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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

HARRISON.jpg

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.