Aviva Premiership Preview: Harlequins

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: John Kingston and Mark Mapletoft

Captain: Danny Care

Stadium: Twickenham Stoop (Capacity: 14,800)

Last Season: 7th

Prediction: 6th

Harlequins will ultimately be disappointed with last season along with the likes of Bath and Gloucester the Londoners failed to live up to the pre-season hype.

Harlequins have a backbone of proven, international stars with Danny Care, Mike Brown and Nick Evans leading the backs. In the pack there is Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler leading from the front.

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Former England captain, Chris Robshaw.

Under Conor O’Shea Harlequins won the league by playing expansive rugby, they like to go wide. John Kingston is likely to keep to that gameplan and they certainly have the personnel to stick to that.

Harlequins lineout is one thing that did go right last season, they have a plethora of hookers all of which have been selected in an England squad, couple that with a group of experienced locks makes their lineout among the most efficient in Europe.

THREE TO WATCH

Jack Clifford

Position: Back Row  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.91m  Weight: 111kg

The openside flanker is exceptional at the breakdown more like a southern hemisphere openside than his predecessor at Harlequins, Chris Robshaw.

He has a scary amount of pace which was on display as he burst to score against Wales back in May at Twickenham. His attacking pace and powerful legs make him a dangerous carrier from the second or third receiver position.

Jamie Roberts

Position: Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 29  Height: 1.93m  Weight: 110kg

The explosive Wales centre bursts open defences with his considerable strength, his upper body strength makes him hard to bring down and this along with an explosive leg drive sees him able to break tackles.

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Jamie Roberts will be key this season.

Roberts crash ball carrying can suck in defenders opening space for the more speedy players out wide such as Marland Yarde and Tim Visser.

Kyle Sinckler

Position: Prop  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.82m  Weight: 122kg

The abrasive, explosive youngster is finally getting recognised by Eddie Jones as an option for England behind Leicester prop, Dan Cole.

Sinckler can be prone to penalties at the scrum and that has long been a weakness for the Harlequins star. This season is surely the one where the 23 year old can start to push on not just for his club but also England.

TRANSFERS

IN (7)

Alofa Alofa (Stade Rochelais, FRA)

Cameron Holenstein (Pau, FRA)

Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Saracens, ENG)

Charlie Mulchrone (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

George Naoupu (Connacht, IRE)

Mark Reddish (Highlanders, NZL)

OUT (6)

Ben Botica (Montpellier Herault, FRA)

Nick Easter (Retired, RET)

Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Released, REL)

Beau Robinson (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Tito Tebladi (Benetton Treviso, ITA)

Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, IRE)

The addition of Jackson is a hugely beneficial signing, he offers a more pragmatic playmaking option to play at fly-half. Charlie Mulchrone improves the depth at scrum-half and with Naoupu at eight Harlequins have recruited well.

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Jackson in action for Wasps.

Nick Easter, a fantastic servant to Harlequins and England. Botica has been a good player for Harlequins and in attack is really important outlet, he may well be the biggest miss.

My Harlequins 23

15 Mike Brown 14 Marland Yarde 13 Joe Marchant 12 Jamie Roberts 11 Tim Visser 10 Nick Evans 9 Danny Care (Captain)

1 Joe Marler 2 Dave Ward 3 Kyle Sinckler 4 Charlie Matthews 5 James Horwill 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 George Naoupu

16 Joe Gray 17 Owen Evans 18 Mark Lambert 19 Netani Talei 20 Luke Wallace 21 Charlie Mulchrone 22 Ruaridh Jackson 23 Alofa Alofa

The play-offs should be a step too far for the Harlequins squad under Kingston, qualification for the Champions Cup is likely.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Sale Sharks

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Steve Diamond

Captain: Josh Beaumont

Stadium: AJ Bell Stadium (Capacity: 12,000)

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th

Sale Sharks overperformed last year with a solid pack providing some quality ball for a backline lead by the maverick Danny Cipriani.

Sale despite having lost a few big names have a squad with some special players finally getting the recognition they deserve. Mike Haley and Sam James provide the excitement whilst Josh Beaumont is developing into an elite back row forward who is now captaining Sale.

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Sale fullback, Mike Haley.

Sale’s strike plays from deep make them hugely dangerous, the ability to attack at pace and without structure makes them deadly from 60-70 metres out. Sale use their pacey wingers and centres to score tries.

Sale have done exceptionally well to become such a successful club near Manchester having to compete with football and rugby league. The defence built by director of rugby Steve Diamond is excellent, they make hit after hit and can absorb pressure and work their way out of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Josh Beaumont

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 2.01m  Weight: 113kg

The captain is unlucky to be around at a time where Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Ben Morgan are playing. Beaumont is around the England squad and will fight his hardest as do his club to grab a place.

He will lead by example his work around the field are beneficial to the signature strike plays as he runs off the first and second receiver offering an effective crash ball carrier in the midfield.

Mike Haley

Position: Fullback  Nationality: English  Age: 22  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 91kg

Mike Haley is a very dangerous fullback, he can attack with loose ball and that puts him up there with the very best fullbacks in the league. Haley has an attacking mindset and it makes him the focal point for Sale.

The fullbacks also has an abrasive edge and he certainly has time on his side having only turned 22 in June.

AJ MacGinty

Position: Fly-Half  Nationality: American  Age: 26  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 95kg

MacGinty won the Pro12 with Connacht last season and with him bringing that winning mentality and also a big game mentality to the club.

MACGINTY

AJ MacGinty lines up a kick for USA.

The international fly-half will hope to ignite the Sharks backline and get them firing in the absence of England international Danny Cipriani. MacGinty can act as a playmaker and one of the strike runners.

TRANSFERS

IN (11)

Halanki Aulika (London Irish, ENG)

Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors (rugby league), ENG)

Curtis Langdon (London Irish, ENG)

Kieran Longbottom (Saracens, ENG)

AJ MacGinty (Connacht, IRE)

Bryon McGuigan (Exeter Chiefs, ENG)

Dan Mugford (Nottingham, ENG)
Laurence Pearce (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Mike Phillips (Racing 92, FRA)

Lou Reed (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Rob Webber (Bath Rugby, ENG)

OUT (10)

Tom Brady (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Danny Cipriani (Wasps, ENG)

Vadim Cobilas (Bordeaux Begles, FRA)

Chris Cusiter (Retired, RET)

Mark Easter (Retired, RET)

Viliami Fihaki (Edinburgh Rugby, SCO)

Joe Ford (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Phil Mackenzie (San Diego Breakers, USA)

Nick Macleod (Dragons, WAL)

Tommy Taylor (Wasps, ENG)

The signing of MacGinty is huge, he couples playmaking with serious pace and will be key to Sale’s play off chances. The recruitment of Aulika, Longbottom and Webber in itself is a frightening front row they add depth to Sale. Phillips is also a massive coup for the northern powerhouse. And as for Charnley…Jason Robinson comes to mind.

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Former Wigan Warrior, Josh Charnley.

The loss of English duo Taylor and Danny Cipriani will be big misses. Chris Cusiter brings his illustrious career to a close having represented his country 70 times and the Lions on one occasion. Tom Brady heading to Leicester depletes the wingers slightly, and losing Macleod sees the club have few playmakers left.

My Sale Sharks 23

15 Mike Haley 14 Tom Arscott 13 Johnny Leota 12 Sam James 11 Nev Edwards 10 AJ MacGinty 9 Peter Stringer

1 Ross Harrison 2 Rob Webber 3 Brian Mujati 4 George Nott 5 Lou Reed 6 David Seymour 7 TJ Ioane 8 Josh Beaumont

16 Neil Briggs 17 James Flynn 18 Halani Aulika 19 Andrei Ostrikov 20 Magnus Lund 21 Mike Phillips 22 Will Addison 23 Josh Charnley
Sale’s squad has very few star players. They do have a team that compliments each other and I believe a stronger team than last year, then again who does not this season will see them challenge for Champions Cup rugby.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Northampton Saints

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Jim Mallinder

Captain: Tom Wood

Stadium: Franlins Gardens (Capacity: 15,500)

Last Season: 5th

Prediction: 8th

Northampton were disappointing last season, everyone expected them to be in the play-offs having finished first before the play-offs the season before.

Northampton have some star quality in the pack with England captain Dylan Hartley at hooker, Courtney Lawes at lock and England new boy Teimana Harrison also part of the club.

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Teimana Harrison is a key player.

Northampton Saints have developed a rather substantial pack full of heavyweight, international stars. Hard carrying, hard tackling machines in what is an explosively powerful eight. They give what the backs front foot, clean ball.

The backs are also big men, George North, Luther Burrell, George Pisi, big, physical players who like to run hard and tackle aggressively. Physical backs give Northampton thrust to go forwards and punish the opposition. They can however be one dimensional.

THREE TO WATCH

Ben Foden

Position: Fullback  Nationality: English  Age: 31  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 93kg

Ben Foden was the best fullback in the country at one point. He is fast and the Northampton man has quick feet defenders can be beaten one-on-one by the quick, agile fullback.

Foden’s kicking game is also very useful as an exit strategy, he can be used as an extra playmaker in attack.

Teimana Harrison

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 106kg

The hard running Saints flanker has gained caps against Wales and Australia he looks as though he will be a force in the future for England.

His work in the loose is hugely effective, he is one of the most defensively sound players in the league and his influence in attack makes him a valuable member of the Northampton squad.

Louis Picamoles

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: French  Age: 30  Height: 1.92m  Weight: 116kg

Picamoles is now widely regarded as one of the best number eights in the world along with the likes of Kieran Read and Taulupe Faletau. His power when he carries is quite extraordinary.

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France international, Picamoles.

Picamoles is devastating off the back of a scrum and brutal coming round the corner. The French powerhouse can effectively take the game to the opposition using his brute force.

TRANSFERS

IN (5)

Charlie Clare (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Juan Pablo Estelles (Club Atletico del Rosario, ARG)

Nic Groom (Western Stormers, SAF)

Campese Ma’afu (Provence, FRA)

Louis Picamoles (Toulouse, FRA)

OUT (6)

Alex Corbisiero (Sabbatical, SAB)

Jon Fisher (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Kahn Fotouali’i (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (London Irish, ENG)

Patrick Howard (Dragons, WAL)

Matt Williams (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Picamoles is a marquee signing and will be hugely beneficial to the squad, he is the type of player Northampton breed. Groom is also a tidy addition to the squad, he passes well and his pace is exceptional.

CORBISIERO

The England prop will take a sabbatical.

Fotouali’i is a loss and he moves to Premiership rivals, Bath. Corbisiero is taking a year out that should not be too much of a trouble he is not the player he was three years ago.

My Northampton Saints 23

15 Ben Foden 14 George North 13 George Pisi 12 Luther Burrell 11 Jamie Elliott 10 Stephen Myler 9 Lee Dickson (Captain)

1 Alex Waller 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Paul Hill 4 Courtney Lawes 5 Michael Paterson 6 Jamie Gibson 7 Teimana Harrison 8 Louis Picamoles

16 Mike Haywood 17 Ethan Waller 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Christian Day 20 Calum Clark 21 Nic Groom 22 Harry Mallinder 23 Ken Pisi

Northampton Saints will be powerful and use forwards to build a platform, the worry is their signings indicate no change of strategy very little other than the power plays, teams like Exeter and Wasps with their quick backs could trouble them.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Leicester Tigers

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Richard Cockerel and Aaron Mauger

Captain: Tom Youngs

Stadium: Welford Road (Capacity: 25,800)

Last Season: 4th

Prediction: Runners-Up

Leicester were a changed team last season just as happy to spread the ball wide as they were to crash through the middle.

Cockerill’s influence has seen Leicester become one again renowned for their physical, powerful scrum including the likes of Puma Marcos Ayerza and England international Dan Cole.  Former All Black Aaron Mauger however has made their backline the star attraction at Welford Road.

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England prop, Dan Cole.

Leicester’s formidable set piece is built on having a belligerent front row and with the capture of Bristol’s Ellis Genge they have bolstered their options here. They build quick first phase ball off either a scrum or line-out.

The backs had some real pace last season bursting up the middle using quick feet and with a midfield boasting the considerable size of Manu Tuilagi the Tigers will be strong behind the scrum.

THREE TO WATCH

Brendon O’Connor

Position: Flanker  Nationality: New Zealander  Age: 26  Height: 1.86m  Weight: 102kg

The specialist Kiwi openside was limited to only a few performances last season and we are yet to see his best.

His breakdown work is fast and effective and the way in which he commands the fringes is quite superb as well as having a devastating tackle.

Manu Tuilagi

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 25  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 110kg

The Samoan born centre is an absolute machine, his power and weight make him a nightmare for fly-halves. He also has some turn of pace for a man his size.

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Tuilagi on the charge.

He provides go forward ball and crosses the gain line allowing pacey wingers like Betham to thrive in the open spaces. His power in defence is also frightening although his willingness to make a hit can leave a hole in the Leicester defence.

Telusa Veainu

Position: Fullback/ Wing  Nationality: Tongan  Age: 25  Height: 1.80m  Weight: 103kg

Arguably the signing of last season for Leicester. The fullback is electric, he was winning over many of the fans last season it’s easy to see why Aaron Mauger is such a fan of the Tongan back.

His dancing feet and sizzling pace make him so dangerous from all over the field, he breaks lines and stands defenders up, such a talented player with so much to give.

TRANSFERS

IN (7)

Tom Brady (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Pat Cilliers (Montpellier Herault, FRA)

Ellis Genge (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Luke Hamilton (SU Agen, FRA)

George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

JP Pietersen (Natal Sharks, SAF)

Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies, AUS)

OUT (17)

Matias Aguero (Provence, FRA)

Seremaia Bai (Retired, RET)

Tommy Bell (London Irish, ENG)

Miles Benjamin (Retired, RET)

Jordan Crane (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Sebastian De Chaves (London Irish, ENG)

Jean de Villiers (Retired, RET)

Opeti Fonua (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

Leonardo Ghiraldini (Toulouse, FRA)

Vereniki Goneva (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

Christian Loamanu (Provence, FRA)

Niall Morris (Leinster, IRE)

Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton Treviso, ITA)

Laurence Pearce (Sale Sharks, ENG)

George Tressider (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Michael van Vuuren (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Matt Toomua is a huge coup and provides Leicester with a second playmaker option at 12 as well as cover for fly-half. Pietersen adds some pace out wide. Genge having recently toured with England is one of the most promising props around.

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Tommie training for the Wallabies.

A sad end for Jean de Villiers who retires along with a host of other stars. Crane will be a loss as he joins Premiership rival Bristol and Goneva who has been Leicester’s standout performer will be greatly missed as he joins Newcastle.

My Leicester Tigers 23: 15 Telusa Veainu 14 Peter Betham 13 Manu Tuilagi 12 Matt Toomua 11 JP Pietersen 10 Freddie Burns 9 Ben Youngs (Captain)

1 Marcos Ayerza 2 Harry Thacker 3 Dan Cole 4 Ed Slater 5 Dominic Barrow 6 Tom Croft 7 Brendon O’Connor 8 Lachlan McCaffrey

16 Tom Youngs 17 Ellis Genge 18 Logovi’i Mulipola 19 Graham Kitchener 20 Will Evans 21 Sam Harrison 22 Owen Williams 23 Mathew Tait

Leicester Tigers are certainly looking like a real force once again.

 

Aviva Premiership Preview: Wasps

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Dai Young

Captain: Joe Launchbury

Stadium: Ricoh Arena (Capacity: 32,609)

Last Season: 3rd

Prediction: 4th

Wasps played some good rugby at times last season. The Coventry based club have been through a lot including moving home from Adams Park in Wycombe to Coventry.

They have some seriously impressive backs such as Christian Wade whose speed is just incredible, the young centre Elliott Daly is also a massively talented player. Dan Robson has become an exceptional scrum-half and even overtaken Joe Simpson in the Wasps pecking order.

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Daly dives over for a try.

Wasps eagerness to play expansive rugby is admirable and the way they use their playmaker to open space is remarkable. The wide spaces are there to attack and Wasps do this perfectly using the power of Halai and the pace of Wade.

The balanced midfield last term was perfect however the recruitment of Kyle Eastmond and Kurtley Beale suggests a move away from a 12 in the mould of the now retired Ben Jacobs or international Siale Piutau.

THREE TO WATCH

Nathan Hughes

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 25 Height: 1.96m  Weight: 125kg

Hughes is a key man for Wasps at the line-out and open play. The number eight can make metres for the Wasps using his frightening turn of pace. His ability to change a game make him invaluable.

His incredible form has seen him called up to the England squad after qualifying on residency in July although Eddie Jones sees the giant Wasp as more of a flanker than a number eight.

Willie le Roux

Position: Fullback  Nationality: South African  Age: 27  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 90kg

The Springbok star joins Wasps on a short term deal and as currently one of the best counter attacking fullbacks on the planet along with Israel Dagg, Israel Folau and Stuart Hogg. He has electric feet and blistering pace.

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South Africa fullback, le Roux

le Roux also has quality in the air with a great ability at diffusing a situation using his powerful legs to control the skies.

Christian Wade

Position: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 25  Height: 1.73m  Weight: 86kg

The winger is absolute pace and his speed has seen him on the peripheries of England on more than one occasion. He can beat defenders one on one no problem and his appetite for scoring tries is insatiable.

Defending remains a concern but make no mistake Wade is still brilliantly exciting as ever and he remains a constant threat.

TRANSFERS

IN (13)

Guy Armitage (London Welsh, ENG)

Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs, AUS)

Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Tom Cruse (London Irish, ENG)

Nick de Luca (Biarritz Olympique, FRA)

Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby, ENG)
Marcus Garratt (Cornish Pirates, ENG)

Craig Hampson (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Wille le Roux (Natal Sharks, SAF)

Marty Moore (Leinster, IRE)

Matt Symons (London Irish, ENG)

Tommy Taylor (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Tom Woolstencroft (Bath Rugby, ENG)

OUT (12)

Lorezo Cittadini (Bayonne, FRA)

Bradley Davies (Ospreys, WAL)

James Downey (Retired, RET)

Carlo Festuccia (Zebre, ITA)

Ruaridh Jackson (Harlequins, ENG)

Ben Jacobs (Retired, RET)

Alex Lozowski (Saracens, ENG)

Andrea Masi (Retired, RET)

Charles Piutau (Ulster, IRE)

Ed Shervington (Retired, RET)

George Smith (Suntory Sungoliath, JAP and Queensland Reds, AUS)

Jamie Stevenson (London Scottish)

Two signings from the southern hemisphere stand out in the shape of le Roux and Beale adding real star quality. Danny Cipriani is also an impressive coup for the club. In the pack England hooker Taylor and Ireland prop Moore should bring some stability to the scrum and Symons is brilliant in the air. Furthermore captures of de Luca and Eastmond add depth to an already frightening backline.

BEALE

New signing, Kurtley Beale.

The departures of George Smith and Piutau will hurt as they were by far their best players last season. Davies will also be a loss and it is sad to see Masi, Jacobs and Downey into retirement. The losses of fly-half duo Jackson and Lozowski could hurt Wasps.

My Wasps 23

15 Willie le Roux 14 Christian Wade 13 Elliott Daly 12 Kurtley Beale 11 Frank Halai 10 Danny Cipriani 9 Dan Robson

1 Matt Mullan 2 Tommy Taylor 3 Jake Cooper-Wooley 4 Joe Launchbury (Captain) 5 Matt Symons 6 James Haskell 7 Thomas Young 8 Nathan Hughes

16 Ashley Johnson 17 Simon McIntyre 18 Marty Moore 19 James Gaskell 20 Sam Jones 21 Joe Simpson 22 Jimmy Gopperth 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau

Wasps will be deadly in attack but defence could prove to be a problem.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Exeter Chiefs

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Rob Baxter

Captain: Jack Yeandle

Stadium: Sandy Park (Capacity: 12,600)

Last Season: Runners-Up

Prediction: 3rd

Exeter Chiefs stunned everyone as they made the Premiership play-offs for the first time and went on to lose to Saracens in the final.

Baxter is known for his developing of young talent and with the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie finally gaining international recognition his plan seems to be working as he strengthens the squad with overseas talent.

NOWELL

Jack Nowell scoring for Exeter.

Exeter were happy to play expansive, attacking rugby by using their triumvirate of playmakers in the midfield all offering different styles. Gareth Steenson very much the measured controller, Slade the speedy creator and Ian Whitten the explosive link-man.

With the three outlets they can recycle ball quickly to set up two or three waves of attack one after the other sucking in defenders along with sending their big forwards ball carriers into the holes.

THREE TO WATCH

Luke Cowan-Dickie

Position: Hooker  Nationality: English  Age: 23 Height: 1.84m  Weight: 112kg

The young hooker has been pushing for an England place for a while and last season got a run in the team.

 

His work in the loose and effective carrying make him a valuable asset. He will overtake Yeandle as first choice if he can continue to produce the rugby that made him an international.

Jack Nowell

Position: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.77m  Weight: 97kg

Nowell’s defensive ability make him a useful winger to have in the side, he covers kicks well and also has the ability to beat defenders one-on-one despite not being the quickest of wingers.

A determined competitor and a man that will make his mark on the season without a doubt, expect to see him challenge for a Lions spot.

Henry Slade

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 92kg

The playmaker will provide pace and bravery in equal measure and with his ability to play 10,12 or 13 he is versatility personified.

SLADE

Henry Slade is versatile player

Arguably the most naturally gifted back in the league. He is determined to play for his country watch him challenge Owen Farrell and George Ford to break into the team. Exciting times ahead for the 23 year old.

TRANSFERS

IN (4)

Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs, AUS)

Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Greg Holmes (Queensland Reds, AUS)

Lachlan Turner (RC Toulon, FRA)

OUT (8)

Chrysander Botha (Welwitchias,NAM)

Alex Brown (USA Perpignan, FRA)
Adam Hughes, (Dragons, WAL)

Josh Jones (Salford Red Devils (rugby league), ENG)

Bryon McGuigan (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Jerry Sexton (London Irish, ENG)

Lewis Stevenson (Connacht, IRE)

Brett Sturgess (Ampthill, ENG)

Lachie Turner is an impressive coup the former Australia international is a real talent,  Ollie Devoto adds to a plethora of playmaking options in the already saturated Exeter midfield.

TURNER

Turner scoring for Australia.

None of the departures will be too much for Exeter. More of a cutting of the deadwood than any major moves away.

My Exeter Chiefs 23

15 Lachlan Turner 14 Jack Nowell 13 Henry Slade 12 Ian Whitten 11 James Short 10 Gareth Steenson (Captain) 9 Will Chudley

1 Alec Hepburn 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 3 Tomas Francis 4 Damian Welch 5 Geoff Parling 6 Don Armand 7 Julian Salvi 8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Jack Yeandle 17 Ben Moon 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Dave Ewers 21 Dave Lewis 22 Sam Hill 23 Olly Woodburn

Exeter should comfortably qualify for the play-offs again and don’t expect them to lie down in Europe either.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Saracens

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Mark McCall

Captain: Brad Barritt

Stadium: Allianz Park (Capacity: 10,000)

Last Season: Champions

Prediction: Champions

Saracens had a hugely successful season last time out completing a European-Premiership double.

The London based club are awash with international talent with seven of the squad picked to tour with England in June to Australia. Alex Goode, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola all playing a part in the tour.

FARRELL

Farrell kicking a goal as Saracens defeat Zebre. 

Saracens solid defensive style due to the ‘wolfpack’ instilled by former defence coach Paul Gustard and the the ability of Owen Farrell to manage the game makes them the most well drilled side in the Premiership.

Patterned play and effective breakdown work sets them apart from their rivals. Their ability to carry round the corner and explode past the defender in the ruck allows them to use phase play as an attacking weapon.

THREE TO WATCH

Owen Farrell

Position: Fly-Half/Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 96kg

The England fly-half is the key to Saracens attacking play, his goal kicking and game management allow Saracens to continue playing in the right areas of the field so he can kick the points.

His defensive game is the best of any Premiership fly-half and his attacking game has come on leaps and bounds over the past season. He now has this style of playing whats in front of him which has given Saracens an extra gear.

He’ll be on the Lions tour come June.

Maro Itoje

Position: Lock/Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 21  Height: 1.95m  Weight: 116kg

The Saracens lock had an outstanding year winning every game he started for both Saracens and England. He became an international superstar, people in Australia will know the name now.

ITOJE

Maro Itoje with the European Champions Cup.

The 21 year old was an outstanding presence to have in the dressing room, almost a lucky charm. The power and pace he possesses is extraordinary but the lock just wants to keep improving and continue to grow as a rugby player.

Billy Vunipola

Position; Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 126kg

The number eight was undoubtedly England’s player of the season form which was equally impressive for his club.

His ball carrying and size make him a really dangerous player to have attacking the fringes and the way he works with a back row is really important to Saracens breakdown work, the addition of Schalk Burger will further improve this dynamic.

TRANSFERS

IN (6)

Schalk Burger (Western Stormers, SAF)

Mark Flanagan (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Vincent Koch (Western Stormers, SAF)

Alex Lozowski (Wasps, ENG)

Sean Maitland (London Irish, ENG)

Savenaca Rawaca (Fiji Sevens, INT)

OUT (10)

Biyi Alo (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Jacques Burger (Retired, RET)

Catalin Fercu (Timisora Saracens, ROM)

Rhys Gill (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Charlie Hodgson (Retired, RET)

Kieran Longbottom (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Harlequins, ENG)

Thretton Palamo (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Dave Porecki (London Irish, ENG)

Ben Ransom (London Irish, ENG)

The capture of Burger is a hugely impressive signing and he will add to Saracens already impressive back row resources. Maitland adds some pace out wide and Koch will provide depth in the front row.

BURGER.jpg

New signing, Schalk Burger.

Hodgson and Burger have been great servants to the club and leave with heavy hearts. Gill will be missed for his scrum work and Biyi Alo is an exciting prospect.

My Saracens 23

15 Alex Goode 14 Chris Ashton 13 Duncan Taylor 12 Brad Barritt (Captain) 11 Chris Wyles 10 Owen Farrell 9 Richard Wigglesworth

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Schalk Brits 3 Petrus Du Plessis 4 Maro Itoje 5 George Kruis 6 Jackson Wray 7 Schalk Burger 8 Billy Vunipola

16 Jamie George 17 Vincent Koch 18 Billy Walker 19 Alistair Hargreaves 20 Will Fraser 21 Ben Spencer 22 Alex Lozowski 23 Sean Maitland

Saracens are clearly the side to beat this season.

Five to Replace Bolt

Usain Bolt’s Olympic career is over and he has completed the triple treble winning nine gold medals over three games. Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro have witnessed the greatest track star of all time.

He is irreplaceable nobody brings the dazzling pace of the Jamaican or the entertainment value of the fastest man alive. These five are the closest we currently have to the unbelievable, unforgettable Usain Bolt.

bolt

Bolt has become the greatest track athlete of all time.

  1. Yohan Blake (Jamaica)

Blake is the oldest of the athletes mentioned at 26 and he has plenty of experience behind him not least the fact he beat Usain Bolt four years ago at the Olympic trials clocking an impressive 9.69 time faster than Bolt’s winning time this year.

Blake has been plagued by injury over the last four years. In London he won silver twice behind Bolt and was part of the relay team. He dropped to fourth this year (in the 100 metres) as Gatlin and De Grasse claimed medals and could only manage a time of 9.93 but he is some way off his best.

2. Andre De Grasse (Canada)

Very much the up and coming star of athletics at just 21 he has time on his side. De Grasse claimed two medals in Rio bronze in the 100 metres (9.91) and silver in the 200 metres (20.02).

His personal best in both distances came in Rio his 9.91 100 metre time and his semi-final 19.8 time were the best he has ever run. The best is yet to come from the Canadian.

3. Adam Gemili (Great Britain)

The 22 year old was unlucky to finish the 200 metres without a medal as Frenchman Le Maitre bagged third three thousandths of a second ahead of Gemili. He was just off his best at Rio but 4th is an improvement on 5th at the World Championships in Moscow.

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Gemili devastated after narrowly missing out on a medal in Rio.

The 200 metre is certainly his better discipline despite setting a time of 9.97 for the 100 metres in Birmingham last year.

4. Trayvon Bromell (United States of America)

Bromell is also still young at the age of 21 and he is surely destined for big things. The sprinter won the IAAF Indoor Championships 60 meters earlier this year and is consistently clocking sub-10 in the 100 metres.

Running 10.06 in the Olympics was some way off his 9.74 best that he ran in Oregon in July with his best 200 metres time of 20.03 which had he run that in the Olympics it would have won him a bronze medal.

5. Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa)

Announced himself on the world athletics scene dramatically at the Olympics. Being more of a 400 metre runner the South African has now won both the Olympics (43.03) and the World Championships (43.38).

However Van Niekerk could turn his attentions to shorter races in future with impressive times in the 100 metres his personal best being 9.98 which came in Bloemfontein in March. He also has clocked 19.94 in the 200 metres last year which had he run that in the Olympic final would have seen him get the silver medal.

All these athletes are outstanding talents and look set to dominate the athletics stage over the coming years as Usain Bolt and the older generation begin to retire but it is clear nobody will easily match the accomplishments of the great Usain Bolt.

Barclays Premier League Previews (WE)

Barclays Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion

Manager: Tony Pulis

Stadium: The Hawthorns (Capacity: 26,852)

Captain: Darren Fletcher

Top Scorer: James Morrison (3)

Biggest Signing: Matt Phillips (£5.5 million)

Last Season: 14th

Prediction: Mid-Table

West Bromwich Albion played an effective brand of football last term and although they were not the most exciting of clubs to watch there was no fear that they would go down.

The squad is jam packed with players that have either had their day or promising youngsters whilst the club do not possess any real superstar just proved by the fact their top scorer last season could only amass three goals.

FOSTER

Ben Foster is key man for Pulis’ team.

Pulis is clever manager and he built Stoke into a club that was difficult to beat and took the Potters to an FA Cup semi-final something that a club such as West Brom should be aspiring to.

The Baggies should be strong at home but the games that separate the average teams from the good ones are the clashes away from home, West Brom are still in the building process but they should not be troubled with a relegation battle this season.

They have brought in one player and it’s not exactly making waves, they have cut the deadwood effectively and if they can secure one or two more players in key positions they will have a competitive squad.

IN

Matt Phillips (Queens Park Rangers, £5.5 million)

OUT

Shaun Donnellan (Stevenage, Loan)

Victor Anichebe (Released)

Stephane Sessegnon (Released)

Anders Lindergaard (Released)

PHILLIPS

Matt Phillips is a big signing.

Saido Berahino remains a “problem player” for Pulis but he could soon be seeing the exit doors if not this summer then January could see him head for pastures new Crystal Palace looking a likely destination. Watford’s Odion Ighalo could be on the way to the club although that seems unlikely but could happen due to negotiations with Sakho (West Ham) falling through.

My West Bromwich Albion XI (4-2-3-1): 1 B.Foster; 16 C.Gamboa, 3 J.Olsson, 25 C.Dawson, 15 S.Poncognoli; 24 D.Fletcher, 8 C.Gardner; 10 M.Phillips, 7 J.Morrison, 11 C.Brunt; 9 S.Rondon

Barclays Premier League Preview: West Ham United

Manager: Slaven Bilic

Stadium: Olympic Stadium (Capacity: 60,010)

Captain: Mark Noble

Top Scorer: Dimitri Payet, Andy Carroll (9)

Biggest Signing: Manuel Lanzini (£9.4 million)

Last Season: 7th

Prediction: Mid-Table

West Ham have performed above and beyond over the course of the last couple of seasons and they have an unbelievable manager at the helm who will only push the London club onto bigger and better things given the resources.

With players like Mark Noble, Aaron Cresswell and Winston Reid all solid without being remarkable. Add into that remarkably talented players such as Frenchman Payet and new signing Sofiane Feghouli this deadly cocktail of players makes them an interesting prospect.

PAYET

Payed was one of the best players last season.

Bilic will have his team extremely well drilled and fine tuned to each opposition throughout a long and arduous season in the Premier League.

West Ham’s new home is among the biggest stadiums in European club football, it remains to be seen if the squad is deep enough to compete on more than one front. The Hammers will hope they can make the Olympic Stadium as much of a fortress as the Boleyn Ground.

West Ham have signed some really exciting players strengthening the depth in the midfield and signing some really exciting talent both up front and at the back.

IN

Manuel Lanzini (Unattached, £9.4 million)

Andre Ayew (Swansea City, Undisclosed)

Harvard Nordveit (Borussia Monchengladbach, Undisclosed)

Arthur Masuaku (Olympiakos Piraeus, Undisclosed)

Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia FC, Free)

Ashley Fletcher (Barnsley, Free)

OUT

James Tomkins (Crystal Palace, £10 million)

Elliott Lee (Released)

Joey O’Brien (Released)

This looks as though it may be it for West Ham after they have cooled their interest in Milan forward Carlos Bacca and Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette.

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Feghouli celebrates a goal for former club Valencia.

My West Ham United XI (4-3-1-2): 13 Adrian; 22 S.Byram, 2 W.Reid, 21 A.Ogbonna, 3 A.Cresswell; 7 S.Feghouli, 16 M.Noble (Captain), 10 M.Lanzini; 27 D.Payet; 9 A.Carroll, 20 A.Ayew

Blistering Bolt Gunning for Number Nine

If there is one man that epitomises the sport itself it is the Jamaican.

Usain Bolt is a once in a generation athlete, his talent is undeniable and his athletic ability makes him an anomaly.

Couple the talent with the brash showmanship of the sprinter and you have the most entertaining elite athlete ever. Beijing and London were conquered and he is two thirds of the way there in Brazil.BOLT

The fact that people all over the world recognise the man when he steps out on track shows that he is the face of sport, the poster boy of athletics.

The 100 metres and 200 metres were slow but even then watching Bolt was a joy, his distinctive running style and his ability to overcome what is considered a slow start is something even more unique about the Jamaican runner.

The ninth gold medal beckons for Bolt and his reign as Olympic champion can be confirmed.

I fail to see Bolt being matched for sheer dominance in one sport and no matter what happens tonight in the relay, Bolt has achieved sporting immortality.