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Aviva Premiership: 2010/11 club-by-club guide

Premiership champions Leicester Tigers
Can anyone stop Leicester winning a fourth Premiership title in five years?

BATH
Steve Meehan and ian McGeechan
Steve Meehan and Ian McGeechan will mastermind Bath's campaign

Position finished last season: Fourth - beaten play-off semi-finalists.

Strengths: Off the field a very wealthy owner in Bruce Craig aligned with an impressive new training facility means Bath are on a firm footing with a bright future. On the pitch Bath had an outstanding second half to last season winning 10 out of 11 Premiership matches to give restore their confidence after a woeful start. With Butch James and Olly Barkley back to full fitness, Lewis Moody in the ranks and a new captain who leads by example in Luke Watson Bath could well pick up where they left off last term.

Weaknesses: Strangely for Bath there is a lack of decent cover on the wings. They only really have Tom Biggs and Matt Banahan as top-quality finishers.

Key personnel changes this season: The arrival of Lewis Moody and Simon Taylor into the pack provides huge experience, while Sam Vesty and Tom Biggs bring pace and guile to the back division. Perhaps the most influential arrival though is Ian McGeechan as director of rugby. Bath's most significant departures are Julian Salvi (flanker) and top try-scorer for the last two seasons Joe Maddock (wing).

Young player to watch: Nathan Catt (prop).

EXETER
Exeter Chiefs
Exeter secured promotion via the first ever Championship play-offs

Position finished last season: Promoted from Championship.

Strengths: After gaining promotion to the Premiership for the first time, the Chiefs are an unknown quantity in rugby's top flight. They can use this to their advantage and attempt to surprise teams in the unfamiliar surroundings of Sandy Park. Fly-half Gareth Steenson is lethal with the boot and regularly punishes teams for indiscipline. The Ulsterman kicked 33 of Exeter's points as they beat Bristol 38-16 over two legs in the Championship play-off final.

Weaknesses: Many members of the squad are without Premiership experience and could take time to adjust to the standards required. Head coach Rob Baxter had to wait until promotion was secured at the end of May before strengthening his squad, by which time the other Premiership clubs had already enjoyed first pick of the available players.

Key personnel changes: Former Bath winger Andrew Higgins has joined the Chiefs after a year out of rugby amidst allegations of failing to take drugs tests on three occasions. Higgins has 23 top flight tries to his name and was highly rated before he left the Recreation Ground last year. Exeter have also re-signed fellow wide man Luke Arscott from Bristol. After starting his career with the Chiefs, Arscott has gone on to impress at both Plymouth Albion and Bristol.

Young player to watch: Cornish-born fly-half Josh Matavesi has only made five appearances for the side since joining from Mounts Bay last year, but he already has honours at international level for Fiji. The talented 19-year-old is well thought of at Sandy Park, and could surprise people if given a chance in the first team.

GLOUCESTER
Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns
Much is expected of young fly-half Freddie Burns at Kingsholm

Position finished last season: Seventh.

Strengths: Strong at home and with an established core to their squad the Cherry and Whites should reap the benefits of coach Bryan Redpath having a full season in charge at Kingsholm. Have several promising young backs due to break into the first team this season.

Weaknesses: Can be fragile on the road. The accusation they have of a dearth of "game-changers" refuses to go away.

Key personnel changes: Only two major signings - lock Jim Hamilton and back row Brett Deacon. The loss of All Black prop Greg Somerville and Wales number eight Gareth Delve (both Melbourne Rebels) will affect Gloucester's grunt. Lock Marco Bortolami's departure will alter the options at the line-out.

Young player to watch: Young fly-half Freddie Burns has a big season ahead of him after he burst into the first team last season, playing 20 games, and made strides with the England Under-20s squad this summer. Also keep an eye out for centres Henry Trinder and Jonny May making an impression this term.

HARLEQUINS
Harlequins centre Jordan Turner-Hall
Jordan Turner-Hall will look to make up for an injury-hit season last term

Position finished last season: Eighth

Strengths: Quins will benefit greatly from a full pre-season under their new director of rugby Conor O'Shea after the aftermath of 'Bloodgate' disrupted the pre-season for 2009-10. The squad is bursting with English talent: internationals Nick Easter, Danny Care, Ugo Monye and Chris Robshaw should be backed up well by youngsters Jordan Turner-Hall, Joe Marler, Rory Clegg and George Lowe. Ex-All Black Nick Evans remains one of the most exhilarating fly-halves in English rugby.

Weaknesses: Sometimes failed to front up to the opposition in the last campaign. Mike Ross was a big loss. Consistency was hard to find last season, with dazzling spells of running rugby often followed by passages of error-strewn frustration.

Key personnel changes: Quins have strengthened up front with the arrivals of the highly-rated hooker Joe Gray from Northampton, lock Peter Browne from Newcastle and back row Maurie Fa'asavalu - a Samoa rugby union and England rugby league international - from rugby league side St Helens. Ex-Leicester Tiger Olly Smith and Argentine Benjamin Urdapilleta will provide fresh competition for places in the centres.

Young player to watch: England Under-20 prop Joe Marler.

LEEDS
Leeds Carnegie hooker Steve Thompson
Steve Thompson links up with ex-England team-mate Neil Back at Leeds

Position finished last season: 10th - despite being relegation favourites.

Strengths: The forwards. Inspired by the coaching of Neil Back and leadership of second-row Marco Wentzel, Leeds dominated every pack that stood in their way at the back end of last season. Their line-out became the best in the Premiership, with Wentzel claiming more ball steals than any other player (22). With England hookers Steve Thompson and Andy Titterell competing for the number two shirt, and with fellow England man Hendre Fourie in the back-row, Leeds will continue to be strong in this area.

Weaknesses: Converting pressure into points. Leeds scored only 17 league tries last season, six fewer than relegated Worcester, and ended with the worst points difference in the competition (-174). Andy Key and Neil Back are aware of their failure to convert territory and possession into tries and have brought in experienced players with both proven pace and try-scoring pedigree in the likes of Michael Stephenson (Bath) and Semi Tadulala (Gloucester).

Key personnel changes: The Headingley club have 11 new faces on board but none will be more influential than England hooker Thompson. Australian fly-half/centre Lachlan Mackay will be expected to help deliver a cutting edge to Leeds' back play. The loss of second row Erik Lund (Biarritz) and centre Seru Rabeni (La Rochelle) will be felt. Lund has been replaced by Sean Hohneck (Viadana) for line-out options and with Stephenson, Tadulala and Henry Fa'afili Leeds should adopt a different approach in the backs.

Young player to watch: Full-back/wing James Tincknell. The 21-year-old, who only took up rugby two years ago, was signed from National One side Wharfedale where he scored 15 tries in 19 games last season. Flanker Jacob Rowan and brothers Tom (lock) and Oliver (wing) Denton, all Leeds academy graduates, should make first-team breakthroughs.

LEICESTER
Leicester Tigers scrum-half Ben Youngs
Ben Youngs has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past 12 months

Last season: Premiership champions.

Strengths: The scrum is always a Leicester strength and was particularly fierce last season. But the Tigers also equalled a Premiership defensive record by conceding only 18 tries in 22 games. Ben Youngs and Dan Cole are among the brightest prospects in the game and Thomas Waldrom should bring fresh impetus from the back row following his arrival from New Zealand.

Weakness: The international periods are always tough, even with the strength in depth that the Tigers traditionally carry. There's a smaller squad this year and with the elevation of Youngs, Cole and Geoff Parling into the England reckoning it will further increase the pressure during the autumn internationals and the Six Nations periods.

Key personnel changes: It might feel like an end of an era at the Tigers as Lewis Moody, Sam Vesty and Brett Deacon have moved on, while Ben Kay and Harry Ellis have retired. But Tigers have recruited Waldrom (Crusaders) in the back row and England Saxons skipper George Skivington (Wasps) to replace Kay, while Lee Robinson (Bristol) and Horacio Agulla (Brive) will contest places in the backs.

Young player to watch: Aside from the further blossoming of Cole, Parling and Youngs, watch out for England Under-20 scrum-half Sam Harrison who is hoping to emulate club-mate Youngs's success.

LONDON IRISH
Delon and Steffon Armitage
The Armitage brothers will doubtless be crucial to the Exiles' season

Last season: Sixth.

Strengths: London Irish consistently have the best line-out in the Premiership, with Bob Casey and Nick Kennedy forming a formidable partnership. They also have great pace out wide, with wingers Topsy Ojo, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Adam Thompstone, and full-back Delon Armitage all hoping for better things this season after being hit by injuries last time. At the breakdown, Steffon Armitage will again be a key player, supplying quick ball and disrupting the opposition.

Weaknesses: Small squad which was exposed last season with several injuries to important players. They have been drawn in a tough Heineken Cup pool, so head coach Toby Booth will again have his resources stretched if he aims to compete on more than one front.

Key personnel changes: Fly-half Dan Bowden's arrival from Super 14 side Crusaders was the Exiles' major signing this summer. Scrum-half Darren Allison joined from Cardiff Blues and hooker Brian Blaney from Leinster. But Irish are sure to miss Peter Hewat, who has gone to play in Japan, and Danie Coetzee and Peter Richards, who have both retired.

Young player to watch: Oxford University undergraduate and England Under-20 back row Jamie Gibson showed glimpses of his potential towards the end of last season but the one to watch should be winger Thompstone, who missed most of last season because of injury.

NEWCASTLE
Newcastle Falcons head coach Alan Tait
Alan Tait is looking to make Falcons more consistent this term

Last season: Ninth.

Strengths: Fitness levels have improved noticeably under Andy Smith and the Falcons have regularly produced good sevens teams. The promised new approach of open rugby will demonstrate whether these strengths translate themselves into the 15-a-side game. Despite losing a number of experienced players they have recruited heavily and in number 10 Jimmy Gopperth they have last season's top Premiership points scorer.

Weaknesses: Chronic inconsistency has dogged Falcons in recent seasons leading to only two home wins in the Premiership last term and their fourth successive finish in the Premiership's bottom four. The squad are beset by pre-season injuries and will find the opening weeks of the season a test of character.

Key personnel changes: The departure of All Black prop Carl Hayman (Toulon) will have the biggest on-field impact. But the arrival of Ally Hogg (Edinburgh) will provide international experience in the back row. The Falcons start with a new management team of head coach Alan Tait supported by Paul Moriarty, and their influence can be expected to give the Geordies a harder edge than they have shown in recent seasons.

Young player to watch: Tight-head prop Kieran Brookes served notice at the end of last season that he aspires to fill Hayman's boots. New signing Luke Eves, who joined from Bristol, can expect game time as centre Tane Tu'ipulotu will miss the start of the season recovering from a hip operation.

NORTHAMPTON
Northampton prop Soane Tongauiha
Saints will be hoping for another huge season from prop Soane Tongauiha

Last season: Second - lost in play-off semi-final to Saracens.

Strengths: One of the fittest sides in the Premiership, Saints boast huge resources and have a talented coaching team. The players are young, ambitious and mostly English. More importantly, they are a year older and wiser after missing out on the Premiership final and a Heineken Cup semi-final. They play instinctive, exciting rugby and are hard to beat at home - losing just one Premiership game at Franklin's Gardens last season.

Weaknesses: A smaller, younger-looking squad. Inexperience, injuries and internationals are sure to have a say in how Saints fair.

Key personnel changes this season: The loss of South African second row Juandre Kruger, who was an immense presence in the line-out last term, will be sorely felt. Ireland flanker Neil Best put in some barnstorming performances at the end of last season but his departure to Worcester is compensated by the arrival of highly-rated England Saxons back row Tom Wood -who moved in the opposite direction.

Young player to watch: Ex-Leeds fly-half Joe Ford. The 19-year-old will have a tough battle to wrestle the number 10 jersey from Stephen Myler and Shane Geraghty but the ambitious youngster moved to Northampton on a three-year deal with the long-term goal of being England's first choice.

SALE
Sale Sharks coach Mike Brewer
Mike Brewer has overseen wholesale changes in personnel at Edgeley Park

Last season: 11th.

Strengths: The Sharks main strength is their forward play - using the power of the pack to advance the ball up the field and relying on the metronomic goal kicking of fly-half Charlie Hodgson to help them to victory. England prop Andrew Sheridan is now back to full fitness after missing much of last season and will be the cornerstone of Sale's campaign.

Weaknesses: Discipline cost Sale dearly last season. They lost 15 of their 22 matches and narrowly avoided relegation, finishing second from bottom. The Sharks gave away too many penalties as they struggled to cope with the attacking threat of some of the Premiership's better sides. New coach Mike Brewer will want to eliminate the mistakes that cost Sale in so many games last term.

Key personnel changes: Unsurprisingly after such a dire campaign there has been a raft of changes at Edgeley Park with prop Aston Croall (Harlequins), lock Nic Rouse (Nottingham), Samoa wing Mikaele Pesamino (Auckland) and flankers Robin Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff) and Apolosi Satala (Gloucester) amongst the names joining the club. Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens) and last season's skipper Dean Schofield (Toulon) will be missed.

Young player to watch: Lock James Gaskell made massive strides last season scoring four tries in 21 appearances. The 20-year-old second row, who stands 6ft 7in, adds speed and mobility to the Sharks pack and will be hoping for another productive campaign.

SARACENS
Saracens Alex Goode
Alex Goode should get plenty of game time at fly-half this season

Last season: Third - beaten Premiership finalists.

Strengths: Massively ambitious and not shy of letting everybody know it. After adopting an effective, if unpalatable, style at the start of the season Sarries were quick to adapt to new refereeing directives and produced some sensational performances that took them to their first Premiership final. Head coach Brendan Venter has moulded his squad into a hard-nosed outfit with flair and confidence. Player-wise Alex Goode, Andy Saull and Brad Barritt should continue to progress their international claims, and Steve Borthwick has every incentive to do well, if he regains full fitness. Premiership player of the year Schalk Brits will look to pick up where he left off last season.

Weaknesses: With Glen Jackson's retirement the goal-kicking duties could be an issue, with Derick Hougaard under pressure to replicate Jackson's accuracy, although Goode will be keen to make the 10 shirt his own. Saracens have also lost the valuable experience of Justin Marshall, who like Jackson has returned to New Zealand.

Key personnel changes: New signings David Strettle (wing), Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half), Deon Cartsens (prop), and Nils Mordt (centre) might prove astute.

Young player to watch: Despite previous false dawns winger Noah Cato could contest for top try scorer of the competition this time around.

WASPS
Wasps back row Andy Powell
Andy Powell is looking to revive his career after problems with Wales

Last season: Fifth.

Strengths: A settled coaching set-up and squad who, barring injuries, should be challenging again. There is a good blend with the young chargers Joe Simpson, Rob Webber and Dom Waldouck complimenting grizzled veterans Simon Shaw, Phil Vickery and Serge Betsen. In addition fit-again captain Tom Rees will be raring to stake a claim to get back in the England fold, while new signing Andy Powell looks to get his career back on the straight and narrow after his golf buggy shenanigans with Wales.

Weaknesses: Phil Vickery missed a large chunk of last season and the team did not always dominate in the scrums, although prop Sakaria Taulafo did make a significant impact.

Key personnel changes: Danny Cipriani's move down under to join Super 15 side Melbourne Storm should give Dave Walder a clear run at fly-half. With England centre Riki Flutey returning to the fold and the arrival of Wales number eight Powell, the coaches will hope these two can provide attacking impetus.

Young player to watch: Now he is on the England radar this could be a massive season for Dom Waldouck.



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see also
Aviva Premiership Ins and Outs
08 Aug 10 |  English
Premiership agrees new 20m deal
07 Jul 10 |  English
Moody targeting Bath silverware
24 Aug 10 |  Bath
Exeter's Baxter ready for step up
24 Aug 10 |  Exeter
Exiles captain promises new style
24 Aug 10 |  London Irish
Tait demands flair from Falcons
20 Aug 10 |  Newcastle
Redpath targets top four minimum
18 Aug 10 |  Gloucester
Waldouck signs new Wasps contract
17 Aug 10 |  London Wasps
Saracens line up Wembley fixtures
11 Aug 10 |  Saracens
Mallinder 'gagging' to get going
06 Aug 10 |  Northampton
Robshaw named new Quins captain
22 Jul 10 |  Harlequins
Sheridan ready to make comeback
15 Jul 10 |  Sale
Twickenham epic is greatest final
30 May 10 |  English
Leicester 33-27 Saracens
29 May 10 |  English
Hooker Brits wins players' award
26 May 10 |  English


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