Goodbye Tri Nations, the end of an era!

End of an era: Tri-Nations by Ancia Potgieter (@Ancia08)

Australia, as the current holders of the Tri-Nations trophy, will get to keep it in the cupboard, forever. The reason being, that as from this year, we have the newly formed “Rugby Championship” which means the following teams compete for the brand spanking new trophy: Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Looking back over the years since it’s inception in 1996, the Tri-Nation series was well known for it’s intensity as the competing teams (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) were consistently ranked amongst the top teams on the IRB rankings.

The All Blacks dominated the series from 1996 until South Africa turned the tables on them in 1998. 1999 saw New Zealand once again returning to the winning formula, but in 2000 Australia managed to win it for the first time.

Australia continued their reign as champions, successfully defending the trophy in 2001. Their run came to an end in 2002 when the All Blacks once again managed to snatch the trophy away from the rest of the field. They managed to retain the trophy in 2003, before South Africa managed to win it again in 2004.

In 2005, New Zealand returned to their match-winning ways, and that lasted until 2008. 2009 saw South Africa turning the tables and 2010 New Zealand managed to dominate over the entire series, winning the tournament with 2 games to spare. 2011 saw Australia lift the title for the very last time.

The format for the Rugby Championship will remain the same as for the Tri-Nations with teams playing both home and away games in a double round robin round.

In addition to the Rugby Championship trophy, the winner of games played between Australia and New Zealand also go toward determining the winner of the Bledisloe Cup each year.  Similarly, the Freedom Cup is contested between New Zealand and South Africa, and the Mandela Challenge Plate between Australia and South Africa.

Currently the following records stands (as at the end of the 2011 Tri-Nations tournament), these records will be carried forward into the Rugby Championship competition:

Most points:

462 – Dan Carter (NZL)

Most tries:

16 – Christian Cullen (NZL)

Most points in a match:

31 – Morne Steyn (RSA)

Most tries in a match:

4 – Jongi Nokwe (RSA)

Most caps:

48 – George Gregan (AUS)

The Tri-Nations titles are currently held as follows:

10 – New Zealand

3 – South Africa

3 – Australia

An introduction to Zebre

Another of our fans previews here. Bit of a twist this time as its been written by Trevor Keane (@TrevKeane) who is from Ireland rather than Italia, but never the less, here’s his review of the newly formed Zebre side….

Trevor is one of the people behind @fantasy5live and @snisportsnews, so please check out these twitter pages, or the http://www.fantasy5live.com website!

Italian side Zebre will become the 15th side to play in the Rabodirect Pro12 Celtic league when they take to the field of play against the Newport Gwent Dragons 

 

Zebre will be a direct replacement for Aironi, who had their licence revoked by the Italian Rugby Federation. Zebre, which means Zebra in English, took their name from a Northern Italian touring side and the side will have a predominately Italian feel to it with no fewer than 35 Italians/Neutral Italians in the squad.

 

Mauro Bergamasco and Luciano Orquera are amongst the big names that has elected to join up with team manager Fabio Ongara and they are joined by a host of impressive signings that includes former Waratahs utility back Daniel Halangahu, a three time Super Rugby Grand Final MVP, South African number eight Andries Van Schalkwyk, 53 time capped Italian hooker Carlo Festuccia and South African lock Quintin Geldenhuys all moving to the new franchise.

 

 

The club have also invested in emerging talent with 24-year-old centre Alberto Chiesa, a former Italy U19 captain and 22 year old hooker Andrea Manici, who played with Crociati in the Amlin cup last season also joining the club.

 

The side will be skippered by 32-year-old international Marco Bortolami, capped 94 times by Italy, and the former Gloucester lock was delighted to take the captain’s armband “It is a great opportunity and a privilege to skipper a new team and bring my experience to many new emerging young guys” 

 

“I want to thank the coaching staff for appointing me as captain, it is a new start for all of us and we will make great effort to play our best rugby and to take the opportunities we will have during the season. I’ll do my best to lead the team and be as close as possible to my team-mates while recovering from my injury and I hope to be back on the field later in November”.

 

If their pre season if anything to go by then that “great effort” could make life difficult for the more established sides in the Celtic League. The new side with pre season wins over USAP (33-5), Aurillac (33-24) and a high profile 30-28 win over the Northampton Saints giving the impression that the club won’t be whipping boys during their debut season.

 

The team will play in XXV Aprile Stadium in Parma and with their opening two games in front of their home fans against Irish sides Connacht and Ulster they will be hoping to make a fast start.  The Dragons, Edinburgh and the Glasgow Warriors completes an opening schedule which on paper gives Ongara’s side a chance of getting some early points on the board.

 

The Italians will also play in the Heineken cup this season and have been drawn in a group with Connacht, Biarritz and Harlequins. While it might be too much to expect a newly formed side from becoming the first Italian side to make the knock out stages, Zebre will no doubt make life uncomfortable for a lot of teams.

 

Folklore say’s that Zebra’s got their stripes because two donkey’s wanted an easy life while another tale suggests they got their stripes after a fight with a baboon either way if the Italian side won’t have an easy life and they put up a strong fight as they bid to earn their stripes in the Celtic League and Heineken Cup. 

BEER? I’D PREFER A SPORTS SUPPLEMENT!

THE days when rugby players would finish a tough game on a Saturday and sink ten pints afterwards are slowly disappearing.

Now, a lot of clubs are sacrificing their beer ‘kitties’ and instead asking for the cash to be put towards supplements and recovery drinks.

Coaches are always looking at what gains they can make over the opposition, no matter how small, and supplements and nutrition seems to be the next area on the rise.

National League stalwarts Lydney are the latest to shun the more traditional post-match activities.

Combination Cup kings Coney Hill have also dipped their toes into the protein shake pool recently.

The Metz Way men have changed their after-training menu and introduced recovery drinks to give them an edge over their South West One East rivals.

With the likes of Hill, who are relatively low on the English rugby ladder at level six, it is clear the drops of professionalism are starting to seep their way down from the top.

As a result of this growing trend, a recent graduate of the Gloucestershire rugby production line has started a company to help supply and educate the ever eager masses.

James Markey came through the junior ranks at Longlevens before joining Old Patesians but was forced to retire from playing 18 months ago after injuring his shoulder beyond repair.

His passion for the oval-shaped ball game did not diminish, though, and the 24-year-old decided to put his degree in sports coaching from the University of Gloucestershire to good use.

In July last year he set up Premiere Nutrition, a supplement distribution company based in Gloucester providing products from the ‘Nutrition X’ and ‘Myprotein’ range.

Through his contacts in local rugby and the growing interest in supplements, Markey now supplies Hartpury College, Cinderford, Lydney, Old Patesians, Coney Hill, Gordon League and the University of Gloucestershire.

As a former player himself, Markey knows the benefits that hydration drinks and recovery shakes can have on players’ performances.

He has noticed a big rise in demand for his products in the last 12 months.

He said: “In the last 20 years supplements have really started to move to the forefront in sport.

“Local rugby clubs are now starting to put an emphasis on it and pay more attention to it.

“As the game becomes more physical and the intensity increases and there is a higher risk of injuries, clubs are starting to realise that they could put something in their players’ bodies to help them recover.

“Twenty years ago people played the game and would have had a drink afterwards and it was not thought of to look after your body.

“Now if you go into a club, a great example is Lydney.

“They have subsidies to provide beer after the game and the players have asked that money to go towards supplements instead.

“There are certain positions that you need to be bigger than others and with the switch for an 18-year-old from junior into men’s rugby, size can be a part of it.

“The younger generation look at the way the game is going with the physicality and intensity and more injuries as it becomes more professional and supplements will be in high demand.

“As years go on there will be a higher demand for the products.

“I have read various articles saying the supplements market in the UK is going to grow in 2016.

“They all suggest it will be high demand.

“That is the way it is going. The social side at university was quite a big thing but even in the couple of years I played there, there was big change.

“It started to shift away from going out afterwards to how we prepare for the game.

“Instead of worrying about the social side on a Wednesday night, it was more about getting together on a Tuesday night preparing for a Wednesday game, so I started to see the shift there.”

Markey says that the main problem with supplements is education, with not enough people knowing what is available and how to use it effectively.

As the market grows, he says that so too must the education side of it and he would like to see the game’s authorities get involved.

With pre-season the busiest time of the year, Markey has spent the last few months travelling around to the majority of local clubs explaining the advantages and handing out samples.

But he says that more needs to be done so that people can reap the benefits of what is available to them.

“Throughout my playing when I was younger I would have liked to have had the education and understanding,” he added.

“When I was younger, most people thought it was just about trying to be as big as you can.

“I wish I had been given some workshops or someone had come down and just shed some light on what to do because it is a competitive market.

“There are so any brands out there and if you click on ‘muscle gain’ about ten products appear.

“You don’t know which one to take so people need that little bit of education about which products to get.

“Gloucester have nutritionists to tell their players what products to take.

“I would like to see more education and if it came right form the top like the RFU as a more structured approach then that would be even better.

“Clubs are putting more emphasis on nutrition and equipment and they don’t have the expertise for it.

“As my company grows I hope I will have more access to more experts and I hope I can get them to come to these rugby clubs and book out a lecture rooms and provide the basics.

“I want to see Gloucestershire sport do well and if I can help that with my resources and my time I hope people can succeed.”

For more information on Premierie Nutrition go to www.premierenutrition.co.uk or contact Markey on 07969 611151.

Munster, Ulster and Cardiff season previews…

Well, i was hoping to have a full set of RABO pro 12 fans season previews, the same as we had for the Aviva premiership, but a mixture of my job having ridiculous hours, a lack of volunteers to write,the summer holiday period and some promised pieces that were never sent has meant i only have 3 at my disposal.

In fairness to the three people that have sent me their season previews, i have decided, as promised, to blog them this evening, and also so i can say thank you to the guys for taking the time to contribute.

The first is written by David Cogan (@DavidCoganRugby) and is all about (one of my personal favourite rugby teams) Munster.

Munster's pursuit of rugby glory has been long, sometimes heartbreaking, but often inspiring. The seeds for their ascent into the pantheon of great teams were sown long before Munster's current success, built on the reputation as fearsome opponents to succesuve southern hemisphere teams. The victory over the All Blacks by 12 - 0 in Thomond Park on 31st of October 1978 will never be forgotten by the All Blacks and Munster fans! 

Every season Munster don't win a trophy the fans consider it as a failure! There are only two trophies in European rugby to win! The season could have been a disaster if Ronan O' Gara didn't score two injury time drop goals in their two opening Heineken Cup games between Northampton and Castres! Munster supporters consider this season to be a disaster. I however disagree! Munster arguably had the toughest pool in the Heineken Cup this year which they topped by winning all of their 6 matches! For a team going through a transitional period that is pretty impressive. Munster was cursed with injuries and retirements throughout the 2011 - 2012 season. But despite my defence to the team under the cracks there were serious problems. Many hid behind the fact that Munster had a serious problem with their attack. That could have been discovered earlier if Munster lost their two opening Heineken Cup matches. A defeat to Aironi showed how poor Munster's attack was and many including myself blamed the loss due to absent international players. Connacht also nearly beat Munster this season but their defence in the end saved them. The problem was finally highlighted when Munster lost their second game in Thomond Park to Ulster in the Heineken Cup. Statistics showed that Munster had 90 per cent terrtiory and possesion but that wasn't used. During this time Tony Mc Gahan was offered defence coach with the Wallabies and Axel Foley was favorite to get the big Munster job of head coach. Had Munster won that quarter final I think Foley would have got the job but a lot of doom and gloom around at the time of that loss. Change was needed.

The appointment of Rob Penney excited Munster fans with his good track record. I personally wanted Munster to end their season on a low. And I was delighted for Ospreys to hammer Munster 45 - 10 as I didn't want to see Munster problems brushed under the carpet.

What is the future?
Some say Munster have never recovered form their Heineken Cup Semi final defeat to Leinster in Croke Park 2009! Munster struggle to compete with Leinster at the moment but I'm sure they will meet them in the Heineken Cup this year. Leinster are at their peak but this won't last for ever. Tony Mc Gahan hasn't left Munster in a complete disaster with all the young players he's blooded. This Munster side believe or not is young. I'm excited about this coming season 2012/2013 I think Rob Penney will recreate Munster to the side we saw in four Heineken Cup finals. Many think it will take years for Munster to peak agains. I disagree. I'm optimistic. Munster just fell short of winning trophies this year so it can't be that hard. My prediction this year is for Munster to reach the Heineken Cup final in the Aviva Stadium, finnish second place on the Rabo Direct Pro 12 League and possibly qualify for the final!

This article was written by David Cogan. You may remember I hosted the #irsihquiz on #rugbyUnited I'm the founding member of Irish Rugby Supporters Club so give us a like at http://m.facebook.com/irishrubysc?_rdr We are trying to get as much likes as possible. You can also follow me on my new twitter account @davidcoganrugby.

The second i received is by Rhys Thomas (@RhysThomas95) and is about Cardiff 
Blues

Widespread change has happened at the Blues, seven players have been brought in, and a new head coach in Phil Davies. Last season they finished seventh in the Pro12, and got to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, where they were comprehensively beaten by Leinster. They’ve lost some of the best players in the world, and haven’t been able to replace like with like. Gethin Jenkins is being replaced by Campese Ma’afu, and others like Robin Copeland and Rob Lewis have been brought in. They don’t have experience of top-level Rugby, and that is worrying for the Blues.

A return to Cardiff Arms Park is happening, a move popular amongst the fans that will hopefully galvanise people to watch the Blues. The three seasons spent at Cardiff City Stadium saw average attendances actually go up, although the atmosphere was poor in the 27,000 seater Football stadium.

There is a pre-season tour to South Africa, and this will be a chance for Phil Davies to assess his new charges and build a team ethos, which will be crucial, given the quality of the squad – consistency will be the key. Davies’ defence coach will be Xavier Rush – a Blues stalwart but someone with no coaching experience, another worrying sign, especially as he isn’t even a young Welsh coach.

It’s a fresh start for the team, and that’s why it’s hard to predict how they will get on next term. I’m predicting  a 6th place finish in the Pro12 and a 2ndplace finish in the Heineken Cup pool, with the team then dropping down to the Amlin Challenge Cup. If they achieve anything more than that I believe it will be a considerable achievement, but I think the Pro12 play-offs and Heineken quarter-finals are steps too far at this stage.

By Rhys Thomas – Cardiff Blues supporter from Birmingham aged 16. I run a Rugby blog, walesrugby.org.uk

Twitter – @rhysthomas95

The third and final preview is about Ulster and is written by Adam McKendry (@Ulsterman_Adam)

ULSTER 2012/13 SEASON

 

After arguably one of their most successful seasons in the professional era in 2011/12, the pressure will be firmly on Ulster to recreate that success this season…

New faces

  • Mark Anscombe – The most notable arrival in Belfast, the former New Zealand U20s coach has taken over the reigns at Ravenhill, replacing Brian McLaughlin who will take up a position in the Academy. When the announcement was made, a few eyebrows were raised at the name, but he will no doubt step into the role with confidence, hoping to steer Ulster to success.
  • Tommy Bowe – Need I introduce him? Left Ulster to join the Ospreys in 2008, but comes back to the country of his birth in search of the Heineken Cup title that eluded him in Wales. Will battle it out with Craig Gilroy for a first team spot.
  • Roger Wilson – A familiar face in Belfast, Wilson left Ulster in 2008 to join the Northampton Saints. After three successful years there, Wilson returns in great form hoping to pin down a first team place once more.
  • Niall O’Connor – Another returning player, O’Connor left Ulster last summer to join provincial rivals Connacht. After missing a good bit of the season with a head injury, it was announced he would return to his home for this season, despite not being the most popular guy with the Ulster faithful.
  • Nick Williams – Hard hitting Kiwi who has joined from the now disbanded Aironi on a two year deal. Previously with Munster, Williams will add well needed depth and experience to the squad for their Pro12 ambitions.
  • Michael Heaney – Only signed on a 4 month deal to replace Ruan Pienaar while he is away on Springbok duty. Another returning face, Heaney also left last season to join the Doncaster Knights in England’s second tier.
  • Sean Doyle – Australian flanker who will provide depth in the back row. Arrives from Southern Districts.
  • Rob Herring – Australian hooker who again will provide depth in the front row. Arrives from Western Province.

Say farewell, but not goodbye

  • Pedrie Wannenburg – The subtitle rings true for Pedrie who moves to Castres in France. Coincidentally, Ulster face Castres in the Heineken Cup pool stages, so he will be making a return to Ravenhill a lot sooner than expected!
  • Ian Humphreys – Humphreys is away to the Madejski Stadium to play for London Irish after a disappointing 2011/12 season, which included losing his place to Paddy Jackson for the Heineken Cup final.
  • Willie Faloon – Faloon moves west to Connacht in an attempt to get more first team rugby, despite featuring a lot for Ulster last season
  • Andi Kyriacou – Kyriacou heads to the Cardiff Blues after a falling out with the staff at Ravenhill due to an off-field incident.
  • Ian Whitten – Whitten joins the rising Exeter Chiefs in an attempt to get more first team rugby as well
  • Simon Danielli, Tim Barker, Stefan Terblanche – All retiring after successful careers

 

Key players

  • Ruan Pienaar – The Springbok hero has become an Ulster legend over the last two years, and the signing of a new contract at Ravenhill has only increased his popularity. But can he keep up the form he has shown the last two seasons?
  • Stephen Ferris – Combine a mountain and a bulldozer and you get Stephen Ferris. The bruising Ireland star is in the form of his life and is enjoying his rugby. The only problem is his consistent injury worries. Will they trouble him this year?
  • Jared Payne – Ruled out for all of last season with an Achilles injury, it will be like Ulster are signing a new player for this season, and the fans are eagerly awaiting what they missed last year.

 

Watch out for…

  • Paddy Jackson – Last year he was ‘thrown in at the deep end’ so to say, and therefore we didn’t get to see his full potential. This season we will see what the fuss about this kid is really about, and if he really can make it…

 

How will we do?

  • In the RaboDirect PRO12, there is talk that Ulster will be looking to use it to blood some of their younger players – the likes of Ali Birch, Iain Henderson and Chris Cochrane. This is expected to be true. However, should the opportunity arise later in the season, they will look to push for the play-offs. Realistically, finishing in the top 6 while rotating the squad significantly will be a success.
  • In the Heineken Cup, Ulster will be looking to emulate last season’s success, and potentially even go one better than last year. Certainly they will be hoping to qualify first from their pool for the first time and secure a home quarter-final.

If any fans from other RABOpro 12 sides would like to write their season preview, i will blog all of them, simply email them to Rich_Rugbyunited@mail.com and i apologise for my role in not getting a full compliment of previews for the league, hopefully we will get a few more!

RC_K

Aviva Premiership fans Previews….the final chapter!

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.

Predicitions

AP Champions: Tigers
Relegated: London Welsh
LV Cup: Chiefs
Heineken Cup: Clermont
Amlin: Ulster

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

Vince

(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)

 

 

London Irish

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.

In 

Players:

  • 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

 

Out

Players:

  • 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!

cheers!

RC_K

 

 

 

Aviva Premiership Fans Preview….. Part 3!

Its the third part now, you know the drill….

Exeter Chiefs by Bobby Dyer (@BidefordDyer)

Exeter Chiefs – Another new competition!

This season will see the chiefs take their first outing in the prestigious Heineken Cup, a competition regarded by most as the best in world rugby. They have been given no favours and I believe they face the toughest group against current holders Leinster, last season’s semi-finalist Clermont and experienced Welsh side the Scarlet’s. As always with Exeter I expect Baxter’s men to take each game as it comes, similar to their first ever premiership match Exeter could pull off some surprises. I am in the process of saving to watch their new pink, yes pink kit run out in Dublin.

The way Exeter have been developing and their continued growth on and off the field is something to be applauded. Last season they were involved in a battle for fourth place against Northampton and I am sure they will look to continue to develop this year. However from a fan ‘ s point of view I have to be realistic and note that other teams such as Bath, Gloucester and London Irish will be looking at the table and believing they can finish above us in the league.

The on field growth has seen the Chiefs able to make the signing of Dean Mumm from the Waratahs in Australia; a player who has achieved over 30 caps at international level, although he will not arrive until the season is well underway. He truly is a class player with a huge hand off (see youtube for the evidence) and I feel that his athletic ability and excellent jumping will help steady up our lineout on a par with our awesome scrum. Other signings have included the experienced Kai Horstman who was released from Worcester, Ian Whitten from Ireland and Carl Rimmer from the Cornish Pirates who impressed me in the Championship playoffs against London Welsh. Fans favourite Bryan Rennie has left for Bristol and I am sure they will enjoy his hard tackling in the midfield. Gonzalo Camacho has been included in the Argentina squad for the new rugby championship and will not be around until the end of October. Gonzo has been a breath of fresh air, and along with Matt Jess I enjoyed watching two wingers that genuinely wanted the ball and wanted to get over the gain line.

Saracens, Part 2! by Alun Morgan (@Gryfffez)

SARACENS PREVIEW 2012/13

I have been supporting Saracens for about 10 years having been introduced to them following an initiative at my daughter’s school. Always rugby mad watching and playing I had previously focussed on Welsh rugby but I soon fell in love with The Men in Black. At that time and for a number of years Sarries were seen as perennial underachievers bringing in World class players like Thomas Castaignede, Taine Randell, Chris Jack etc but whilst being capable of beating any team on their day more often or not losing. As such losing became a Sarries way of life but all that was to change.

Started firstly by Alan Gaffney when Sarries were unlucky to lose a Heinekin semi to Munster and then Eddie Jones a winning regime started to emerge but the major change came in spring 2009 when guided by Brendan Venter who was to take over as coach for the next season there was a mass exodus of 17 players being replaced by a mixture of hardened professionals with a South African flavour. The rest is history against the odds a first Premiership final in 2009/10 widely thought to be the best final was lost to Leicester but the following season a first title was gained after a stoic 9 minutes of injury time defence against Leicester again. Last season saw Saracens again make the Premiership playoffs and a quarter final in the Heinekin.

Three years of success has therefore had to lead to a change in the mindset of Sarries supporters and this has not been easy. For me expecting to win each match is a much more intense experience than hoping to win but expecting to lose! So what does the 2012/13 season hold for Saracens.

Well firstly after some 137 years of a nomadic existence the club will have a home in Barnet Copthall Stadium which is being built as I type. The first match is scheduled to be against Exeter on 16th February 2013. The stadium will hold 10,000 and it is hoped will provide a great spectator experience from the extra width seating and four screens to the open spaces and bars. It is scheduled that the last 5 matches of the season, excluding play offs will be played at Copthall.

However, as much as Saracens have changed on the field in last few seasons so has their off field team led by the Chief Executive Edward Griffiths. So it won’t be a straightforward 11 games at Watford and 5 at Copthall. We were advised at a series of fans forums that only 2 matches would be played at Watford but the football clubs change of ownership has altered the situation slightly.

The Saracens season ticket now covers 14 (yes 14) matches made up of the double header at Twickenham, Leicester at Wembley, 5 matches at Watford, 5 at Copthall, the new Years match against Northampton at Milton Keynes and the Heinekin match against Munster at a well-known Central London Venue (the Evening Standard is guessing Craven Cottage). So there are 2 remaining matches being the Heinekin matches against Edinburgh and Racing Metro for which the only details are they are not part of the Season Ticket and will be played farther afield. I would bet my house on one in Cape Town, the other well your guess is as good as mine it could be Southend or Hong Kong or Dubai or New York or the Olympic Stadium.

So back to matters on the pitch and changes in personnel. Out go Hugh Vyvyan A Sarries legend renowned for being able to start a scrap in a room on his own and a 45 year drop goal against Biarritz which earned Steve Diamonds wrath, Hayden Smith to NFL, Michael Tagicakibau and a couple of Academy players. Again it is off field that the major change has come for Sarries with Andy Farrell reversing his original decision and join Stuart Lancaster’s England setup. Andy has not yet been replaced as head coach but Kevin Sorrell, a Sarries stalwart, has been appointed backs coach. It was generally thought last year that Sarries inability to score tries hurt them despite the superbly organised defence and kick game. Will Sorrell be able to ignite the Saracens backline, which appear to have the talent?

Key to this task will be Sarries major signing for the season Chris Ashton. A proven try scorer few can see him being happy with a kick chase game so it is hoped that his appetite for the game will be reignited by the move and in turn he will be the catalyst to a change in the Sarries game plan. He is joined at Sarries by Alistair Hargreaves a 4 cap, 6ft 6 Springbok from the Sharks, Lorenzo Romano a young just capped Italian prop and Nick Fenton-Wells a flanker from the Stormers. It appears gone are the days of mass in and outs at Sarries with team bonding and a family ethic now to the fore.

Sarries fortunes for 2012/13 could be heavily affected by International call-ups. This is a strange thing for a Saracens supporter as we have spent years moaning that our players weren’t getting picked and now having to suffer quietly because they are! The EPS and Saxons squad had a 6 & 2 split of Sarries players and if they are all used would mean Sarries would lose as well as Botha and Stevens a backline of

Wigglesworth,

Farrell

Strettle

Barritt

Ashton

Goode

In addition to these 8 we are also likely to lose Kelly Brown & Rhys Gill.

However, Saracens have built up a strong squad over the last few years and also a feature of the last couple of years has been how young players have stepped up when needed in particular Owen Farrell, Ben Spencer, Jackson Wray, George Kruis, Will Fraser and Jamie George. The international retirement of Charlie Hodgson gives Sarries an excellent general to lead the backline through these call-ups.

As with any club injuries could also affect the season. Last year firstly a scrum half crisis hit followed by a backrow curse. Jacques Burger thought by many as our most influential player will still be out until Xmas as will Justin Melck. However, again the squad seems to have taken these knocks in their stride. No one knows what injuries will occur in the new season but Sarries seem well able to cope.

My friend Ben has also written a preview which excellently covers Saracens needs for an effective centre partnership and particularly an outside centre and the hopes that Joel Tomkins who signed from Wigan rugby league last year will fill this gap. He has also looked at the players that need to step up for Saracens next season.

So the 2012/13 season will see major upheavals for Saracens off the pitch with the new grounds, the variety of grounds and the loss of Andy Farrell but what this current Saracens team appear to do is thrive when challenged. We will be one of the teams to beat and making the play offs will be seen as a minimum target and should be attainable. With regards the Heinekin cup we have a difficult group but I think we will make the quarters again. Whether the team has developed with the front five holding their own or starting to dominate class opposition and the backline creating and taking chances is a tough call but Sarries have the men to do it.

The Premiership is looking stringer this season with Saints, Tigers, Quins and Sarries being challenged by Gloucester, Sale and Bath maybe a resurgent Irish and will Exeter continue their triumphal journey. I feel it could be the closest Premiership for quite some time and the scrap for play off places and Heinekin qualification will be fierce. We have been told there is a 5 year plan this is year 4 I can’t see Saracens taking a backward step

Lastly for this Part, Premiership newcomers London Welsh, Written by Nye Jayne and Jamie Abbott (@NyeJayne and @Abbot_Jamie)

Jamie is a proud Englishman who is happy to lend his support to London Welsh as they embody such a traditional aspect of rugby heritage, play such an attractive brand of rugby and play just one tube stop from home, despite signing Gavin Henson.
Nye: a vocal member of the Old Deer Park crowd (his commited shout of “every time” following the first mistake in a game is commendable) he is bound to be a hit at many premiership grounds, although his love of Gavin Henson and all that can be explained as “he’s the George Best of rugby” is slightly worrying.

Key men:

Gavin Henson and Jon Mills

GH: Potentially the signing of the season in top-level rugby. If he gets on to the pitch 15 times this season he has the potential to change games and draw in much needed publicity and ticket sales. Equally as likely is another chapter in the most written about rugby career since the advent of professionalism.

JM: Led the team from the front all of last season, has experience at the top level and could provide the support and leadership for what is likely to be a lightweight and inexperienced pack.

Signings:

Following the successful appeal, Welsh were left with two weeks to recruit players before pre-season. Original intentions were to sign eight top level players to provide quality and experience, now the signs are that Lyn Jones will be happy with five marquee signings. Keyte and Arscott are examples of the club’s intention to invest in a young squad with huge potential and having a coach of Lyn Jones’ caliber should attract more hungry players. Top-level experience has been brought in in the shape of Henson and Parker, but fans will want more signings to beef up the options in the tight five as this has been an area requiring significant development.

Departures:

A raft of Championship level squad players have already departed and with the step up in quality a lot will not be missed. The man whose absence will be most keenly felt at the Kassam will be Rob Lewis who came to the fore towards the end of the season to help Welsh on the way to promotion.

Chances/predictions:

The key ambition is survival. Realistically to do this Welsh will have to win seven games, and if drawn into the famous Aviva scrummage and forward arm-wrestles, then Welsh could struggle. Where those seven wins are likely to come from is a little trickier to see. The style of rugby that Welsh showed in the second half of an attritional Championship campaign could shock some teams in the Premiership.  This attacking ability will offer a breath of fresh air in the shape of free flowing expansive rugby that could win hearts and minds both in Oxfordshire and beyond.  Even if there is success on the field, Welsh need to ensure that they establish a loyal, local support in Oxford who will provide financial stability in the years to come.

So by my maths, that now leaves Saints, Tigers, reigning Champions Harelquins (whatever happened to the catchy NEC Harlequins of London monicker!!!) and London Irish

I will hopefully add a brief synopsis of how i personally think the season will go, who i think the key men will be and the best signings i think have been made all across the league.

The 4th and final part of the Aviva prem previews will be blogged on Sunday. I am then hoping that i will be able to start the RABO pro12 previews straight after! I so far have Munster, Blues and Ulster received, and have been promised Scarlets, Ospreys and believe it or not, Zebre previews, so if there are any Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leinster, Connacht , Treviso or Dragons fans, or anyone willing to write IMPARTIALLY about any of the teams, please forward them on to me at Rich_Rugbyunited@mail.com ASAP!

Aviva Premiership fans season preview….Part II!

So as promised….here comes part 2!

again its in order of how they came to my inbox….

First up….

Worcester Warriors by Phill Mason (@Phill_Mason)

Worcester Warriors are My team and no matter what any other fans think, I support the best team in the premiership.  We may not have the best players, win the most games or have the biggest of trophy cabinets, but they are the best team because I love watching them and I can walk to the ground within 20 minutes of leaving my house.  Does this mean I am entitled to have an opinion on My team? Yes.  Does it mean my opinion is right? Most definitely not; but I am going to give my “2 pence worth” now regardless.

Looking over the recent past of the club we have endured some major changes in every respect except for our owner.  Lucky for us Cecil has stayed true to his word and backed a succession of managers when needed.  This rein, under Richard Hill is a little different.  We are not spending big bucks on “mature” players or players of note, we are developing the back room adding names like Phil Larder and Phil Vickery and job titles like strength and conditioning or attack coach, bringing through talent and signing key players, with the experience to balance out the raw and up and coming talent that is present.

On the face of it we lost some major contributors to both our Championship winning team and our premiership survival team: Tom Arscott, Adam Balding, Miles Benjamin, Alex Crockett, Chris Fortey, Marcel Garvey, Ben Gulliver, Kai Horstmann, Mike Penn, Oliver Tomaszczyk, Dale Rasmussen, Ezra Taylor, Bruce Douglas, Sione Tu’ipulotu.  I feel the key leavers, or maybe biggest losses will be Marcel Garvey and Dale Rasmussen, though for different reasons.  It is also worth noting, at this point, that we have reduced our academy to 12 players.  The official line is to ensure we concentrate on the best of the best.  Only time will tell if this was a good idea.

Our incoming players, though less in numbers, have an opportunity to make a big impact on the team: Jon Clarke, Paul Hodgson, Rob O’Donnell, Dean Schofield, Josh Matevasi, John Andress, David Lemi, Nikki Walker, Semisi Taulava.  We have signed some very experienced players, in some key areas.  For this article I am going to concentrate on one of the key exchanges; David Lemi in for Marcel Garvey.

Marcel Garvey came to Worcester in 2006 and to be fair to him he wasn’t in the best of form.  He was one of those signings that a lot of fans didn’t really take to or get excited about, but he certainly managed to turn that around and so much so he will now be one of the most missed players when the 2012/13 season kicks off. Castres Olympique have signed themselves a workhorse of a winger; Faster than most on the pitch, stronger than most and the pitch and certainly smaller than most on the pitch.  He offered almost as much in defense as in attack, especially in the championship.  125 games, 46 tries and 230 points says enough about his contribution in blue and gold.  Seemingly his like for like replacement is David Lemi.  Signed from Glasgow Warriors where he has not had the greatest of seasons to be honest.  10 games played and no points scored, on paper does not sound like a player you want coming into a team that struggled to score 23 tries last season with no try bonus points.  Lucky for us Warrior fans, as captain of Samoa in the recent Pacific Nations Cup Lemi not only led his side to winning the tournament he elevated himself above Hosea Gear as the all time leading try scorer, with 3 tries this competition taking him to 9 in total.  It would appear that this out of form, maybe out of favour, at club level, winger has found his feet just in time to replace, the irreplaceable Marcel Garvey for the 2012 / 13 Premiership season.  I feel only time and fitness will tell.

Going into the season obviously the performance of our new wing lineup of Walker and Lemi could be key and the new centre pairing of Alex Grove and Jon Clarke could be telling but I feel the main players to watch will be Matt Mullan, in the front row, James Percival in the second row and Matt Kvesic in the back row.  If these players perform even equally as well as last season then adding Big Dave, Dean Schofield, Jake Abbott and Neil Best to mix lines up a very handy pack for the coming season.  Young players on the edge of the first team that will make an impact next season are hooker Ollie Hayes, front row George Porter and centre Andy Short.

As referred to earlier there has been a change in the academy set-up but key names for next season will be front row James Currie and wing Josh Watkins.

There are so many players I have not mentioned, that based on sparks of performance last season and new battles in key positions such as Claassens vs Pennell for full back, Cowan vs Taulava at 8, Hodgson vs Perry or Arr for 9, Goode vs Carlisle at 10 or even Betty vs Best for 6 the list goes on and for this reason I think we have a great chance to improve on last season and I would stick my neck out and say 7th place would be a good finish, though this is based on the intention for the club to elevate to 6th or better the following season.

As a parting gesture, if you were to ask me who our best signing has been ahead of the 2012/13 season my response would be instantaneous and concise – Phil Vickery!  When Matt Mullan plays well there is no stopping him and Vickery can only help.  It also means that we have two world cup winners in the dressing room, you cannot buy experience like that.

And next up….

Them ‘orrible, tweed wearing posho’s from the Rec! Bath!

Matthew Price (@BathBytes)

Here comes the Aviva premiership 2012/13 season meaning only one thing- how have last years sides evolved?

The McGeechan regime slowly faltered and reduced Bath from potential league toppers to a mediocre side. For this reason Bruce Craig and Nick Blofeld have crafted what they believe to be a top coaching department to bring Bath back from obscurity and into the pinnacle. They’ve Gary Gold Mike Ford from Falcons, where their interim coaching period almost salvaged them from relegation. Taking Falcons from 13pts in obscurity to nearly pipping Wasps and sending them spiraling down to the championship. Toby Booth and Neal Hatley have been drafted in from London Irish to add another couple of scalps to the mix. Booth has spent the last 10 year’s with Irish moving from academy coach up to first team coach in 2008. He has developed Irish through some of their more successful times. Hatley a former exile prop moved on to become the academy coach and also developing the first 15 forwards. They are also joined by last year’s first-team coach Brad Davis making a solid five man coaching regime. Now with the pre-season training in full flow between them they will try to implement a new standard to be displayed on the Rec. With a handful of players now returned from international duties we wait to find out how the squad has evolved.

For the Blue, Black and White Faithful this brings a new sense of hope. After a particularly shakey campaign last season the hopes and aspirations of Bath rugby fans brings a new belief to their hearts.

With the pre-season training getting into swing the knowledge that very soon we get to see the ‘New Beginning’ for Bath. The loss of four retirees from last season in the the forms of Moody, Beattie, Bell and Flatman a small draft of players has been brought to the the Rec. Also the loss of winger Matt Carrero and hooker Pieter Dixon a void of players has been needed filling. Filling those voids are just a hand full of new boys draughted in to hit a new dimension.
Paul James has opted for the switch over the Severn leaving his 9yrs run at Osprays to join the front row at Bath. A strong powerful prop massing 38 caps for Wales to date will bring experience to help develop players such as Catt and Beech.
Rob Webber moving from Wasps also helps bring a strength to the front row. As Lee Mears announced his international career Webber has now been announced as an EPS squad member. With six Saxon and three EPS caps to his name joining Mears brings a strong Hooking combination.
Horacio Agulla has swapped his Tiger stripes for the Blue, Black and White hoops. Agulla will miss the early stages of the season on international duties with Argentina in the new four nations tournament. Five years playing under the amateur rules in Argentina saw him move to European rugby, in the last five years he’s been at Dax, Brive and the Tigers massing 91points in 60 appearances. Strength and pace on the wing joining Biggs’ pace should help to bring a bounty of tries to the Rec.
The final of the four signings is Scarlets lock Dominic Day. Welsh U19 and U20’s player with his strength and size will aid the second row boys, the ever present Caldwell, Attwood and Hooper. A second row that has been the one major force in Bath’s last season.

In just a little more than a few weeks until the ‘New look’ Bath is unleashed for our viewing pleasure for the pre-season warm up matches. A particularly welsh feeling about the fixtures they should be a good and varied levels and standards to challenge the team. The first challenge to take on the championship winners London Welsh will be no mean feat. Welsh who rightly won the playoffs and entitlement to premiership rugby are being denied their place in the top flight will want to prove a point and show the RFU they are able to mix it with the big guns. The other two fixtures will come in the form of Osprays and Cardiff Blues. Two teams who form a strong stance in Welsh rugby. Any Anglo/Welsh fixture will always be a hard fought bout, as both nations always wish to show they’re the dominant force. Three big challenges to brace Bath Rugby for the impending Season and hopefully allow them to hit the campaign running.

Once the pre-season fixtures are done and dusted Bath rugby will get their season under way with a jaunt up to Sixways to face off against Worsceter Warriors in the season opener. Many will see Warriors as a good opener for Bath as they finished 10th last season and had a more intermittent time than Bath. But as many Bath fans will remember one of the low lights from last year was the away fixture to Warriors. Sixways was not a pleasant occasion as Bath went down 16-7 and showed possibly there poorest displays of the season. Following the warriors Bath face Wasps back home at the Rec. Wasps had a torrid season last year and narrowly scrapped free of the drop. As Bath have Wasps have draughted in some new players and strengthened their side, Wasps may well be a harder challenge than last year and will have a far better showing than the previous campaign.

This year potentially Bath have a strong Chance of finishing top four or possibly 5th or 6th. If they get a good run in and get their tails up the moral will aid their forward momentum. A hard finish to the season with a final three games against Quins, Tigers and finishing off against Sarries could decide their final resting place in the table, although if the hard graft is done too much damage could be avoided. The calibre of players and given the right direction by Gold and co could see a strong term from Bath, so watch this space.

Last but not least, for this volume, its the first of 2 previews for Saracens! (2 people offered to write them, and i promised i’d print both, so 1 this week and 1 next!)

Ben Ireland (@BenIreland3)

Incoming: Chris Ashton (Northampton), Alistair Hargreaves (Natal), Nick Fenton-Wells (Western Province), Lorenzo Romano (Aironi)

Outgoing: Hugh Vyvyan (retired), Hayden Smith (New York Jets), Michael Tagicakibau, Marcus Watson (England Saxons)

Preview:

One Premiership trophy, two finals, three top 4 finishes; and a home quarter final in the Heineken Cup. On the face of it, Sarries have had a pretty rose few years - and compared to the mediocrity that preceded them, we certainly have.

However, there are various problems beginning to emerge, making this 2012-13 season absolutely crucial in the squad's development. For a long time, a gameplan based on territory and rock-solid defence was enough to dominate the English game. It was always known that this gameplan would have to be expanded to compete with Europe's best - but the resurgence of Leicester and Quins makes this expansion all the more urgent.

Perhaps the most interesting off-season change for Sarries is the departure of backs coach, Andy Farrell, to England. Kevin Sorrell, the club's midfield stalwart in an era of disloyalty and constant change, is his replacement - he is now charged with rejuvenating a backline with unquestionable attacking danger. Firstly, there is the usual combination of fiery distribution (De Kock & Hodgson) and good finishers (Short). But in this age of defensive line speed and organisation, attack is no longer a question of chucking the ball out to the wing. Sarries' combination of players who can offload (Brits, Joubert, Barritt, Goode) and those who can pick great running lines (Strettle, Wyles, Saull) will stand them in good stead to pick holes in tight defences. 

Two new additions to the squad emphasise this approach: Joel Tomkins and Chris Ashton. While Tomkins has been at the club for half a season, his involvement has been confined to the training field, learning the basics and systems of Union after a career at Wigan Warriors. He will now link up with his old close teammate Ashton - and hopefully, the offloading ability of the former and the famed ability of the latter to pick superb running lines will see them link up over and over again on the pitch in the course of the season.

Of course, what this attacking game also hinges on - as usual - is the proficiency of the forward pack. In the back row, young Capetonian prospect Nick Fenton-Wells will provide injury cover for Burger, Melck, Saull and Brown. With the rapid emergence of Jackson Wray as a first-team player as well, it should be business as usual at the breakdown for Sarries. 

The second row has undergone some change, Hayden Smith leaving in a high-profile switch to NFL and the great Hugh Vyvyan retiring after many years of tireless service. Luckily, replacements are on hand. George Kruis will take over Smith's role as a high tackle count, high impact defender - and in doing so he will be looking to get onto Stuart Lancaster's radar. Springbok Alistair Hargreaves will compensate for the loss of Vyvyan's experience - and up-and-coming prospect Tom Jubb will ensure that we STILL have the tallest ginger in the league!! Under Borthwick's guidance the lineout has always been an area of strength for Sarries; and under the work ethic instilled by Brendan Venter, our second rows have always been tireless workhorses in defence.

The front row, finally, has been bolstered by the arrival of Italian Lorenzo Romano, a long-term replacement for his ageing compatriot Carlos Nieto. With Rhys Gill enjoying a stellar season last year, and several young English talents coming through (Vunipola, Saunders, Spurling) this could potentially be an area of strength for Sarries - although work still needs doing on the set scrum. And of course, the happiest and probably the most-loved player in the Premiership, Schalk Brits, will be irrepressible as ever in the loose.

Overall, I think that if this new attacking game can click - and the defensive patterns of the last three years are not forgotten - Sarries have the squad to be very successful both domestically and in Europe. If you pushed me for a prediction, it would be 2nd in the Premiership table, and a Heineken Cup Semi-Final.

Big seasons for:

Owen Farrell - still 20, he has already experienced the highs and lows of the roller coaster of international rugby. From the hero of the Six Nations, to being dropped for his lack of attacking threat. His work in defence, his goal kicking and his iron composure are not in question. To develop into a more complete fly-half (and that is his position), he simply needs to learn from Hodgson and Goode around him. He needs an extra yard of pace so he can threaten a defender, and the confidence to attack the gain line before releasing his pass. I have little doubt that, left to his own devices, he could improve these areas of his game. But the media spotlight is less forgiving, making this season crucial in the development of this young prodigy.

Brad Barritt - lost his place in the England midfield due to injury, and unaided by the assumption that he is no more than a tackle machine. Hopefully a freer Sarries gameplan will allow him to show the distribution skills (offloading and wide passing) that were so evident in the first half of 2010.

Adam Powell - potentially the next big thing for England's midfield until some nasty injuries cut back his progression. Growing as a defensive organiser last season, he may be another beneficiary of the new Sarries game - he has the feet and quick acceleration to cause problems for any defence.

Jamie George - overlooked by Lancaster for both elite squads, he needs to force his way into some more game time. His work in defence and at the breakdown is superb, but he needs to improve at both set pieces.

One to watch:

Joel Tomkins - asked recently to consider my dream signing for Sarries next season, the name that jumped out at me was Robbie Freuan. The Cantabrian can hurt defences with power, pace and direct running, and his offloading game is excellent. He is the player that Tomkins could become - and if so, Sarries have the last piece of their attacking jigsaw sorted. A defining season ahead...

That'll do ya for now! part III on wednesday!

RC_K

Aviva Premiership Fans Season previews…. Number 1….

I had the idea for a fans preview a long time ago. I'm always interested to see what various club fans think their club is capable of acheiving. Basically because it proves that all rugby fans are as one eyed as us shedheads!
So in no particular order (or the order in which they were received!)
The very first part of the very first #rugbyunited Fan season preview goes to.....
Wasps..... 
By Stephen Carey (@CareyWaspie) London Wasps fanatic, Food & Beverage Operations Manager, London Wasps    fanatic, Arsenal fan , music fan oh and .......London Wasps fanatic
Thanks to Tom Varndell's fantastic hit on Vesty at the Rec we as a club are now looking to a very bright  future!

From the jaws of administration and relegation we are now looking forward to a more secure future off     field and to welcoming James Haskell and Tom Palmer back into the fold.

Dai Young has expressed his delight in being able to get a full pre season in with the squad this time    around and ensuring that we don't suffer the same injury problems as last term.
The mood among the WaspsFamily is very positive!
Wasps fans are going to be much more vocal in driving the team on.
We feel we will be challenging this year.
We feel we will be fulfilling our image as Pests this year.
We know that life will be very uncomfortable this season for the opposition when the boys in Black and    Gold take to the field!

The second preview i received was from....

Gloucester
By Ben Mumford (@BennyCTFC)
Im Ben 16 years old and I will be previewing Gloucester rugbys chances this season. I am an ever optimistic Gloucester fan and have been watching the Cherry and Whites for 10 years now and will be doing so again this season. In that time there have been many highs and many lows. The upcoming season promises to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable.
           Its been a summer of change at kingsholm including a new coach. After the confusion and anger at the departure of Bryan Redpath he has been replaced by the experienced Llanelli Scarlets coach Nigel Davies. This seems to be an exciting appointment as Davies is known to bring the best out of youth and in his time at Scarlets he unearethed new talent such as George North and Jonanthan Davies. The kingsholm faithful will be hoping he can do the same with Gloucesters talented youngsters such as Jonny May, Freddie Burns and Henry Trinder. Davies has also added  the coup of Mike Tindall to the coaching staff as the backs coach with a player/coach contract and Karl Hogg is expected to retain the Forwards coach position. Despite the departure of key international players such as Luke Narraway,Alistair Strokosch,Rory Lawson and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu. Gloucester will still have a strong squad as they have been replaced with quality. Without a doubt the STAR signing is all black scrum half Jimmy Cowan he will be looking to bring all his class and international experience and help guide a young talented backline. Other notable additions are Australian international hooker Huia Edmonds,England number 8 Ben Morgan,Tongan international Sione Kalamfoni and Billy Twelvetrees from the tigers. All these new signings will have a big role to play along with the long serving Gloucester players Alex Brown,Nick Wood,James Simpson Daniel and Olly Morgan.
            Two players I have picked out to watch out for this seson is firstly Ben Morgan. With him losing his England place on the tour to South Africa he will have a point prove to Stuart Lancaster and the England management. He will be a key player in the Gloucester pack which promises to have plenty of flair and power next season. The second player to watch out for is Jonny May. Last year he lit up the premiership with his quick feet and his ammense pace. He was one of the top try scorers in last seasons Aviva Premiership and with a successful tour to South Africa playing in the tour games dont be surprised to see him playing for England very soon!
          Despite many Gloucester fans I spoke to I think we will have a successful season. Much will depend on how quick the players gel with a new coaching set up and new players. Also as ever with Gloucester the question is can they improve their away form? We know at fortress kingsholm they will win most games but can they finally this season end their dismall away form? I am quietly confident that this season will be a good one. I predict for us to finish 4th in the Aviva premiership and have a decent run in the Amlin challenge cup. Now cant wait for the season to start bring on the rugby!
 
The third and final preview for part 1, goes to....
 Sale Sharks
By RugbyUniteds very own Katy Bowling (@xKatyBowlingx)
After a history of tough seasons from Sale Sharks, 2011/12 was set to be no different..
With the appointment of the new CEO Steve Diamond the Dimes Revolution began, this main intention was to get Sale Sharks playing Heineken Cup rugby once again.  The season didn’t begin well with loses away and at home to London Wasps, Saints, Quins and Leicester the season felt like it was over before it began.
The announcement of new signing Scottish beast Richie Gray due to join us the following season it lifted a cloud of doubt lingering over Edgeley Park, Rob Miller found his feet and ran himself into the ranking of the Premierships top try scorer of the year.
Lots of controversy surrounded Sale Sharks with the dramatic firing of Tony Hanks, and appointment of former Sale Captain and legend Bryan Redpath as Director of Rugby and the move from EP to Salford City Stadium.  As well as the ban apposed onto our CEO Dimes for pulling up highly criticised ref Wayne Barnes.
2012/13 is set to be a massive season for Sale Sharks, new ground, Heineken Cup rugby and new DOR Bryan Redpath, we’re saddened to be losing Andrew Sheridan to Toulon having given us 120+ caps since 2003 but we’re happy to invite class signings such as Richie Gray, Danny Cipriani, Eifion Lewis-Roberts (coming back from Toulon) and Richie Vernon
My prediction, Sale will reach the quarters of the H Cup and be 4th in the Premiership..
They say that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side… and on this occasion the saying is correct.. there is no grass in Salford only shark infested waters…
 
Thats all for part 1. Part 2 will be posted at the weekend, part 3 next weds, and the final part the weekend after that! 
I'm still waiting on my Tiger, My Saint and a promised neutral view to be sent to me, and i also want to do a fan preview for the RABOpro12, as of yet, i only have a Munster preview and pledges for the Blues and Scarlets, so any Pro12 fans that want to write a piece, send it on to me at my email address Rich_RugbyUnited@mail.com (preferably NOT in Word, as i don't have it on my laptop!)
The Pro12 previews will appear in the first week of August.
 
RC-K

Welcome to RugbyUnited

Welcome to the new and official blog of RugbyUnited

I have invited all the members of the RU team to contribute to the page, as well as myself, and hopefully a whole host of guest bloggers.

We love to hear of your rugby experiences, whatever level and in whatever capacity you are involved (coaching, playing, physio).

Just to give you an insight into the people who will post on here, i will give a brief introduction to each, because i sincerely hope they will all write their own introductions in the coming weeks! I’ve also included their Twitter ID’s so you can follow and join the fun!

Trevor Large (@TrevorLarge) :- The Godfather of #rugbyunited. From the humble start of #Glawstowinonsunday hashtag all the way to the notoriety we are receiving with our various RU enterprises, Trevor is the human dynamo driving us onwards and upwards! I will be pressurising him to write (or re-write)  the history/timeline of how we started, its his baby, and i’d like to see his spin on it.

Richard Church-Keen (RichC_K) :- Thats me! I’m the charity man of RugbyUnited, and i’ve also taken on the mantle of media relations and made it my business to increase our online presence via blogs, forums, facebook groups, newspapers etc.

Nick Lewis (@NickLewisNo8) :- Nick was the third muskateer to join us, after winning one of the early #RugbyQuiz’s and hosting another. Nick is another driving force, maybe less prominent than Trevor, but i know damn well that Nick is working hard to push some exciting new projects for us, as well as arranging many of our highly popular #RugbyQA’s on twitter.

Lisa Wadey (@Lisa_Wadey or @RugbyQA) :- Our resident Quins fan has taken a firm grasp alongside Nick in promoting, setting up  and taking part in the QA sessions, having gotten us some HUGE names so far, the QA’s are arguably our most popular events, and we hope to have them for a long long time to come.

Katy Bowling (@xkatybowlingx or @rugbyreckon)  :- Katy has the somewhat unenviable task of running our #rugbyreckon game (where you predict the scores for games) and is also looking to help us out with some upcoming #RugbyUnited matches that are being arranged as well as being a great sounding board for all my crazy ideas!

Gemma Fox (@?? ) :- I don’t know who she is.

Ancia Potgieter (@Ancia08) :- Our South African correspondent and our Super Rugby expert. A prolific tweeter with a sunny outlook on just about anything! Ancia will be writing a regular blog for us on Southern Hemisphere rugby so expect to see her name on many pages!!

Gemma Fox (@Gemma_Fox) :- I do know who she is really, just a private joke!! Gemma is setting up the NorthWest of England RugbyUnited game and helping me out with charity work, Gemma was originally skeptical about what RugbyUnited is about but is well and truly a convert nowadays!!!

YOU:- Cheesy i know, but the truth is, we at RugbyUnited do this for you. We always welcome any suggestions you may have and will help promote any rugby related events you have.

Other RugbyUnited sites of note:-

http://www.RugbyUnited.Info

https://www.facebook.com/groups/104979119626529/ << Our facebook group

https://www.facebook.com/pages/rugbyunited/399644240062000 << Our very unloved Facebook fan page!

http://rugbyunited.freeforums.org/ << Our RugbyUnited forum (also very unloved! re-launch coming soon!)

http://paper.li/RichC_K/1341337826 << My new project, the RugbyUnited daily newspaper!

http://www.Pyr8Speaks.Wordpress.com << My personal Rugby related blog!

There are plenty of ways to get involved, the Blog is just one.

 

We have Fan’s season previews coming up on here over the next few weeks, we have all 12 Aviva premiership teams covered, but very few from the RABO pro12 (or indeed any other league) if you fancy writing one, we need a bit about key players, signings/departures, one to watch, where you think your team will finish and a little bit about yourself, email them to Rich_RugbyUnited@mail.com!!

 

Cheers for reading!!

 

RC-K