Koloamatangi, George Robson (all released), Tom Court (retired)

Prediction: They will battle hard but with relegation going to the last day, they might just finish at the foot.

Newcastle Falcons

Newcastle bucked their trend of 11th-placed finishes last season — there had been three in a row before 2016-17 — to suggest that the club are moving in the right direction by ending the campaign eighth.

Bonus points was all that ultimately stood between them and a playoff for a Champions Cup place, and Dean Richards’ men will be expected to build on last season’s relative success. Having recruited well over the summer, their fans will be hoping they can do just that.

Coach: Dean Richards — Preparing for his fifth season in charge at Kingston Park with the best squad of his reign.

Captain: Will Welch — Newcastle’s youngest ever captain when he was appointed in 2012, has helped establish the Falcons back in the Premiership.

Key player: Mark Wilson — The Falcons’ summer recruit means there are a few contenders, but the England flanker epitomises the club’s newfound belief.

In: Ryan Burrows (Yorkshire Carnegie), Tevita Cavubati (Worcester Warriors), Cameron Cowell (England Sevens), Trevor Davison (Blaydon), Gary Graham (Jersey Reds), Toby Flood (Toulouse), Joel Matavesi (Redruth), Josh Matavesi (Ospreys), Sami Mavinga (Lyon), Maxime Mermoz (Leicester Tigers), Adam Radwan (Darington Mowden Park), Sam Stuart (Richmond), DTH van der Merwe (Scarlets), Charlie Wilson (promoted from Academy)

Out: Fred Burdon (released), Tom Catterick (retired), Joshua Chisanga (released), Mike Delany (Bay of Plenty), Sam Egerton (retired), Archie Erskine (Edinburgh Rugby), Andrew Foster (Rotherham Titans), Ben Harris (Wasps), Tyrone Holmes (released), Dan Marshall (released), David Nelson (Doncaster Knights), Adam Powell (retired), Alex Rogers (released), Paddy Ryan (released), Daniel Temm (Ealing Trailfinders), Marcus Watson (Wasps)

Prediction: They will not take a backward step, but the strength of the Premiership means they will miss out on a top-six place. Eighth beckons again.

Northampton Saints

Pipped to a place in the Premiership top six as Harlequins picked up a losing bonus on point on the final day at Franklin’s Gardens, Saints then fought from 22-6 down to Stade Francais in the European playoff final to secure a place back at continental club rugby’s top table.

Their recruitment drive this summer has not been extensive, and a number of key players have departed, but Saints have been able to secure some quality additions. Piers Francis has the ability to prove a real hit.

Coach: Jim Mallinder — Seems to have been in the Northampton hot seat forever, will want silverware this season.

Captain: Dylan Hartley — the England skipper returns to the role for a second time and will aim to transfer some of his success with the national team to the Midlands.

Key player: Courtney Lawes — had a brilliant tour with the British & Irish Lions, gives the Saints pack bite.

In: Mitch Eadie (Bristol Rugby), Piers Francis (Blues), Jamal Ford-Robinson (Bristol Rugby), Rob Horne (Waratahs), Cobus Reinach (Sharks), Francois Van Wyk (Western Force)

Out: Calum Clark (Saracens), Gareth Denman (Gloucester Rugby), Sam Dickinson (released), Lee Dickson (Bedford Blues), JJ Hanrahan (Leinster), Jake Ilnicki (released), Sam Olver (Worcester Warriors), Howard Packman (Bedford Blues), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), George Pisi (released), Ethan Waller (Worcester Warriors), James Wilson (released)

Prediction: Much will depend on how the new players bed in, but Saints should be in the hunt for a European place. They might just get it too — sixth.

Sale Sharks

Another club that has become used to languishing in the lower reaches but with real hope of improving their lot this season. The signing of James O’Connor is a statement of intent, and gives them the box office fly-half they have lacked since Danny Cipriani returned to Wasps.

Josh Strauss and Faf de Klerk are two astute signings that could propel the Sharks up the table.

Coach: Steve Diamond — heading into his fifth season back at the club and will be hoping Sale can improve on a 10th-placed finish last term.

Captain: Will Addison — just 24 but already a key player for the Sharks.

Key player: James O’Connor — Sale have taken something of a gamble on the mercurial Australian, but if it pays off then the rewards could be bountiful.

In: Will Cliff (Bristol Rugby), WillGriff John (Doncaster Knights), Marc Jones (Bristol Rugby), Faf de Klerk (Lions), James O’Connor (Toulon), Jono Ross (Stade Francais), Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors), Alexandru Tarus (Bezier)

Out: Sam Bedlow (Bristol Rugby), Andrew Hughes (Sale FC), Kieran Longbottom (Saracens), James Mitchell (Connacht), Dan Mugford (Plymouth Albion), Matt Rogerson (Jersey Reds), Peter Stringer (Worcester Warriors), Sam Tuitupou (Coventry), Neil Briggs, Mike Phillips (both retired), Charlie Ingall, Tim Jeffers, Magnus Lund, Jonathan Mills, Tom Morton, Connor Dever, (all released)

Prediction: Should O’Connor, Faf de Klerk and Denny Solomona fire then Sale will be looking up. Ninth seems a safe bet.


Saracens continued their trophy-laden run with a second successive Champions Cup title last term, but on a domestic front they were ousted in the last four by Exeter. That defeat will drive them on as they attempt to wrestle back their Premiership crown.

The arrival of Liam Williams could add a new dimension to Saracens’ back play, while Calum Clark and Dominic Day have both been round the block. Mark McCall’s men are looking strong.

Coach: Mark McCall — has developed into one of the finest tacticians in Europe.

Captain: Brad Barritt — the ex-England centre helps knit together an impressive Saracens back division.

Key player: Owen Farrell — whether it be with England or Saracens, Farrell is the go-to man who makes his side’s tick.

In: Calum Clark (Northampton Saints), Dominic Day (Rebels), Tom Griffiths (Academy), Kieran Longbottom (Sale Sharks), Will Skelton (Waratahs), Hayden Thompson-Stringer (Academy), Christopher Tolofua (Toulouse), Tom Whiteley (Academy), Liam Williams (Scarlets)

Out: Chris Ashton (Toulon), Petrus Du Plessis (London Irish), Tom Lindsay (Bedford Blues), George Perkins (Bristol Rugby), Jared Saunders (Jersey Reds), Brian Tuilagi (Dax), Samu Vunisa (Glasgow Warriors), Fa’atiga Lemalu (released), Tim Streather, Neil De Kock, Jim Hamilton, Kelly Brown (all retired)

Prediction: Champions. Quite simply the best squad in the country, the one thing that could trip them up is their pursuit of a hat trick of European titles.


Suffered final heartbreak against Exeter last season, losing to Gareth Steenson’s extra time penalty having led with time running out in normal time. Have been fairly reserved in the transfer market, but Juan de Jongh and Marcus Watson should add to an already stacked backline.

Elliot Daly will be rested for the first few games of the season, and with Kurtley Beale back in Australia, Wasps fans will hope de Jongh can hit the ground running.

Coach: Dai Young — has built Wasps back into a real force in English rugby.

Captain: Joe Launchbury — coped well with his Lions omission to help England to a series win in Argentina, and will lead Wasps by example again.

Key player: Danny Cipriani — keeps the team ticking alongside Jimmy Gopperth and can provide moments of magic.

In: Paul Doran Jones (Gloucester Rugby), Antonio ‘TJ’ Harris (Nottingham Rugby), Ben Harris (Newcastle Falcons), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), Gabiriele Lovobalavu (Bayonne), Marcus Watson (Newcastle Falcons)

Out: Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Tom Bristow (released), Nick De Luca (retired), Carlo Festuccia (retired), Frank Halai (Pau), Alapati Leiua (Bristol Rugby), Phil Swainston (Harlequins)

Prediction: Will be determined to get back to Twickenham and should have enough for a home semifinal.

Worcester Warriors

One of may teams in the Premiership’s lower reaches with ambitions to break into the top six. Preseason results have not been all that encouraging while director of rugby Gary Gold has got an unenviable injury list on the eve of the new season.

The evergreen Peter Stringer and Scotland back row David Denton have come in but it is keeping Ben Te’o fit and firing, that will be pivotal to their hopes of survival.

Coach: Gary Gold — arrived in January and has urged his side to earn respect of their rivals this season.

Captain: Donnacha O’Callaghan — Experienced Irish second row will hope to push Worcester up the table.

Key player: Ben Te’o — Flourished with the Lions in New Zealand and will be key to the Warriors game plan this season, if he remains at the club.

In: David Denton (Bath Rugby), Tom Howe (Wasps), Simon Kerrod (Jersey Reds), Sam Olver (Northampton Saints), Pierce Phillips (Jersey Reds), Peter Stringer (Sale Sharks), Ethan Waller (Northampton Saints)

Out: Derrick Appiah (London Scottish), Tevita Cavubati (Newcastle Falcons), Mike Daniels (Hartpury College), Tiff Eden (Nottingham Rugby), James Johnston (Brive), Ryan Lamb (La Rochelle), Na’ama Leleimalefaga (Brive), Val Rapava Ruskin (Gloucester Rugby), Auguy Slowik (Northern Suburbs Rugby Club), Chris Vui (Bristol Rugby), Phil Dowson (retired), Andy Short (retired), Sam Betty, Tom Biggs, Connor Braid, Jaba Bregvadze, Ryan Grant, Cooper Vuna (all released)

Prediction: Worcester should have enough to beat the drop, but it will be another season of toil — 11th.

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