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Tom Hamilton
Tom Hamilton | Columnist Index
Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum
Aviva Premiership
Here we go again ...
Tom Hamilton
September 2, 2014
© Getty Images
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Such is the eternal nature of the global rugby season, it does not seem like that long ago when Alex Waller was madly trying to force the ball on to Saracens' tryline to win the Aviva Premiership for Northampton Saints. The Worcester Warriors' valiant attempts to avoid the drop and London Welsh's stunning Championship play-off final win to take their place is still in the forefront of both sets of supporters' minds. But like the inevitable rising of the sun, the Premiership season has rolled back around again and on Friday the first ball of the new campaign will be kicked, thrown and flung in anger as the Saints host Gloucester at Franklin's Gardens.

Over the next two days, ESPN brings you a full club-by-club preview of the forthcoming season.


Bath

Worcester claim a lineout at the Rec, Bath Rugby v Worcester Warriors, Aviva Premiership, Recreation Ground, Bath, April 19, 2014
© PA Photos
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Coach: Mike Ford takes the reins in what his first full season in charge of the club. Last season he was working under Gary Gold at the Recreation Ground but when Gold left in December, it was Ford who was last man standing. The pressure will be on him to deliver this year following a campaign last year that promised much but eventually whittled out into one which failed to produce any silverware.

Transfers:
In: Luke Arscott (fullback, Exeter), Nicholas Auterac (prop, Saracens), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Grant Shiells (prop, Newcastle), Henry Thomas (prop, Sale)

Out: Nick Abendanon (fullback, Clermont), Charlie Beech (prop, Leeds), Tom Biggs (winger, Worcester), Ryan Caldwell (second-row, Exeter), Eusebio Guiñazu (hooker, released), Tom Heathcote (fly-half, Edinburgh), Nick Koster (No.8, Bristol), Anthony Perenise (prop, Bristol)

Key Player: Anthony Watson. The winger-come-fullback has a big 2014-15 campaign ahead of him with places in the England World Cup squad up for grabs. He played well last season but will need consistent form to force his way into one of the 15 starting spots on the Test stage.

Signing to watch: Rugby league star 'Slammin' Sam Burgess will arrive in late October with a billing to rival a new James Bond film. Expect to see him start in the centres while spending some time at No.8 as he beds in to union and his new club.

Odds: Bath are 11.00 to win the Premiership with Watson available at 21.00 to be top try-scorer.

Prediction: Bath will face a fight on their hands for a top four spot but will just miss out, finishing in fifth.

George Ford will start at fly-half for Bath © Getty Images
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Exeter Chiefs

Exeter Chiefs youngster Jack Nowell poses ahead of the new season, Sandy Park, Exeter, August 7, 2013
© Getty Images
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Coach: Cut him open and Rob Baxter would bleed Exeter blue and white while probably humming the tomahawk chop, an anthem roared from the back of the throat by the Chiefs' faithful both home and away.

Transfers:
In: Ryan Caldwell (second-row, Bath), Tomas Francis (prop, London Scottish), Adam Hughes (centre, Bristol), Mitch Lees (second-row, London Welsh), Moray Low (prop, Glasgow), Elvis Taoine (hooker, Jersey), Thomas Waldrom (No.8, Leicester)

Out: Luke Arscott (fullback, Bath), Tom Cowan-Dickie (hooker, Plymouth), Lloyd Fairbrother (prop, Dragons), Romana Graham (second-row, La Rochelle), James Hanks (second-row, retired), Craig Mitchell (prop, Cardiff Blues), James Phillips (No.8, London Scottish) Jason Shoemark (centre, Hawke's Bay), Hoani Tui (prop, Lyon), Chris Whitehead(hooker, retired)

Key Player: Luke Cowan-Dickie has all the attributes required by the modern-day hooker. He is still just 21 but is set for a big season.

Signing to watch: He is not the most fashionable of rugby players but Thomas Waldrom is an inspired piece of business by Baxter. He will be available for the whole season, injury permitting, and will bring experience and power to the Chiefs' back-row.

Odds: Exeter are 41.00 to win the title with winger Fetu'u Vainikolo priced the same to be top try-scorer.

Prediction: We think Exeter might be towards the foot of the table this year, finishing tenth

Exeter lifted the LV= Cup last season © Getty Images
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Gloucester

Gloucester's James Hook looks to shift the ball, Gloucester v Yorkshire Carnegie, Kingsholm, August 16, 2014
© Getty Images
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Coach: Last season's failings at Kingsholm resulted in the club swinging the axe with a new-look coaching team installed for this term. David Humphreys has joined from Ulster with Laurie Fisher, Nick Walshe and John Muggleton working alongside him. The pressure is on to bring the glory days back to Kingsholm.

Transfers:
In: John Afoa (prop, Ulster), Mark Atkinson (centre, Bedford Blues), Mariano Galarza (second-row, Worcester), Richard Hibbard (hooker, Ospreys), James Hook (fly-half, Perpignan), Tom Isaacs (centre, Scarlets), Greg Laidlaw (scrum-half, Edinburgh), Stevie McColl (fullback, Leeds) Tom Palmer (second-row, Wasps), Jacob Rowan(flanker, Leeds), Aled Thomas (fly-half, Scarlets)

Out: Johnny Bentley (fly-half, Jersey), Freddie Burns (fly-half, Leicester), Matt Cox (flanker, Worcester), Huia Edmonds (hooker, Narbonne), Daniel George (hooker, Worcester), Rupert Harden (prop, Treviso), Andrew Hazell (flanker, retired), Tom Heard (prop, Plymouth), Will James (lock, retired), Tavis Knoyle (scrum-half, Cardiff Blues), Ryan Mills (centre, Worcester), Tim Taylor (fly-half, retired), Mike Tindall (centre, retired) Thomas Young (flanker, Wasps)

Key Player: Gloucester have bolstered their front-row with internationals John Afoa and Richard Hibbard so they have new faces at tight-head and hooker respectively but loose-heads Nick Wood, Dan Murphy and Yann Thomas will have to put in a shift at loose-head to hold up their side of the scrum. Last season Gloucester's scrum was a shambles; they need to restore pride in that area.

Signing to watch: James Hook is a great coup for Gloucester. The Welsh fly-half will have international aspirations but if he can harness his playmaking ability, then he will be one of the players of the season.

Odds: Charlie Sharples is 21.00 to be top try-scorer with Gloucester 15.00 to win the league.

Prediction: It is between Gloucester, Harlequins and Bath for that fourth spot and we think they will just miss out.


Harlequins

Harlequins' Marland Yarde lines up for a photocall, Guildford, August 18, 2014
© Getty Images
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Coach: Conor O'Shea leads Harlequins in his fifth season at the club. He is someone who prefers to promote from within rather than looking for expensive imports and has made just two signings in the off-season but he has made the big decision to replace his former captain Chris Robshaw with Joe Marler.

Transfers:
In: Asaeli Tikoirotuma (winger, Chiefs), Marland Yarde (winger, London Irish)

Out: Max Crumpton (hooker, Bristol), Maurie Fa'asavalu (No.8, Oyonnax), Tom Guest (No.8, London Irish), Nick Kennedy (lock, retired), Nic Mayhew (prop), Tim Molenaar (centre, London Welsh), Sam Smith (winger, Worcester),Paul Sackey (winger, retired)

Key Player: Luke Wallace will prove to be a key player for Harlequins this term. With Maurie Fa'asavalu now in the Top 14, Wallace is likely to be in their first-choice back-row and with Robshaw likely to be spending large parts of the season on international duty, the young flanker will get plenty of game time both at blindside and openside.

Signing to watch: Both of their captures should prove to be exciting additions. Marler said of the arrivals: "Tiks [Tikoirotuma] is a quiet lad, but he has looked good in the two games he has played. Marland isn't a quiet lad, but he also looks sharp off the back of a good summer with England."

Odds: Quins are fourth favourites to lift the title priced at 9.00 with Tikoirotuma available at 21.00 as top try-scorer.

Prediction: They will be in the play-offs once again, finishing fourth.

© Getty Images
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Leicester Tigers

Freddie Burns settles into his new Welford Road surroundings, Leicester, August 28, 2014
© Getty Images
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Coach: Richard Cockerill was in the unfamiliar position of coming in for some criticism in the off-season from former team-mates Lewis Moody and Neil Back over their lack of attacking nous but with a host of new signings, Leicester look primed for another season spent towards the top of the league.

Transfers:
In: Seremaia Bai (centre, Castres), Robert Barbieri (flanker, Treviso), Freddie Burns (fly-half, Gloucester), Leonardo Ghiraldini (hooker, Treviso), Christian Loamanu (winger, Treviso), Laurence Pearce (second-row, Rotherham), Michele Rizzo (prop, Treviso), Aniseko Sio (prop), Brad Thorn (second-row)

Out: Dan Bowden (fly-half/ centre, Japan/ Blues), Ryan Bower (prop, Worcester), George Chuter (hooker, retired), Toby Flood (fly-half, Toulouse), Rob Hawkins (hooker, Newcastle), Boris Stankovich (prop, Dragons), Scott Steele (scrum-half, London Irish), Thomas Waldrom (No.8, Exeter), Harry Wells (second-row, Bedford Blues)

Key Player: It's a rolled out line, but the returning Tom Croft will be like a new signing for Leicester. He missed the majority of last season through injury but if the Tigers can get a whole season out of the British & Irish Lion, he could be a colossus.

Signing to watch: It has to be Freddie Burns. The fiercely talented fly-half had a tough season at Gloucester last term but in an environment where success and consistency is paramount, Burns should impress at the Tigers.

Odds: Last season's top try-scorer Niki Goneva is favourite to repeat the feat once again, priced at 7.00, while the Tigers are third-favourites for the league at 3.60.

Prediction: The Tigers will finish second.

© Leicester Tigers
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London Irish

London Irish's Brian Smith alongside the Premiership trophy, Premiership Rugby 2014-15 fixtures announcement, BT Tower, July 4, 2014
© Getty Images
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Coach: Brian Smith was in charge of London Irish when they reached the Premiership final in 2009 but they have not come close to winning silverware since. With a new state-of-the-art training facility at Hazelwood and the owners giving Smith the funds needed to bolster their squad, London Irish are in the best place they have been since those halcyon days five years ago.

Transfers:
In: Tom Court (prop, Ulster), Sean Cox (lock, Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (prop, Glasgow), Connor Gilsenan (flanker, Connacht), Eoin Griffin (centre, Connacht), Tom Guest (No.8, Harlequins), Dan Leo (second-row, Perpignan), Luke Narraway (No.8, Perpignan), Chris Noakes (fly-half, Blues), James Short (winger, Saracens) Scott Steele (scrum-half, Leicester).

Out: Declan Danaher (flanker, retired), Bryn Evans (lock, Biarritz), Ian Gough (lock, Dragons), Chris Hala'ufia (flanker, Scarlets), Ian Humphreys (fly-half, Ulster), James O'Connor (fullback, Toulon), Setaimata Sa (centre, Hull FC), Sailosi Tagicakibau (winger, Wasps) Marland Yarde(winger, Harlequins),

Key Player: Bringing in Tom Guest is a shrewd piece of business from Smith. He is criminally underrated and is one of the Premiership's top performers. He will bring experience and skill to their back-row.

Signing to watch: James Short has threatened to be a Test winger in the past but it has never quite clicked for him. With Marland Yarde now at Quins, Short is likely to be London Irish's main strike runner and should fit in well at the Madejski Stadium.

Odds: London Irish are available at 181.0 to win the league with Short at 81.00 to be top try scorer.

Prediction: London Irish will enjoy a good cup run but finish in ninth.

© Getty Images
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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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