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.

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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.

 

Eddie’s Eleven

Eddie Jones is close to naming his first set of players to try and rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s rugby superpowers. With the Six Nations happening next month Eddie Jones has been given permission to change just eleven (including Sam Burgess) of the players that crashed out of the World Cup in October.

The fact that Ian Ritchie who’s tenure at the Rugby Football Union has been marred by controversy and ultimately failure has only allowed eleven changes is in itself moronic. How can Eddie Jones make his mark on a team full of deadweight that have overseen England’s worst ever World Cup.

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RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ricthie

As well as the enforced change of Burgess, Henry Slade, Kieran Brookes, Jonny May will all have been changed due to injury. This leaves Eddie Jones with just seven real changes within the squad that can be used to improve.

If we look at replacement options surely Wasps centre Daly has to be included to replace the Rabbitohs star. Daly has proved this season that he has grown in maturity, his running lines are inventive and a breath of fresh air.

He has some real pace probably due to the time he spent at fullback, his pace and running lines have shown some of the best defences in Europe crack such as Toulon and Leinster. Daly’s ability to smash the ball over from 60 plus metres is also a hugely handy attribute in international rugby.

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Elliot Daly escapes the clutches of Dave Attwood

Another man that has to be considered after being practically ignored for there last four years is Kyle Eastmond, granted the centre is not having the best of seasons with Bath who are struggling to regain the form of last season which surely will click at some point.

Eastmond’s dazzling footwork is a joy to behold watching him dance his way through defenders was one of the high points of last season. His electric feet and turn of pace make him a nightmare to defend against.

To replace the injured Jonny May there is only one contender in my mind that man is Saracens flyer Chris Ashton. How many tries does this man have to score to be in the England squad?

He is on fire and scoring for fun in north London with the players inside him offering a few kicks ahead and his knack of popping up in the right place at the right time make him an invaluable finisher, just what England and Eddie Jones may be looking for. He will score tries and plenty of them.

The loss of Brookes who looks to be the next big thing in the England scrum is a shame, there are few players who can scrummage like the Saints tighthead. The only option in my mind is Wasps prop Jake Cooper-Wooley who has done a sterling job up in Coventry.

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Kieran Brookes will miss the Six Nations due to injury

Due to the lack of real talent at tighthead and the way Dan Cole was ripped to pieces by Saracens pack mean Cooper-Wooley may well be thrown into the deep end in the absence of Brookes.

So there are the first four:
OUT: Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
IN: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Jake Cooper-Wooley, Elliot Daly (both Wasps), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Assuming Nick Easter is included so England will have a 32 man squad for the Six Nations that gives us six back row spots to work with. This will come as no shock but in my mind there is no place for Robshaw, a huge work rate and extraordinary passion unfortunately does not win you international rugby matches.

My favourite English opened right now has to be Kvesic and with other contenders in the mix like Clifford, Fraser and O’Connor, Haskell also has to go. Kvesic is an unbelievable openside, a ‘traditional’ seven.

He has been brilliant for Gloucester which is why they find themselves in a pretty strong position so far this season. Kvesic has struggled to really break into the England squad despite being around the team for long enough. His turnover rate is astonishing and he’s not shy of a big hit either.

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Matt Kvesic in action for Gloucester

Jack Clifford would be my replacement for Haskell. A lot has been spoken about Jack Clifford being England’s next openside and his skills. For me Clifford is a future England captain and his ball carrying and tenacity at the breakdown see him usurp Haskell.

Nick Easter, what a player. An example to players everywhere to never give up after being told by Lancaster in 2011 he would never again play for England four years later he is playing for his country in a World Cup.

A lovely story but he has to go, and there is only one man to replace him, Maro Itoje. The Saracens man who is just as at home in the engine room is my player of the season so far. His athleticism and leadership skills are making Saracens tick this season. Another contender for future England captain.

Itoje has to be in the squad, his form for Saracens is just the start of another wonderful journey.

Another summary:
OUT: Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
IN: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)

Only four changes left and so much left to change with three changes alone going on the back row you can imagine how much more I have left to change.

Rob Webber has to call time on his England career, he isn’t up to the standard at the moment. His replacement fairly straight forward Dylan Hartley also my captain.

The playing side for Hartley is exemplary he is excellent in the loose an abrasive in the set piece a really good player. The behaviour does however border on thuggery at times and although this may seem contradictory this is why he would be my captain.

The hard edge that made Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back feared not just by the opposition but by the young players in their team for example a certain Jonny Wilkinson is something Hartley has in abundance.
One player that has to go purely due to the fact I feel he has offered little to the squad since his debut back in 2012 is South African born Brad Barritt.

He has not been good enough, hugely influential for his club and solid for England but not spectacular. Rather than induct another centre into the squad I would have a fly-half come in purely because I think Danny Cipriani. It is still a mystery to me how the Sale out half didn’t get selected for the World Cup following a great display in the warm-ups.

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Danny Cipriano training with England prior to their 2014 tour to New Zealand

His form for Sale has been wonderful and he is the reason his team can compete at such a high level this season for Ford and Farrell to be selected and he be left in the north west would be a travesty.

The one cap wonder Semesa Rokoduguni has to be in the squad, he must be having déja vu after once again a scintillating start to this season. His ability to either bash or dash his way to the try line make him a real asset to whatever team he is playing in be it Bath or England.

He would replace Jack Nowell, yes Nowell has been great for Exeter but the fact is he’s not quick enough to be an international winger. Exeter fans would disagree but look at the other three wingers I have picked Rokoduguni, Ashton and Watson would Nowell really trouble any of them in a foot race.

Scrum-half is a really tough place at the moment for England with four or five contenders for just three places. My choice would be to drop Wigglesworth for Joe Simpson.

Wasps although inconsistent have looked sharp in the backs and the catalyst for that is the lightning quick Simpson. His service isn’t bad either and that earns him a place alongside Youngs and Care.

That completes our changes:
OUT: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)
IN: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Semesa Rokodugnuni (Bath Rugby), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Notable mentions must go to Will Chudley who I hope to see on that plane to Australia in June. Dave Attwood who if he wasn’t injured would be in this squad at the expense of Parling. Dave Ewers and Thomas Waldrom both of whom would be in the squad if there was more space. Manu Tuilagi who had he played more would have been in the squad but he has been out of action for a long time and hasn’t starred for England since 2014.

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My England Squad for Six Nations

Bold indicates starting XV

Props: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jake Cooper Wooley (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Davey Wilson (Bath Rugby)

Hookers: Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Locks: George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

Flankers: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Number Eights: Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Scrum-Halves: Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Fly-Halves: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby)

Centres: Elliot Daly, Ben Jacobs (both Wasps, Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Wings: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Semesa Rokoduguni, Anthony Watson (both Bath Rugby)

Fullbacks: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)