Last bit! the final four!
and we are starting off with Northampton Saints, written by Chris Hagger (@wrench86)
I’m 26 years old, work in telecoms and have supported Saints since I was 11. I still play (Hooker for Reading Rugby club 2nd XV)and I write a rugby blog (rugbychris.wordpress.com) which will be back from a summer break soon
2011/2012 was a season that wasn’t for most Saints Fans. A combination of International call ups, injuries, suspensions, dramatic losses of form and will-he won’t he departure sagas prevented the team, and the excitement levels, from ever really getting going. 2012/2013 therefore promises to be a season of reengagement. No world cup will hopefully mean not playing catch up from the word go, and a chance for the first XV to gel before the hustle and bustle of the Heineken cup begins.
The near – permanent sense of transition perhaps lingers on. The ballast of Downey and Wilson have been integral to the Saints style of play for 4 years, and now both are gone. Burrell and Van Velze may be seen as straight swaps – but both have rough edges to knock off. However I fancy the opportunistic capture of Waldouck may allow saints to play with greater variety in midfield. With hopefully Cameron Shepherd and Pisi the second covering the Ashton sized hole in finishing power, the new element in midfield may be enough to take Saints to the next step and a Twickenham Final in May. Get Wood and Lawes back fit and firing (like two new signings) and Saints can dream of finally conquering all of England. However, if being a Saints fan for 15 years has taught me anything, it’s that dreams don’t always come true. COYS.
From the Saints, we dart across the midlands to Leicester Tigers, written by my crisp bro, Vince Morgan (@VinnyMac31)
My name is Vince Morgan and I am a 26 year old Tigers fan. I have been since I emerged from the womb, the doctor picked me up and I successfully lead him into a rolling Maul and pushed him back 20 meters into the corridor, from then on in it was plain to everyone i was born for the specific reason to trudge to Welford road come rain or shine and shout helpful technical slogans like “LEAAAAAN” or “EAT HIM CASTRO” to our wonderful pack.
With the new season comes new expectation. We have said goodbye to both wingers. An absolute legend in his own right Alesana Tuilagi, a blunt instrument who never got the credit he deserved for running intelligent lines instead lazily referred to as a battering ram by pundits and fans alike and Agulla who was an improved version of Hipkiss. Stands bolt upright in the tackle to give forwards a target to hit but also with the ability to pass and a wonderful eye for space between the defensive line and the full back.
The new recruits have me very interested this year, Dan Bowden is a player i admire greatly and for the first time since Floody has been here we have a back up 10 who actually IS a number 10 not a centre who can kick or Staunton who seemed to find ever more elaborate ways to throw away games. With the new Fijian wing it seems we have gone like for like with Agulla in buying a player with a bit of skill and pace who will also put in a shift in defence and Miles Benjamin although i dont think he will set the world alight this year will certainly improve to the point of nailing down the 11 shirt in the future.
With Crane and Deacon on the way back and Croft coming back well from a scary neck injury i firmly believe the pack will be as solid as ever standout peformers being Mulipola, Slater and as always the ever consistent Waldrom. He does nothing spectacularly well but his carries are brutal always making ground off the restarts and his 8/9/10 link with Youngs and Flood seemlessly blends forwards and backs into a fearsome attacking force.
My beliefs for this season would be for Tigers to reclaim their premiership crown, i think from 1-23 they are the strongest squad in the premiership and now we have intelligently recruited our team during the 6 nations and Autumn internationals are looking very strong. If we can eradicate the dips in form that so clearly devastated us during the world cup i fully expect to be going to a Welford road Semi Final come April/May time in 2013.
AP Champions: Tigers
Relegated: London Welsh
LV Cup: Chiefs
Heineken Cup: Clermont
And Finally my three outside bets for the 2012/2013 Season:
1) Castro gets annoyed with the Ash Splash and spends all pre season improvising his own try celebration ‘The Castro Belly Flop’ This also unfortunately weakens the Welford Road foundations and we have to play the christmas fixtures away during a period of rennovation to the Goldsmiths stand.
2) Gavin Henson gets a bit confused while playing for London Welsh and now thinks he holds dual nationality turning up at Twickenham demanding to trial for the England team.
3) Leicester Tigers face Zebre for the Heineken cup at a packed out final in Dublin. Whoevers idea it was to parade a fully grown Tiger and Zebra around the pitch for pre show entertainment quickly regret their decision when scenes more suited for the National Geographic channel are played out in front of 60,000 rugby fans.
and there you have it, my thoughts/ramblings on Tigers and their chances for 2012/2013. if you spot me at any ground come and say hello and lets forward to some cracking rugby
(EDITORS NOTE. Tigers have also since signed Brett Deacon and Richard Thorpe from Gloucester and London Irish!)
Over we go to the last piece i received, and its the Exiles, London Irish, written by Tjobbe Andrews (@Tjobbe)
By Tjobbe Andrews of www.tawd.co.uk
The 2011 / 2012 season was one to forget for most London Irish supporters. Although they started strongly and were in contention for a semi-final place at the Christmas break London Irish then had seven premiership losses in a row between February and April, floating them dangerously close to the “R” zone. The Heineken cup saw just one win: away at Racing Metro but it was a mighty bonus point effort!
Before the season was up there was a lot of talk about several high profile players leaving. Bob Casey, in his testimonial year, was due to retire at the end of the season along with Kieran Roche but other favourites such as Delon Armitage, XX and XX, coupled together with the fact the league position was suffering, had many questioning the position of head coach Toby Booth and out of the blue it was announced that Brian Smith, the former Director of Rugby, would be reclaiming his role after a stint as attack coach at England. Much to the delight of many supporters. Surely this must have been either in anticipation of, or a catalyst to, the inevitable.
After the season drew to a close, offical news reports from London Irish confirmed what many already knew. Toby Booth was off to Bath along with Neal Hatley and Justin Bishop took up a coaching role elsewhere too. Mike Catt had also been announced as attacking coach at England in a part time role for the South Africa tests.
With a string of bad results now behind us, the coaching set-up almost completely gone and a clean sheet to start from, Brian Smith started making some big announcements. Tomas O’Leary, the Ireland international scrum half was already confirmed before Toby’s departure, but Shaun Edwards the Wales defence coach was announced as part time defence coach, Peter Richards will be the new Scrum half coach and Barry Everitt was to make a return as kicking coach to the team he helped win the Powergen Cup final. Even Shane Geraghty was to come back!
Jonathan Joseph and Alex Corbisiero were notable highlights of an otherwise dissapointing season, having an impressive summer tour with England to South Africa. Both players are product of the academy. Jamie Gibson also featured on the tour, playing in the mid week games. Another highlight was Tom Homer’s golden boot award for being the highest points scorer in the premiership. He’ll need those boots come the new season.
So, the future, the actual point of this article! London Irish may have lost a few players last season but this has freed up money and Brian Smith has said that he’s still able to make one more big signing. Backroom staff have been thinned out too and you wonder if that will have an effect on the playing side of things or not.
All in all, a clear out may have been exactly what the club needed and it has left many supporters and players feeling optimistic about the coming season and top four has been mentioned a few times. I’m quietly confident that this can be achieved and I await with eager anticipation at the start of the new season. With the hiring of specialist coaches in pivotal positions and some key signings as well as some excellent players that have stayed and are coming up through the academy ranks, this is really going to be an exciting year.
Captain for 2012/2013 season: Declan Danaher.
- Halani Aulika (PR, Leeds)
- Scott Lawson (HK, Gloucester)
- Cai Griffiths (PR, Ospreys)
- George Skivington (LK, Leicester)
- Jon Fisher (N8, Bedford)
- Tomás O’Leary (SH, Munster)
- Shane Geraghty (FH, Brive)
- Ian Humphreys (FH, Ulster)
- Setamaita Sa (CT, Catalans Dragons)
- Conor Gaston (WG, Ulster)
- Gerard Ellis (HK, Llandovery College)
- Luke Peters (CT, Academy)
- Jack Ramshaw (N8, Academy)
- Shaun Malton (HK, Johannesburg University)
Staff: Shaun Edwards, Glenn Delaney, Barry Everit and Peter Richards, Billy Clarke
- Clarke Dermody (PR, retired)
- Faan Rautenbach (PR)
- Nick Kennedy (LK, Toulon)
- Bob Casey (LK, retired)
- Kieran Roche (FL, retired)
- Paul Hodgson (SH, Worcester)
- Adrian Jarvis (FH, Bristol)
- Dan Bowden (FH, Leicester)
- Shontayne Hape (CT, Montpellier)
- Jonathan Spratt (CT, Ospreys)
- Guy Armitage (CT, Toulon)
- Adam Thompstone (WG, Leicester)
- Delon Armitage (FB, Toulon)
Staff: Toby Booth, Mike Catt, Neil Hatley, Justin Bishop
The last fan preview (apart from mine!) was reserved for the Champeens!
Harlequins by Henry Mitchell (@Henry_Mitchell)
I have been a rugby fan since my schooldays as a quick but not very good winger and later as an equally poor loose forward, but a broken leg at 17 ended all that and now my involvement is limited to supporting our local Premiership club, Harlequins.
In 2007 I persuaded my wife Sue to watch some of the Rugby World Cup with me. After that she wanted to go to a live match, so off we went for a bitterly cold afternoon at The Stoop to see a scruffy mid-table loss to Saracens. There must have been something in it though because we haven’t missed a Quins home game since then!
Players come and go, and this summer we have waved goodbye to seven leavers: Tomas Vallejos (to Scarlets), Benjamin Urdapilletta (to Oyonnax), Chris York (to Newcastle), Richard Bolt (to London Scottish), Aston Croall (unknown), and Ollie Smith and Matt Cairns both retired due to injury.
Quins rarely make big name signings- instead they tend to rely primarily on home-grown talent topped up with a few shrewd low-key signings from both the UK and abroad. This policy continues for 2012-13 with just two outside signings- Dave Ward, a mobile Hooker from Cornish Pirates, and Ben Botica, a versatile Maori 10/12/15 utility back from North Harbour, New Zealand.
The remaining vacancies are being filled internally as in the past, by academy graduates such as Will Collier (Prop), Charlie Matthews (Lock), Sam Stuart (Scrum-half), Charlie Walker (Centre/Wing) and Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Wing).
The senior squad remains at around 37 players (including 13 current or former internationals), plus an academy of 12. Of all these, only 6 are not English or England qualified, and just five are over the age of 30.
Harlequins may have won their first ever Premiership title last May, but 2012-13 is going to be a really testing time for the team. They were lucky to have had relatively few players missing due to injury and international call-ups last season, but this year is likely to be very different and will test the depth of the squad to its limit.
Looking further into the season ahead, an opening game against Wasps at the London Double Header followed by a visit by new-boys London Welsh should make an interesting start. Local rivals London Irish have been chosen as opponents for Big Game 5 at Christmas and Saracens have invited Quins to a Wembley re-match in March. Then a tough last day of the season visit from Northampton Saints. To add to those highlights a Heineken Cup pool that included the mighty Biarritz should contribute to another year of great rugby at The Stoop.
My top four prediction for 2012-13 is Harlequins / Leicester / Saracens / Northampton, but not necessarily in that order!
So thats it as far as individual club reviews go, this is my take on the general season in the Aviva Premiership.
Best 3 signings…
Dom Waldouck to Saints. he is a player i have rated highly for a few years now and he’ll add a touch of finesse and artistry to the Northampton midfield.
Jimmy Cowan to Gloucester. Jimmy is a feisty, sniper at scrum half, and will be a great teacher for Dave Lewis and Dan Robson to learn from
Gavin Henson to London Welsh. well. maybe. this one will divide opinion, bt my view is, he will put bums on seats, no matter how he plays, he maybe a one man soap opera, but if he regains form, he’ll be a top drawer signing!
Best of the up and comers.
Probably no surprises here. Farrell, Wade, Trinder, Ford and May. The development of these 5 will impact on English rugby for years to come. If they all blossom, the English backline will be in VERY good hands! You add these to the likes of Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi et al and you could be looking at a world beating set of backs! In the forwards the likes of Jamie George, Matt Mullan, Graham Kitchener,Henry Thomas etc will be looking to keep pushing their claims for full honours.
How it will finish….
Champs :- Tigers
Top 4:- Tigers, Saracens, Saints and Bath
Relegated:- London Welsh
So thats it for the Aviva.
NOW, RABO fans. I have Munster,Ulster and Blues previews in. These will be printed on Sunday. I would love the rest of the league to be done, but due to work commitments i’ve not been able to chase up, so if you are a fan of a RABO pro12 team, or know someone who is, please send me your thoughts! My email address is Rich_Rugbyunited@mail.com
I am also looking for ANY fans at ANY club to write a piece on their favourite games, their clubs unsung heroes or talismanic players, and basically, any story you have relating back to your club.
I will then try to blog at least one of these a week!