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.

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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.

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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.

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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.