Likely Lads for 2017 Tour

So, Warren Gatland will lead the British and Irish Lions for a second time following his series win over Australia in 2013.

Across the four nations, debates are being had and one of those debates is who should captain this team? There are only two contenders really either Cardiff back rower Sam Warburton or Grand Slam winning captain Dylan Hartley.

Hartley has to skipper the Lions, he recently led his England side to a 3-0 win over Australia as for Warburton he failed to tour due to injury.

I think it is fairly widely assumed Eddie Jones’ all conquering England squad will dominate the 34 man squad that is due to be announced towards the end of the season.

France based players is another contentious issue due to the fact the French season finishes comparatively late it is unlikely some players will be able to join up with the squad at the right time. This therefore means some France based players could effectively miss out on selection.

Head coach of Wales Warren Gatland celebrates after beating Ireland in their Six Nations rugby match at Croke Park in Dublin

Gatland will lead the Lions in New Zealand.

New Zealand is the pinnacle, a series win over the All Blacks is going to take something seriously special, you could even argue miraculous.

These are the 34 players I think could maybe win that series.

Props: Dan Cole, Joe Marler (both England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), WP Nel (Scotland), Mako Vunipola (England)

Hookers: Rory Best (Ireland), Jamie George, Dylan Hartley (Captain, both England)

Locks: Jonny Gray (Scotland), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England)

Flankers: John Hardie (Scotland), James Haskell (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Sam Warburton (Wales)

Number Eights: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England)

Scrum-Halves: Conor Murray (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)

Fly-Halves: Dan Biggar (Wales), Owen Farrell, George Ford (both England)

Centres: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Duncan Taylor (Scotland)

Wings: Jack Nowell (England), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England)

Fullbacks: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Liam Williams (Wales)

Squad by Nation

England: 15

Ireland: 6

Scotland: 6

Wales: 7

That is my pick but with a year to play plenty of time for players to play their way in or out of Gatland’s plans.

Continued Failure Stunting English Growth

England have their new manager and luckily have their first win courtesy of Adam Lallana’s first international goal.

The problem is the new England regime already shows signs of weakness and this mindset prohibiting progress, accepting failure and once again underperforming.

Prior to kick off against Slovakia, new England manager Sam Allardyce was all too happy to point out he would be happy with a draw. What sort of message is that? Happy with a draw? England should be beating Slovakia, and a draw was the same shameful result we achieved in France in England’s final group game.

allardyce

England manager, Sam Allardyce.

England are kidding themselves if they think this new regime is progressive, Slovakia have a few good players but most of that squad wouldn’t even challenge for a place in the under-21’s squad.

This mindset that second best is good enough, the we’ll take a point mantra, the idea that we can defend our way to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Roy Hodgson was a poor manager but Sam Allardyce so far is no better, I see no progress or difference, the same old problems and failings are present.

The squad is practically the same, the same prima donnas that let down the nation and disassociated the public with the team.There is no connection there, the fans no longer feel they can relate to the team.

Another telling failure of the new regime is the men in suits at the FA have decided that winning the farcical 2022 World Cup is out the window. But nobody questioned why.

That tournament is six years away, and with a country like ours with the money we have available, the facilities we have and the playing pool we have to select from we should be planning to be making the semi-finals of any major tournament but now somehow we have ruled out winning a World Cup we have six years to build for.

The whole system is a joke and before this regressive, negative mindset changes we will forever be the the underperforming laughing stocks of international football.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Bristol Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Andy Robinson

Captain: Jack Lam

Stadium: Ashton Gate (Capacity: 27,000)

Last Season: Promoted

Prediction: 10th

The long wait was finally over for Bristol, they secured promotion back to the Premiership at the seventh time of asking and they have made some serious progress.

There are a number of star names in the Bristol camp, a man with Gavin Henson’s CV is always going to be a talented player pair that with the new duo of Jordan Crane and Tusi Pisi and the squad has quality.

lam

Bristol captain, Jack Lam.

Bristol have a creative backline led by Samoan fly-half Pisi and the creative midfield should give space to the pace and flair of the quicker players out wide such as former Leicester and Wasps winger Varndell.

The pack is match for most Premiership sides without having any big names and lacking internationals. They should not encounter much in the way of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Gavin Henson

Position: Fly-Half/ Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 34  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 100kg

The playmaker has it all as an inside centre, he kicks, passes and tackles well, his pace is not quite what it used to be as he enters his mid-thirties but his playmaking ability make him a valuable player.

Henson also brings international experience and a big game knowledge to a team lacking much of that, he is among a splattering of internationals brought in by Andy Robinson to help Bristol acclimatise to the high level Premiership and Challenge Cup games they will face.

Jack Lam

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Samoan  Age: 28  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 103kg

A ferocious tackler who’s size makes the tackle area a really difficult area to establish any dominance against the Bristol skipper. This coupled with effective breakdown work sees the Bristol captain dominate the immediate tackle situation.

Lam is also no stranger to attack and is more than happy to pop up on the inside shoulder of a fly-half to terrorise opposition tens.

Tom Varndell

Positon: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 30  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 101kg

Varndell is an absolutely unbelievable finisher, up there with the likes of Cueto and Hanley he can score from anywhere due to his pace. He adds some ‘X Factor’ to the Bristol backline.

VARNDELL.jpg

Varndell in action for Bristol.

The 30 year old will be Robinson’s main attacking outlet this season, and it is a joy to ahve the talented winger back in the Premiership.

TRANSFERS

IN (13)

Luke Arscott (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Ryan Bevington (Ospreys, WAL)

Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Nick Fenton-Wells (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Jon Fisher (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Will Hurrell (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Giorgi Nemasadze (Tarbes, FRA)

Thretton Palamo (Saracens, ENG)

Tusi Pisi (Sunwolves, JAP)

Martin Roberts (Ospreys, WAL)

Soane Tonga’huia (Oyonnax, FRA)

Jordan Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

Rhodri Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

OUT (10)

Tommaso Benvenuti (Benneton Treviso, ITA)

Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Craif Hampson (Wasps, ENG)

Darren Hudson (Released, REL)

Marco Mama (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Josh Ovens (Released, REL)

Dwayne Peel (Retired, RET)

James Stephenson (Released, REL)

George Watkins (Jersey Reds, ENG)

Tusi Pisi is a good signing providing them with talent at fly-half. Arscott also has a lot of top level experience making him a clever capture along with number eight Crane. Everyone knows what Tonga’huia is capable of.

PISI.jpg

Pisi lining up a kick for the Sunwolves.

Genge is a hot prospect and will be missed especially as he is now gaining recognition from Eddie Jones. Mama is a good player and could have been hugely influential for Bristol. What a way for Dwayne Peel to end his career and a glittering one at that.

My Bristol Rugby 23

15 Luke Arscott 14 Tom Varndell 13 Will Hurrell 12 Gavin Henson 11 David Lemi 10 Tusi Pisi 9 Will Cliff

1 Soane Tonga’huia 2 Ross McMillan 3 Gaston Cortes 4 Mark Sorensen 5 Ian Evans 6 Jon Fisher 7 Jack Lam (Captain) 8 Jordan Crane

16 Chris Brooker 17 Ryan Bevington 18 Anthony Perenise 19 Joe Joyce 20 Olly Robinson 21 Martin Roberts 22 Thretton Palamo 23 Charlie Amesbury

Bristol will not be challenging for the top half but relegation doesn’t look likely.

Can Kei Grab Grand Slam?

Kei Nishikori has defeated Andy Murray and marches into the semi-finals of the US Open.

For years the top four was dominated by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and of course Murray. Every Grand Slam would belong to one of the top four. Nadal’s powers may now be waining but another player has stepped into the breach that being Stan Wawrinka.

Wawrinka has now claimed two Grand Slam titles and is one of the only players in my mind that can rattle undoubtedly the worlds best current player, Djokovic.

nishikori

Kei Nishikori shakes hands with Murray following his quarter-final win.

As Wimbledon showed nothing is assured as Milos Raonic made the final to play Andy Murray, the world number six took Andy Murray to two tie breaks and only got broken once in the opening set.

Nishikori though could once again show that the level of the top four is not unattainable, currently 7th in the world he has a golden chance coming into a semi-final against, world number three Wawrinka.

The Japanese number one has already overcome formidable opponents and Wawrinka’s astonishing Grand Slam wins which started in Australia will serve as inspiration for Nishikori.

Kei Nishikori’s win over Andy Murray is one of a large number of shocks recently, Querrey beating Djokovic, Lucas Pouille defeating Nadal, the list goes on, there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion now at the major championships and Opens.

Kei Nishikori has a chance to make history as the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam, Wawrinka will give Nishikori a tough test but Nishikori has beaten players like him before and he certainly looks ready to do it again.

Novak’s Slump Looks Over

Novak Djokovic is the best player in the world right now, undoubtedly. Since his victory in Paris though the Serb has endured a slump.

His loss in the first week of Wimbledon to Sam Querrey then losing in the round of 64 in Rio de Janeiro to Juan Martin Del Potro looked to possibly turn sour what had been a wonderful year for the world number one.

His victory over France’s Jo-Wilfred Tsonga takes him into a semi-final meeting with Gael Monfils later this week.

NOVAK.jpg

Djokovic is playing well.

Djokovic is by no means guaranteed to win that match as Wimbledon at the Olympic Games proved he is not the invincible player we thought we witnessed at Roland Garros as he took apart Andy Murray with ease.

This US Open has already provided us with what looks to be the end for former world number one Rafael Nadal and one of the most iconic players of a generation, one of the most exciting players of the modern era.

Djokovic will hope to not fade like the Spaniard as he pushes for his 13th Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows.

His emphatic quarter-final win shows us just how good he can be, form is temporary, class is permanent. And Djokovic has proved just how classy he can be.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Newcastle Falcons

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Dean Richards and Peter Russell

Captain: Will Welch

Stadium: Kingston Park (Capacity: 10,200)

Last Season: 11th

Prediction: 11th

Newcastle survived comfortably last season due to London Irish imploding throughout the season.

Newcastle have some impressive individuals such as winger Sinoti Sinoti. They have a squad that has achieved and is capable of achieving success especially at the hostile Kingston Park.

sinoti

Sinoti Sinoti dives over for a try.

One of Newcastle’s biggest assets is their home ground, the weather conditions and long trip to the north east corner of England in itself is sapping, couple that with Newcastle playing on an artificial pitch makes Kingston Park a notorious place to visit.

Newcastle also have a dangerous back three that will be lethal on the counter, pace aplenty among the backs that thrive on the artificial surface up at Newcastle.

THREE TO WATCH

Vereniki Goneva

Position: Wing  Nationality: Fijian  Age: 32  Height: 1.78m  Weight: 102kg

Your typical Fijian, powerful and fast in equal measure. The former Leicester wing was one of the stars at Welford Road and at first the move seems strange. It is a coup for Dean Richards though and he should be able to get the best out of Goneva.

He scores tries naturally by either powering through the defenders or burning them for pace on the outside.

Sinoti Sinoti

Position: Wing  Nationality: Samoan  Age: 30  Height: 1.75m  Weight: 100kg

Another Pacific Islander in the Newcastle backs, electric feet and devastating pace are two weapons the opposition have to deal with.

Undoubtedly individually sublime if he can link up with his team he can be used to huge effect due to his natural talent.

Will Welch

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 26  Height: 1.93m  Weight: 110kg

Welch is a natural leader and has been at Newcastle Falcons for a while now, he is an asset at the lineout and breakdown.

welch

Captain, Will Welch.

He is a big ball carrier and us happy to take the ball on to get Newcastle moving forwards working to break the gainline.

TRANSFERS

IN (14)

Joshua Chisanga (Kenya Sevens, KEN)

Nick Civetta (RC Medecei, ITA)

Kyle Cooper (Natal Sharks, SAF)

Andrew Davidson (Glasgow Hawks, SCO)

Sam Egerton (England Sevens, ENG)

Opeti Fonua (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Joel Hodgson (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Tyrone Holmes (Glasgow Warriors, SCO)

Sam Lockwood (Jersey Reds, ENG)

Evan Olmstead (London Scottish, ENG)

Harrison Orr (Ealing Trailfinders, ENG)

Ben Sowrey (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

David Tameilau (San Francisco Rush, USA)

OUT (17)

Jamie Booth (Manawatu, NZL)

Todd Clever (Released, REL)

Michael Cusack (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Joshua Furno (Zebre, ITA)

Eric Fry (Sacaramento Express, USA)

Andy Goode (Retired, RET)

Kensuke Hatakeyama (Suntory Sungoliath, JAP)

Rob Hawkins (Retired, RET)

Scott MacLeod (Retired, RET)

Richard Mayhew (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

George McGuigan (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Kane Thompson (Manawatu, NZL)

Gonzalo Tiesi (Retired, RET)

Ruki Tipuna (Bay of Plenty, NZL)

Alesana Tuilagi (Released, REL)

Anitelea Tuilagi (Released, REL)

Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre, ITA)

The addition of Goenva is a real coup for Falcons, Holmes could also be an important player for Newcastle.

goneva

Goneva following his summer move to Newcastle.

McGuigan is a loss and Andy Goode will be hugely missed he was key last season.

My Newcastle Falcons 23

15 Alex Tait 14 Vereniki Goneva 13 Dominic Waldouck 12 Juan Pablo Socino 11 Sinoti Sinoti 10 Mike Delany 9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers 2 George McGuigan 3 Scott Wilson 4 Andrew Davidson 5 Mouritz Botha 6 Nili Latu 7 Will Welch (Captain) 8 Opeti Fonua

A struggle this season for the Falcons but survival is likely.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Worcester Warriors

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Carl Hogg

Captain: Gerrit-Jan van Velze

Stadium: Sixways (Capacity: 12,024)

Last Season: 10th

Prediction: Relegation

Worcester they have never been the team to set the league alight but always look as though they are building a squad something that Dean Ryan was working towards.

Worcester have some serious firepower in the backs Biggs and Vuna two gifted winger with pace and for the most part bravery. Cooper Vuna is deadly and Biggs eye for the line is unmatched.

Rugby Union - Greene King Championship - Worcester Warriors v Bristol - Saturday 25th April 2015 - Sixways Stadium - Worcester

Vuna in action for Worcester.

Worcester have no expectation and with Ryan leaving a lot of people are not expecting much from this Worcester side but I think they could surprise a few and take some big scalps this season.

The back row is an area of strength for this club, Mama, Potgieter, van Velze, Kirwan, Dowson these names know the Premiership, they know how hard they have to work. It will be interesting to see how they function.

THREE TO WATCH

Francois Hougaard

Position: Scrum-Half/ Wing  Nationality: South African  Age: 28  Height: 1.81m  Weight: 94kg

The deadly scrum-half is a worthwhile addition, his pace is remarkable and he has the ability to carve open defences with his shift in gear that allows him to burn defenders on the outside.

He also has a great ability to pass and open spaces for his playmakers in the midfield, a really exciting new face at the Sixways.

Ben Te’o

Position: Centre  Nationality: New Zealander (English qualified)  Age: 29  Height: 1.88m Weight: 106kg

The cross code convert made some serious noise at Leinster and he is an effective crash ball carrier in the middle of the park and his carrying is that sets him apart.

TEO

Te’o training with England.

He can take the ball to the line causing all sorts of problems for opposition defences all over the pitch.

Cooper Vuna

Position: Wing  Nationality: Tongan  Age: 29  Height: 1.80m  Weight: 110kg

A deadly winger who Worcester rely on to find the line. His blistering pace and electric feet make him one of the most deadly finishers in the Premiership.

Vuna is sure to be a key part of Worcester’s Premiership campaign this season due to his attacking brilliance.

TRANSFERS

IN (9)

Biyi Alo (Saracens, ENG)

Alafoti Fa’osiliva (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Francois Hougaard (South Africa Sevens, SAF)

Marco Mama (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Dewald Potgieter (Yamaha Jubilo, JAP)

Will Spencer (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Ben Te’o (Leinster, IRE)

Matt Williams (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Jackson Willison (Grenoble, FRA)

OUT (13)

Jean-Baptiste Bruzulier (Nevers, FRA)

Ravai Fatiaki (Released, REL)

Dan George (Released, REL)

Matt Gilbert (Hartpury College RFC, ENG)

Alex Grove (Birmingham Moseley, ENG)

Charlie Mulchrone (Harlequins, ENG)

Darren O’Shea (Munster, IRE)

Joe Rees (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Dan Sanderson (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Sam Smith (Retired, RET)

Ben Sowrey (Newcastle Falcons, ENG)

Heath Stevens (London Welsh, ENG)

Andy Symons (Gloucester Rugby, ENG)

Hougaard and Te’o show real intent and ambition from Worcester and will improve them massively the recruitment of Potgieter and Mama bolsters the back row.

HOUGAARD

Hougaard scores a try for the Springboks.

Mulchrone will be a miss and Symons effective midfield presence could hurt them.

My Worcester Warriors 23

15 Chris Pennell 14 Cooper Vuna 13 Wynand Olivier 12 Ben Te’o 11 Tom Biggs 10 Tom Heathcote 9 Francois Hougaard

1 Nick Schonert 2 Niall Annett 3 James Johnston 4 Tevita Cavubati 5 Donncha O’Callaghan 6 Dewald Potgieter 7 Marco Mama 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze (Captain)

16 Jaba Bregvadze 17 Val Rapava-Ruskin 18 Na’ama Leleimalefaga 19 Will Spencer 20 Alafoti Fa’osiliva 21 Jonny Arr 22 Ryan Mills 23 Bryce Heem

Worcester will not expecting trophies and relegation could be looming for Carl Hogg’s side.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Bath Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson

Captain: Guy Mercer

Stadium: The Recreation Ground (Capacity: 13,500)

Last Season: 9th

Prediction: 5th

Bath had an awful season last time out only managing to finish 9th in the Premiership a poor return having made the final in the 2014/15 season.

There is a sizeable number of international stars at the Recreation Ground and the squad looks strong if not that deep. The only worry for Bath is the hole left by the departures of Kyle Eastmond and Ollie Devoto in the midfield leaving Dan Bowden and Jonathan Joseph as the only senior centres in the squad.

JOSEPH

Joseph on the attack for Bath.

The Recreation Ground has become accustomed to an attacking gameplan executed with fluency and pace as we saw the season before last. A devastating three quarters is lethal when given space. The whole operation kick started and led by fly-half, George Ford.

One of the only positives from last season came in defence, despite finishing in 9th Bath was among the best defences in the Premiership when it came to conceding tries. Whilst Bath leaked penalties for the most part teams found it hard to break Bath down.

THREE TO WATCH

George Ford

Position: Fly-Half  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.75m  Weight: 84kg

The Bath out half is a real talent and he suffered last year low on confidence and bereft of inspiration the backline faltered. Then in Australia he showed us the player he really is with a pack going forward and with none of the focus on his kicking he flourished.

Ford is the best attacking fly-half in the league without a shadow of a doubt. There were question marks over his defence but the doubters have now been silenced after a string of important defensive display notably the first test in Australia.

Jonathan Joseph

Position: Centre  Nationality: English  Age: 25  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 91kg

Another of Bath’s England contingent. The outside centre has treated us to some moments of sheer brilliance. His dazzling footwork and trademark outside arc make him one of the most devastating strike runners for Bath.

What tends to go unnoticed is his defensive work rate, he doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous jobs. He will be key for Bath this season.

Francois Louw

Position: Flanker  Nationality: South African  Age: 31  Height: 1.90m  Weight: 114kg

This man is amongst the best opensides in the world as he shows time and again for the Springboks. His southern hemisphere mindset of how the breakdown should be controlled is perfect to provide Bath’s backs quick ball.

LOUW.jpg

Francois Louw.

Louw is bound to get his plaudits again this season and when he returns after the November internationals it will feel like a completely different team.

TRANSFERS 

IN (7)

Luke Charteris (Racing 92, FRA)

Harry Davies (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Taulupe Faletau (Dragons, WAL)

Kahn Fotouali’i (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Elliott Stooke (Gloucester Rugby, ENG)

Michael van Vuuren (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

OUT (15)

Horacio Agulla (Castres Olympique, FRA)

Luke Arscott (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Dominic Day (Toyota Verblitz, JAP)

Ollie Devoto (Exeter Chiefs, ENG)

Kyle Eastmond (Wasps, ENG)

Jonathan Evans (Llaneli Scarlets, WAL)

Alafoti Fa’osiliva (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Brett Herron (Ulster, IRE)

Stuart Hooper (Retired, RET)

Leroy Houston (Queensland Reds, AUS)

Amanaki Mafi (NTT Shining Arcs, JAP)

Max Northcote-Green (London Irish, ENG)

Will Spencer (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Rob Webber (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Tom Woolstencroft (Wasps, ENG)

The capture of Wales duo Faletau and Charteris is a huge coup for Bath further bolstering Bath’s impressive back five of the pack. Samoan international Fotouali’i is a good addition, he has serious pace and can act as another playmaker.

FALETAU.jpg

New recruit, Taulupe Faletau.

The loss of Devoto is huge, he along with Eastmond leave a void for Bath to fill. Losing Houston to Super Rugby is also a shame, the fan favourite was an effective carrier. Hooper ends his career, he will remain at Bath in a coaching capacity.

My Bath Rugby 23

15 Anthony Watson 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Dan Bowden 11 Matt Banahan 10 George Ford 9 Kahn Fotouali’i

1 Nick Auterac 2 Ross Batty 3 Davey Wilson 4 Luke Charteris 5 Dave Attwood 6 David Denton 7 Francois Louw (Captain) 8 Taulupe Faletau

16 Michael van Vuuren 17 Nathan Catt 18 Henry Thomas 19 Charlie Ewels 20 Matt Garvey 21 Chris Cook 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Jeff Williams

Bath definitely have the quality of player and coach needed to succeed at Premiership level but this looks as a season for building and establishing goals for the coming seasons.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Gloucester Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher

Captain: Greig Laidlaw

Stadium: Kingsholm Stadium (Capacity: 16,115)

Last Season: 8th

Prediction: 9th

Gloucester have languished in the lower reaches of the table in recent seasons, the Cherry and Whites have been unable to field and formidable outfit but are building a squad under Humphreys to challenge once again.

Gloucester have some of the best back rowers in the league such as Kvesic and Moriarty who are both pushing for international recognition this year. With international, experienced players such as James Hook, Greig Laidlaw and Matt Scott who all have amassed a large number of test caps.

KVESIC

Flanker, Matt Kvesic.

Gloucester have always traditionally had a large pack with forwards that dominate the set piece. The Shed faithful enjoy their forwards bossing the scrum and with that strong pack the breakdown has become an area of strength.

Fisher and Humphreys are looking to focus on the backs this year, Sharples and May are lethal and their sheer speed makes them deadly in the final third.

THREE TO WATCH

Matt Kvesic

Position: Flanker  Nationality: English  Age: 24  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 105kg

Probably England’s closest answer to the Richie McCaw, David Pocock type favoured openside you see playing in Super Rugby and for the SANZAR nations.

He is crucial to Gloucester at the breakdown, he tackles strongly and his work on the floor is among the best in Europe. The English seven gives Gloucester quick, workable ball for the West Country club.

Greig Laidlaw

Position: Scrum-Half/ Fly-Half  Nationality: Scottish  Age: 30  Height: 1.75m  Weight: 80kg

The skipper is important to Gloucester especially when kicking the points. His metronomic boot is among the best in the business. His range is short but accuracy unerring.

LAIDLAW.jpg

Ludlow lines up a kick.

Laidlaw is also an expert at unlocking defences, his passing is accurate and his vision is good. This allows him to set strike moves from anywhere on the field.

Ross Moriarty

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 22  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 104kg

Moriarty is a quick flanker that is exceptionally effective in the wide channels with the centres and wings trying to open up defensive lines with either his pace or his upper body strength.

Moriarty’s close quarters defence is also a massively important asset for Gloucester and is becoming as important for Wales.

TRANSFERS

IN (6)

Tom Denton (Leinster, IRE)

Josh Hohneck (Highlanders, NZL)

Motu Matu’u (Wellington Hurricanes, NZL)

Cameron Orr (Greater Sydney Rams, AUS)

Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby, SCO)

Andy Symons (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

OUT (10)

Luke Cole (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Rob Cook (Retired, RET)

James Gibbons (Ealing Trailfinders, ENG)

Tom Hicks (Rotherham Titans, ENG)

Steve McColl (Yorkshire Carnegie, ENG)

Bill Meakes (Western Force, AUS)

Dan Murphy (Released, REL)

Steph Reynolds (Released, REL)

Elliott Stooke (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Nick Wood (Retired, RET)

Matt Scott is a fantastic signing for Gloucester, he will give them a distributing option and along with Andy Symons there is depth at centre. Tom Denton is also a promising name.

SCOTT.jpg

Scott in action for Scotland.

Nick Wood and Rob Cook have been great for the squad over the years and losing them will hurt Gloucester. Many of the departures will not be too badly missed.

My Gloucester Rugby 23

15 Billy Burns 14 Jonny May 13 Henry Trinder 12 Matt Scott 11 Charlie Sharples 10 Billy Twelvetrees 9 Greig Laidlaw (Captain)

1 Nicky Thomas 2 Richard Hibbard 3 John Afoa 4 Tom Savage 5 Jeremy Thrush 6 Ross Moriarty 7 Matt Kvesic 8 Ben Morgan

16 Tom Lindsay 17 Yann Thomas 18 Paul Doran-Jones 19 James Hudson 20 Sione Kalamfoni 21 Callum Braley 22 James Hook 23 David Halaifonua

Gloucester have the squad to build on last season but other teams have strengthened better than Gloucester.