Premiership Lowdown: Gloucester Rugby

Fact-File:

Last season: 9th

Home ground: Kingsholm (73 miles)

Odds: 66/1

Erratic Gloucester:

Gloucester’s season was perhaps best summed up by their first game back in September 2016. Having roared into a 31-7 lead, the cherry-and-whites collapsed as Leicester completed an impressive comeback to win.

It did not get much better in the Premiership for rugby’s perennial underachievers as they went on to lose six games at their traditionally impenetrable home ground.

It was a remarkable season in so many disappointing ways as Gloucester lost a head coach, were denied the investment of one of the most successful businessmen in the world and suffered dreadful defeats.

But there is hope for David Humphreys and incoming head coach Johan Ackerman with the run to the European Challenge Cup final a rare highlight alongside impressive wins against Wasps and Saracens.

The cherry-and-whites’ summer business also looks bright with the arrivals of Owen Williams from Leicester and Bristol’s best player in Jason Woodward filling key gaps in the side.

But it’s not all good news as talismanic captain Greig Laidlaw makes a big money move to France and fly-half James Hook returns to Ospreys.

Gloucester’s fans will be hoping they can finally come to fruition but the fact they did not win a game against the teams who finished fourth to eighth suggests Ackerman has major work to do at his new home.

Ins and Outs:

In:

Fraser Balmain (Leicester Tigers), Val Rapava-Ruskin (Worcester Warriors), Owen Williams (Leicester Tigers), Ben Vellacott (promoted from Academy), Jake Polledri (Hartpury RFC), Gareth Denman (Northampton Saints), Jason Woodward (Bristol), Freddie Clarke (promoted from Academy), Lloyd Evans (promoted from Academy)

Outs:

Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne), James Hook (Ospreys), Matt Kvesic (Exeter Chiefs), Joe Batley (Bristol), Joe Latta (Bristol), Josh McNulty (Harlequins), Salesi Ma’afu (RC Narbonne), Matt Protheroe (Bristol), Dan Thomas (Bristol), Tom Lindsay (Bedford Blues), Sione Kalamafoni (Leicester Tigers), Yann Thomas (Rouen), Paul Doran-Jones (Wasps), Darren Dawidiuk (released)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 8: Gloucester 36-18 Wasps

Premiership Round 16: Wasps 35-22 Gloucester

Dates for the diary:

Wasps v Gloucester: December 23 2017; kick-off to be confirmed

Gloucester v Wasps: February 23/24/25 2018; kick-off to be confirmed

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Premiership Lowdown: Newcastle Falcons

Fact-File:

Last season: 8th

Home ground: Kingston Park (211 miles)

Odds: 300/1

Flying Falcons:

Newcastle Falcons defied expectations to finish a highly respectable eighth in the Premiership, their best finish since 2006.

Many pundits expected Falcons to struggle again, they had not finished outside of the bottom two since 2010 before this season, but memorable wins against Northampton, Harlequins and Gloucester ensured they were the campaign’s surprise package.

This season could be more difficult for Director of Rugby Dean Richards with speedster Marcus Watson on his way to Wasps but Falcons have quality all over the pitch.

Richards has also not sat idly, signing high quality players such as Maxime Mermoz and former England international fly-half Toby Flood to add to a squad including recent England tourist Mark Wilson.

Falcons have also been able to keep hold of key players Sinoti Sinoti, powerful No. 8 Opeti Fonua and Juan Pablo Socino, and will look to make a challenge for the top six having finished just three points off Saints.

Ins and Outs:

In:

Maxime Mermoz (Toulon), Josh Matavesi (Ospreys), Joel Matavesi (Redruth), D.T.H. van der Merwe (Scarlets), Ryan Burrows (Yorkshire Carnegie), Sami Mavinga (Lyon), Gary Graham (Jersey Reds), Sam Stuart (Richmond), Tevita Cavubati (Worcester Warriors), Toby Flood (Toulouse), Cameron Cowell (England Sevens)

Outs:

Marcus Watson (Wasps), Ben Harris (Wasps), Sam Egerton (retired), Adam Powell (retired), David Nelson (Doncaster Knights), Andrew Foster (Rotherham Titans), Daniel Temm (Ealing Trailfinders), Tom Catterick (retired)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 7: Wasps 31-6 Newcastle Falcons

Premiership Round 12: Newcastle Falcons 30-34 Wasps

Dates for the diary:

Wasps v Newcastle Falcons: November 18 2017; 16:30

Newcastle Falcons v Wasps: May 5 2018; kick-off to be confirmed

Premiership Lowdown: Northampton Saints

Fact-File:

Last season: 7th

Home ground: Franklin’s Gardens (36 miles)

Odds: 40/1

Stuttering Saints:

A deeply disappointing season for Northampton did at least finish on a high as defeated Stade Francias to qualify for the European Champions Cup.

Saints failed to escape from the pool stages of the Champions Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup and never looked like challenging for the play-offs.

Saints’ Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder also faces the new campaign without star forward Louis Picamoles who made a big-money move to Montpellier in the off season.

The fact that Saints could have even dropped down to ninth if they had lost on the final day showcases the scale of the challenge facing Saints.

But Mallinder can still count on Lions tourists George North and Courtney Lawes along with newly re-appointed captain Dylan Hartley whilst there were some positive stories amongst the younger members of the squad.

He will also hope the additions of Piers Francis and Francois van Wyk from Super Rugby can reinvigorate the 2014 Premiership winners with the signing of Bristol duo Mitch Eadie and Jamal Ford-Robinson perhaps signalling a more youthful outlook at Franklin’s Gardens.

Ins and Outs:

In:

David Ribbans (Stormers), Mitch Eadie (Bristol), Jamal Ford-Robinson (Bristol), Rob Horne (Waratahs), Cobus Reinach (Sharks), Piers Francis (Blues), Francois van Wyk (Western Force)

Outs:

Calum Clark (Saracens), Ethan Waller (Worcester Warriors), JJ Hanrahan (Munster), Lee Dickson (Bedford Blues), Howard Packman (Bedford Blues), Sion Bennett (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Denman (Gloucester), Sam Olver (Worcester Warriors), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Sam Dickinson (released), Adam Parkins (released), George Pisi (released), Jake Ilnicki (released), James Wilson (released)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 4: Northampton Saints 15-20 Wasps

Premiership Round 19: Wasps 32-30 Northampton Saints

Dates for the diary:

Northampton Saints v Wasps: October 28 2017; 15:00

Wasps v Northampton Saints: April 28 2018; kick-off to be confirmed

Premiership Lowdown: Harlequins

Fact-File:

Last season: 6th

Home ground: Twickenham Stoop (114 miles)

Odds: 40/1

Hopeful Harlequins:

A steady if unremarkable season under new Director of Rugby John Kingston saw Quins secure a Champions Cup place and successfully transition club legends Nick Easter and Nick Evans into the coaching staff.

With the retiring Evans hampered by injury in his final season, Quins struggled to fill the void left by their record points scorer but the acquisition of Montpellier half-back Demetri Catrakilis adds a quality option at fly-half.

The ability of Catrakilis to replace the talismanic Evans will be key to Quins improving on last season’s sixth place finish with memories of his dominance in his final home game, where he kicked 22 of his side’s 32 points against Wasps, still fresh.

Quins have also moved to secure several of the first-team squad with Joe Marchant, Elia Elia and Aaron Morris all signing new deals as the London side look to build after finishing the season with 11 wins and 11 defeats.

The additions of forwards Phil Swainston and Ben Glynn will also provide extra cover when Quins’ internationals are away with Kyle Sinckler, Jamie Roberts and Mike Brown just three of the top-quality players at Kingston’s disposal.

Ins and Outs:

In:

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

Outs:

Tyler Gendall (Bristol), Matt Hopper (Oyonnax), Nick Evans (retired), Karl Dickson (retired), Matt Shields (Rotherham Titans), Netani Talei (retired), Dan Murphy (Hartpury RFC), Jonas Mikalcus (Hartpury RFC), Owen Evans (Doncaster Knights), Mark Reddish (retired)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 5: Wasps 47-18 Harlequins

Premiership Round 21: Bath 32-13 Wasps

Dates for the diary:

Wasps v Harlequins: September 17 2017; 15:00

Harlequins v Wasps: February 9/10/11 2018; kick-off to be confirmed

Premiership Lowdown: Bath

Fact-File:

Last season: 5th

Home ground: The Rec (104 miles)

Odds: 18/1

Bath’s base for lift-off:

Bath have laid the foundations for a play-off challenge after a strong first season under a new coaching team led by Todd Blackadder.

Despite an injury hit campaign, Blackadder’s side spent over 77 per cent of the season in the play-offs but finished a disappointing seven points behind fourth placed Leicester Tigers at the end of the year.

Bath’s Kiwi coach struggled to implement his tactical vision at the Rec having only arrived a few weeks before the curtain-raiser against Northampton Saints but was able to greatly improve his side’s discipline as they became one of the best behaved in the Premiership.

Blackadder was also able to guide the 2008 European Challenge Cup winners to memorable wins over play-off rivals Saracens and Tigers as well as eventual champions Exeter Chiefs.

But consistency remains a major issue for Blackadder with these great wins coupled with disappointing defeats at the hands of relegation battlers Bristol and Worcester as Bath search for their first title of the play-off era.

Although the departure of England international fly-half George Ford is a blow, his replacement Freddie Burns is by no means a downgrade whilst the addition of young flanker Sam Underhill also represents a tidy piece of business.

A strong squad with a good blend of youngsters, such as England under-20 captain Zack Mercer, and experience means Bath are expected to push all the way for the play-offs again.

Ins and Outs:

In:

Sam Underhill (Ospreys), Freddie Burns (Leicester Tigers), Darren Allinson (London Irish), Shaun Knight (Newport Gwent Dragons), Josh Lewis (Ebbw Vale), Beno Obano (promoted from Academy), James Phillips (Bristol)

Outs:

Liam Forsyth (Wigan Warriors), George Ford (Leicester Tigers), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), David Denton (Worcester Warriors), Robbie Fruean (Edinburgh), Darryl Marfo (Edinburgh), Daniel Bowden (released), Dave Sisi (released)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 11: Wasps 40-26 Bath

Premiership Round 17: Bath 3-24 Wasps

Dates for the diary:

Wasps v Bath: October 1 2017; 15:00

Bath v Wasps: December 30 2017; kick-off to be confirmed

Premiership Lowdown: Leicester Tigers

Fact-File:

Last season: 4th

Home ground: Welford Road (25 miles)

Odds: 12/1

Turbulent Tigers:

After an up-and-down season Wasps’ Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers scraped into their twelfth consecutive play-off semi-final.

The ten-time Premiership champions went through three directors-of-rugby in the last campaign with Richard Cockerill sacked in January and Aaron Mauger leaving after New Zealander Matt O’Connor was appointed in March.

O’Connor led his side to a semi-final date with Wasps as he looked to turn Tigers’ fortunes around and will be looking to build on last season’s ground-work.

The arrival of England international fly-half George Ford, who had an impressive summer tour in Argentina, saw Freddie Burns exit Welford Road for Bath.

Despite this impressive arrival, Tigers have also lost several stars, including JP Piertersen, Peter Betham and Owen Williams which may make their challenge for a first title since 2013 more troublesome than some fans anticipate.

Tigers made an obvious improvement under O’Connor’s stewardship, with the move to a more physical style suiting the ability of powerful forwards Ellis Genge and Tom Youngs.

This physicality caused Wasps plenty of problems in the semi-final and perhaps showed a sign of things to come in the 2017/2018 season.

Ins and Outs:

In:

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

Outs:

Fraser Balmain (Gloucester Rugby), Owen Williams (Gloucester Rugby), Freddie Burns (Bath Rugby), Jack Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Marcos Ayerza (retired), Oliver Bryant (Jersey Reds), Peter Betham (Clermont Auvergne), Riccardo Brugnara (Rugby Rovigo), JP Pietersen (Toulon), Lachlan McCaffrey (released)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 2: Tigers 22-34 Wasps

Premiership Round 13: Wasps 22-16 Saracens

Premiership Play-Offs Semi-Final: Wasps 21-20 Tigers

Dates for the diary:

Wasps v Tigers: December 2 2017; 16:30

Tigers v Wasps: March 23/24/25 2018; kick-off to be confirmed

Premiership Lowdown: Saracens

Fact-File:

Last season: 3rd

Home ground: Allianz Park (89 miles)

Odds: Evens

Scorching Sarries:

Mark McCall’s all-star side are full of some of rugby’s best players and are set to challenge for what would be their fourth title.

Sarries are favourites to lift the crown at Twickenham after a season in which they won the European Champions Cup but were disappointingly dumped out of the Premiership play-offs by Exeter Chiefs.

Despite the loss of superstar winger Chris Ashton, Sarries look to be in good health ahead of the next campaign with the addition of British and Irish Lion Liam Williams, adding to a squad which already contains fellow Lions Owen Farrell and Jamie George.

Saracens pushed Exeter and Wasps close all year for the top two spots in the Premiership with a final day defeat at the hands of the black-and-golds tarnishing their hopes of a home play-off as McCall fielded a weakened side ahead of the Champions Cup final.

With a strong squad all over the pitch, Saracens’ brand of expansive rugby both excites crowds and wins rugby matches, ensuring they will be one of the teams to beat.

Ins and Outs:

In:

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

Outs:

Chris Ashton (Toulon), George Perkins (Bristol), Kelly Brown (retired), Jared Saunders (Jersey Reds), Neil de Kock (retired), Jim Hamilton (retired), Brian Tuilagi (US Dax), Samuela Vunisa (Glasgow Warriors), Petrus du Plessis (London Irish), Fa’atiga Lemalu (released), Tim Streather (released)

Last season v Wasps:

Premiership Round 6: Saracens 30-14 Wasps

Premiership Round 22: Wasps 35-15 Saracens

Dates for the diary:

Saracens v Wasps: October 8 2017; 15:00

Wasps v Saracens: January 5/6/7; kick-off to be confirmed