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.

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Barclays Premier League Previews (WE)

Barclays Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion

Manager: Tony Pulis

Stadium: The Hawthorns (Capacity: 26,852)

Captain: Darren Fletcher

Top Scorer: James Morrison (3)

Biggest Signing: Matt Phillips (£5.5 million)

Last Season: 14th

Prediction: Mid-Table

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

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

FOSTER

Ben Foster is key man for Pulis’ team.

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

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

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

IN

Matt Phillips (Queens Park Rangers, £5.5 million)

OUT

Shaun Donnellan (Stevenage, Loan)

Victor Anichebe (Released)

Stephane Sessegnon (Released)

Anders Lindergaard (Released)

PHILLIPS

Matt Phillips is a big signing.

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

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

Barclays Premier League Preview: West Ham United

Manager: Slaven Bilic

Stadium: Olympic Stadium (Capacity: 60,010)

Captain: Mark Noble

Top Scorer: Dimitri Payet, Andy Carroll (9)

Biggest Signing: Manuel Lanzini (£9.4 million)

Last Season: 7th

Prediction: Mid-Table

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

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

PAYET

Payed was one of the best players last season.

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

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

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

IN

Manuel Lanzini (Unattached, £9.4 million)

Andre Ayew (Swansea City, Undisclosed)

Harvard Nordveit (Borussia Monchengladbach, Undisclosed)

Arthur Masuaku (Olympiakos Piraeus, Undisclosed)

Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia FC, Free)

Ashley Fletcher (Barnsley, Free)

OUT

James Tomkins (Crystal Palace, £10 million)

Elliott Lee (Released)

Joey O’Brien (Released)

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

FEGHOULI.jpg

Feghouli celebrates a goal for former club Valencia.

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

The Relegation Battle

As we hurtle towards the end of what has been a thrilling season for fans, least of all the fact that Leicester still are sitting pretty atop the Premier League table.

If we look at the other end though, it is still all to play for in the fight for survival, currently there are only 12 points separating 14th placed Watford and 19th placed Newcastle United, however Watford and Swansea are looking safe.

That leaves Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa all still trying to avoid relegation.

If we take Aston Villa out of the equation, they lie bottom of the league 12 points from safety, they are odds on favourites to go down.

villa

Aston Villa haven’t had much to celebrate this season.

However Newcastle are on 25 points and Sunderland 26, they are just two points away from the currently safe Norwich, however both the teams have a game in hand over the Canaries who have 28 points. It looks as though Crystal Palace who are on 33 with a game in hand over Swansea look safe and with Swansea on 36 they should be able to get to the magic 40 in their 7 remaining games.

All eyes go to the east now as Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich fight to keep their Premier League status, all three sides have strong squads.

ncf

Norwich City celebrate a much needed goal.

Norwich City

Current Position: 17th

Points: 28

Games Played: 31

Goals Scored: 32

Goals Conceded: 54

Remaining Games: Newcastle United (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sunderland (H), Arsenal (A), Manchester United (H), Watford (H), Everton (A)

afcsund.jpg

Sunderland

Current Position: 18th

Points: 26

Games Played: 30

Goals Scored: 36

Goals Conceded: 55

Remaining Games: West Bromwich Albion (H), Leicester City (H), Norwich City (A), Arsenal (H), Stoke City (A), Chelsea (H), Everton (H), Watford (A)

newcaaaaastle

Newcastle are having a tough year.

Current Position: 19th

Points: 25

Games Played: 30

Goals Scored: 29

Goals Conceded: 55

Remaining Games: Norwich City (A), Southampton (A), Swansea City (H), Manchester City (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H), Aston Villa (A), Tottenham Hotspur (A)

There are some big games ahead some defining games, the matches that stand out are:

Norwich City v Newcastle United, 2nd April

Norwich City v Sunderland, 16th April

Aston Villa v Newcastle United, 7th May

And of course Survival Sunday the 15th May.

The season has been a long one for all three sides and the final few weeks aren’t going to be much easier, the pressure is on and it’s clear only one side will stay up.

The likelihood we will have some sort of clear picture by the final day of the season and with two teams facing two of the top four each and each team playing at least one game against another one of the bottom four it is all to play for heading into the final weeks.

Sunderland Preview

Manager: Dick Advocaat
Stadium: Stadium of Light
Captain: Lee Cattermole
Top Scorer: Connor Wickham/ Jordi Gomez (6)

Sunderland a season that saw them head for relegation before a sterling fightback under Advocaat saw them find a way to stay in England’s top flight. Sunderland live to fight another day.

Sunderland had a fairly average start to the season although they failed to secure a win until 4th October, they only lost 1 match and that was a 1-0 defeat away at QPR. They had managed wonderful draws against both Manchester United and Tottenham setting them up rather nicely. The 3-1 win over Stoke was unfortunately not a sign of things to come for Poyet and the Black Cats as 14 days later they would suffer a 8-0 humbling at the hands of Southampton. This would be a should destroying result for any side they returned home the week after only to once again fail to score as Arsenal won 2-0. Sunderland did manage 2 more wins before Christmas defeating Crystal Palace 3-1 in early November, and a crucial win over Tyneside rivals Newcastle just before Christmas. They finished the year in 14th place and relatively safe but with only 3 wins under their belts.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

Ecstasy for Sunderland as they beat Newcastle.

After Christmas Poyet could only manage 1 more win before he was sacked mid-March and that was only a routine victory over strugglers Burnley. Prior to this rare win they had lost 3 games in a row and were looking in bad shape. Following the win over Burnley Poyet only survived a further 6 games. The final nail in the former Brighton bosses coffin was Aston Villa defeating Sunderland 4-0 at the Stadium of Light leading to Poyet’s departure 2 days later. Sunderland were now languishing in 17th place just above the drop zone. Dick Advocaat took over and would only lose 3 times with Sunderland before the season was over. In just his 2nd game in charge Sunderland once again defeated Newcastle to do the double over their local rivals which has become something of a regular occurrence.

Sunderland would see May as the month they recovered as they won their 1st two games exacting revenge over Southampton with a 2-1 win and also beating Everton before 2 draws against Arsenal and Leicester before a loss to Chelsea on the final day. It was not perfect but Sunderland had done what they set out to do and Advocaat had taken Sunderland to 16th place and they were safe for at least one more season. Sunderland are going to need one hell of a change in fortune and gameplan if they want to get higher than they did last season.

Connor Wickham was by far their best player last year and it is hard to see where the goals will come from now he has joined Crystal Palace for an extortionate £9 million. Jack Rodwell is a promising midfielder his time at Manchester City stunted his career after limited success at Everton but it seems the 24 year old is trying to now rebuild his career in the north east and he is a very good player, his passing game is an asset to any time he sees space and has the talent to exploit it. His work rate is impeccable and with players like M’Vila and Cattermole around him they form a very hard working midfield. Jack Rodwell is sure to be in Advocaat’s plans leading into this season. This could be a huge season for the 3 cap England midfielder.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Jack Rodwell is all smiles after scoring his first goal for Sunderland against Manchester United.

Sunderland have gone on a recruitment drive as well as securing M’Vila on loan from Rubin Kazan they have closed the deal on 4 new players whilst losing 3. Former Tottenham man Younés Kaboul is a big signing he not only brings Premier League experience but a defensive game that was something that was greatly lacking in Sunderland’s armoury last season. They have also brought in Coates from Premier League rivals Liverpool another worthy addition to the side. Sunderland’s recruitment doesn’t see any big names but the new faces are more necessity than luxury.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Kaboul in action for former club Spurs.

Departures are fairly insignificant bar Wickham who leaves after 2 big seasons. It seems the striker got bored of the Sunderland circus and heads off to London. His goals will be missed. As will his searing pace and creativity a rare bright spark in the black clouds that gathered over the Stadium of Light last season.

IN: Younés Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur, £3 million)
Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv (£8 million)
Sebastián Coates (Liverpool, £2 million)
Adam Matthews (Celtic, £2 million)

OUT: Connor Wickham (Crystal Palace, £9 million)
El Hadji-Ba (Charlton Athletic, £500,000)
Anthony Réveillére (Free Agents, Free)

Sunderland have recruited well and Dick Advocaat is a very clever manager he will have a trick or 2 up his sleeve but in my eyes survival is highly unlikely.

My Sunderland XI (4-1-3-2-1): 1 C.Pantilimon; 15 Y.Kaboul, 5 W.Brown 22 S.Coates 3 P.van Aanholt; 14 J.Gomez; 8 J.Rodwell 4 L.Cattermole (C), 21 Y.M’Vila; 17 J.Lens, 19 D.Graham; 18 J.Defoe

Bench: 25 V.Mannone 12 A.Matthews 16 J.O’Shea 7 S.Larsson 4 L.Bridcutt 23 E.Giaccherini 26 S.Fletcher

Last Season: 16th

Prediction: 20th (Relegated)