United Rugby Championship: Team-by-team guide to the 2022-2023 season

John O’Sullivan breaks down the 16 teams’ prospects ahead of the new season


Head coach: Marco Bortolami Captain: Dewalt Duverago/Michele Lamaro

Last year: 13th Betting: 150-1

Players In: S Hildago-Klyne (Exeter Chiefs), T Menoncello (promoted academy), A Garbisi (Mogliano), G Nicotera (Rovigo), G Da Rae (Rovigo), F Drago (Mogliano), M Drudi (Mogliano), S Scrafton (Hurricanes), O Ratave (Fijian Drua), M Zanon (Pau), M Watson (Wasps), H Stowers (Moana Pasifika), I Mendy (Jaguares).


Players Out: C Braley (Northampton Saints), H Fava (Worcester Warriors), I Herbst (Harlequins), T Baravalle (released), T Benvenuti (released), L Morisi (London Irish), J Caputo (Zebre Parma), F Smith (Zebre Parma), A Coetzee (Lions), Y Fantini (Darlington), L Petrozzi (London Scottish), T Bell (Tokyo Gas), L Sperandio (Albi), M Ioane (Melbourne Rebels).

Prospects: Modest performance levels last season, they have a very good coaching team led by new head coach Marco Bortolami. At full strength and at home will be tough to beat but recruitment looks a little thin based on the players that have left the club. They do have two outstanding young players in Michele Lamaro and Tommaso Menoncello.


Head coach: Jake White Captain: Marcell Coetzee

Last year: Beaten finalists Betting: 12-1

Players In: P Maqondwana (Pumas), R Vermaak (DoCoMo Red Hurricanes), S Nkosi (Sharks), W Simelane (Lions), M Mosi (Cheetahs), C Smit (Cheetahs), M van Staden (Leicester Tigers).

Players Out: M Tambwe (Lyon), S Manjezi (Glasgow Warriors), A Botha (Lyon), R Kriel (Zebre Parma), W Steenkamp (Mitsubishi DynaBoars), S Erasmus (Kubota Spears).

Prospects: Underlined their pedigree as a great club side by beating Leinster in last season’s semi-final before coming up agonisingly short, 18-13 in the final. They possess a huge pack that is very difficult to thwart from close range or in terms of the lineout maul but will be looking to sharpen up back play.


Head coach: Dai Young Captain: Josh Turnbull

Last year: 14th Betting: 100-1

Players In: T Faletau (Bath), T Young (Wasps), L Williams (Scarlets), E Daniel (academy), L Timani (Toulon), J Peard (Dragons), A Williams (Dragons).

Players Out: H Amos (retired), I Feyi-Waboso (Wasps), I Harris (Exeter Chiefs), S Andrews (retired), R Gill (retired), A Lawrence (Jersey Reds), L Scully (released), W Boyde (released), J Tovey (Ynysddu), G Smith (Cornish Pirates), L Jones (Dragons), L Hennessy (Bath), N Evans (Dragons).

Prospects: Some high-profile signings in Lions players Talupe Faletau and Liam Williams, they are ridiculously strong in the backrow and scrumhalf but there are one or two holes in the roster elsewhere that will need to be filled adequately. They’ll need a sympathetic injury profile too but should improve on last season.


Head Coach: Pete Wilkins Captain: Jack Carty

Last year: 11th Betting: 80-1

Players In: Ciaran Booth (academy), C Forde (academy), S Jennings (academy), D Kilgallen (academy), O McCormack (academy), D Murray (academy), J Murphy (Leinster), P Dooley (Leinster), A Byrne (Leinster), David Hawkshaw (Leinster), S Hurley-Langton (Manawatu), B Ralston (western Force), G Stewart (Glasgow Warriors, short term loan).

Players Out: S Arnold (Brive), U Dillane (La Rochelle), A Papali’i (Brive), M Healy (retired), J Murphy (released), B O’Donnell (released), P Sullivan (released), E Masterson (Aurillac), P Robb (Ealing Trailfinders), T Tuimauga (Wellington), G McGrath (Jersey Reds).

Prospects: Pete Wilkins takes over as head coach with Andy Friend moving into a director of rugby role. Connacht have in Shane Jennings, Cathal Forde, Diarmuid Kilgallen and Oran McNulty some of the best young backs to come through the Irish representative system in recent years. The Leinster contingent should add significant value.


Head coach: Dai Flanagan Captain: Rhodri Williams

Last year: 15th Betting: 250-1

Players In: B Roberts (Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (Clermont Auvergne), R Jones (Ospreys), S Lonsdale (Exeter Chiefs), M Clark (Bath), G Nott (London Irish), S Tomkinson (Highlanders), A O’Brien (Scarlets), L Jones (Ospreys), R Evans (Scarlets), N Evans (Cardiff).

Players Out: T Davies (Scarlets), T Griffiths (released), J Olowofela (Leicester Tigers), M Williams (released), J Lewis (Merthyr), J Holmes (Ealing Trailfinders), D Baker (Aberavon), O Jenkins (Wales Sevens), W Talbot-Davies (Coventry), G Bateman (retired), J Maksymiw (Agen), E Lloyd (Ebbw Vale), C McDonough (Ebbw Vale), A Warren (Llandovery), H Fry (Hartpury), J Peard (Cardiff), D Babos (Pontypool), A Williams (Cardiff), M Doge (Fiji Drua).

Prospects: JJ Hanrahan arrives from Clermont Auvergne and he’s likely to dispute the outhalf jersey with Sam Davies, Will Reed and Angus O’Brien. South African-born Welsh international hooker Bradley Roberts joins from Ulster. Some very good individual players but despite extensive recruitment their director of rugby Dean Ryan has opted for a small squad.


Head coach: Mike Blair Captain: Grant Gilchrist/Stuart McInally

Last year: Beaten quarter-finalists Betting: 50-1

Players In: S Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), J Jack (Ampthill), W Goosen (Hurricanes), N Auterac (Northampton Saints).

Players Out: M Bradbury (Bristol Bears), J Johnstone (released), R Moyano (released), S Grahamslaw (Jersey Reds), B Toolis (Japan), N Chamberlain (London Scottish).

Prospects: A couple of standout signings in England international Sam Skinner and South African-born Wes Goosen, who scored 31 tries while playing for the Hurricanes in New Zealand. Mike Blair has a couple of crucial decisions to make, not least whether the mercurial Blair Kinghorn or Jaco van der Walt should wear the No 10 jersey. Plenty of quality in a pared down squad.


Head coach: Franco Smith Captain: Kyle Steyn

Last year: Beaten quarter-finalists Betting: 50-1

Players In: JP du Preez (Sale Sharks), S Vailanu (Worcester Warriors), G Brown (academy), A Fraser (academy), A Samuel (academy), M Williamson (academy), H Jones (Harlequins), S Manjezi (Bulls), A Dell (London Irish), L Sordoni (Mont-de-Marsan, short term deal)

Players Out: K McDonald Wasps), R Fergusson (released), E McQuillin (released), R Tagive (released), R Harley (Carcassonne), H Bain (Jersey Reds), G Stewart (Connacht), R McCallum (London Scottish), T Lambert (Waratahs), J Hodgson.

Prospects: The club are under new management, so to speak, with South African-born former Italian coach Franco Smith taking over from Danny Wilson. Nigel Carolan remains part of the backroom team. There remains a significant South African influence in the playing roster, while recruiting Scottish internationals Huw Jones and Allan Dell adds quality.


Head coach: Leo Cullen Captain: Johnny Sexton

Last year: Beaten semi-finalists Betting: 8-13

Players In: J Jenkins (Munster), C Ngatai (Lyon), B Deeny (academy), C Foley (academy), J McCarthy (academy), J Osborne (academy), M Moloney (academy), C Ryan (academy), L Turner (academy).

Players Out: Josh Murphy (Connacht), P Dooley (Connacht), David Hawkshaw (Connacht), A Byrne (Connacht), J Dunne (Exeter Chiefs), R O’Loughlin (Exeter Chiefs), D Toner (retired), S Cronin (retired), C O’Brien (retired).

Prospects: Tournament favourites, they suffered a disappointing semi-final defeat to the Bulls at home last season. The more eye-catching recruitment has been on the coaching side with former players Andrew Goodman and Seán O’Brien replacing Felipe Contepomi and Denis Leamy. There is a significant reliance on young players. They look a little light in back three options, an area in which they can’t afford too many injuries.


Head coach: Ivan van Rooyen Captain: Reinhard Nothnagel

Last year: 12th Betting: 100-1

Players In: M Louw (Sharks), A Coetzee (Benetton), R Jonker (Sharks), R Smith (Waratahs).

Players Out: B Odendaal (Wasps), V Tshituka (Sharks), C Sadie (Sharks), MJ Pelser (Zebre Parma), W Simelane (Bulls), C Hollis (Stormers).

Prospects: They have lost a number of high-profile players to their national rivals while former captain Burger Odendaal has joined Wasps. They were the only one of the South African sides that didn’t make last season’s playoffs and that might be the case once again.


Head coach: Graham Rowntree Captain: Peter O’Mahony

Last year: Beaten quarter-finalists Betting: 8-1

Players In: M Fekitoa (Wasps), A Frisch (Bristol Bears), S Buckley (academy), A Kendellen (academy), P Kelly (academy), E O’Connor (academy), P Patterson (academy), C Moore (University of Exeter).

Players Out: D Moore (Ulster), J Jenkins (Leinster), M Gallagher (Bath), J Flannery (Ulster), C Cloete (Bath), J Ryan (Wasps), K O’Byrne (Ealing Trailfinders), A McHenry (Jersey Reds), S French (Bedford Blues), D de Allende (Saitama Wild Knights), J Wren (retired), R Osborne (retired).

Prospects: New coaching regime under Graham Rowntree, with Mike Prendergast and Denis Leamy returning to their native province. Malakai Fekitoa and Antoine Frisch should provide some midfield thrust but Rowntree will be looking for key players to stay fit and if that is the case may have to make some tough calls in divining between experience and youthful promise.


Head coach: Toby Booth Captain: Justin Tipuric

Last year: 9th Betting: 80-1

Players In: J Walsh (Exeter Chiefs), H Deaves (academy), G Phillips (academy).

Players Out: R Jones (Dragons), J Thomas (Newcastle Falcons), J Fender (Cornish (Pirates), Ca Carson (Aberavon), L Ashley (Merthyr), M Fia (Perpignan), D Cross (Cardiff, M Strong (Ampthill), B Williams (Cardiff University).

Prospects: Former St Michael’s College schoolboy Will Hickey has been promoted to the senior squad for the franchise best equipped to atone for no Welsh representation in the knock-out stages of last season’s competition. Florida-born Jack Walsh is the only signing from outside the club. If everyone’s fit and firing they’ll present a tough prospect for opponents.


Head coach: Dwayne Peel Captain: Jonathan Davies

Last year: 10th Betting: 80-1

Players In: V Fifita (Wasps), I Shenton (Aberavon), G Evans (Llandovery)

Players Out: L Williams (Cardiff), A O’Brien (Dragons), S Hughes (released), M Jones (released), T Phillips (released), R Evans (Dragons), T Lewis (Jersey Reds), T Morgan (Biarritz Olympique)

Prospects: The only arrival of note for Dwayne Peel’s squad is former All Black Vaea Fifita, while the departure of Liam Williams and Steff Hughes take a little bit of a sheen off the backline. Peel is going to rely heavily on a handful of experienced players like captain Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny and Scott Williams to be at their best.


Head coach: Sean Everitt Captain: Lukhanyo Am/Thomas du Toit

Last year: Beaten quarter-finalists Betting: 9-1

Players In: E Etzebeth (Toulon), R Janse van Rensburg (Sale Sharks), N Fleurs (Maties), V Tshituka (Lions), C Sadie (Lions), L Cronje (Toyota Verblitz), M du Plessis (South Africa Sevens).

Players Out: S Nkosi (Bulls), M Louw (Lions), R van Heerden (Exeter Chiefs), R Jonker (Lions), J Bonilla (Hindu), J Ward (Stade Francais), O Noah (Bayonne).

Prospects: They lost out on a top four position in the final round of matches last season and it sent them to Pretoria, where they lost out to the Bulls. The return of Eben Etzebeth from Toulon and the signing of Rohan Janse van Rensburg from Sale Sharks and Vincent Tshituka from the Lions will add depth to a squad that contains star quality.


Head coach: John Dobson Captain: Salmaan Moerat/Ernst van Rhyn

Last year: Winners Betting: 9-1

Players In: J Dweba (Bordeaux), C Blommetjies (Cheetahs), C Hollis (Lions), G Porter (Ealing Trailfinders).

Players Out: W Gelant (Racing 92), T Swiel (Japan), R Pretorious (Japan), S Petersen (Japan).

Prospects: The defending champions have lost Warren Gelant to Racing 92 and a number of weeks ago were linked with a significant offer to try and tempt Cheslin Kolbe back from his new home in Toulon. It failed. Head coach John Dobson has added Springbok hooker Joseph Dweba to a roster that is largely similar to last year’s.


Head coach: Dan McFarland Captain: Iain Henderson

Last year: Beaten semi-finalists Betting: 10-1

Players In: S Reffell (Saracens), D Moore (Munster), F Bradshaw Ryan (Nevers), J Flannery (Munster), S O’Brien (Armagh), J Toomaga-Allen (Wasps), M McDonald (western Force), J Postlethwaite (academy).

Players Out: B Roberts (Dragons), R Kane (Ealing Trailfinders), J McGrath (released), M Kearney (retired), D O’Connor (Ealing Trailfinders), S Reidy (Counties Manukau), C Rankin (Ampthill).

Prospects: Possess some of the best young backs in the country and with Jacob Stockdale back and Will Addison set to return shortly, will have a three-quarter line of rare talent. It’ll be interesting to see how Jake Flannery settles, where Michael Lowry plays and whether the tight five is resilient enough physically to provide a platform.


Head Coach: Fabio Roselli Captain: Michele Dalai

Last year: 16th Betting: 500-1

Players In: G Ribaldi (Viadana), J Pitinari (Noceto), S Gesi (Colorno), G Volpi (Doncaster Knights), D Visser (Narbonne), D Mazza (Calvisano), R Jelic (Viadana), J du Toit (Bath), A Sanavia (Emilia), M Hasa (Petrarca), MJ Pelser (Lions), D Ruggeri (Rovigo), J Uys (Grenoble), G Garcia (Emilia), T Eden (Bristol Bears), J Caputo (Benetton), F Smith (Benetton), K van Wyk (unattached), R Kriel (Bulls), M Moscardi (Rovigo), N Teneggi (Emilia), J Furno (Bourg-en-Bresse).

Players Out: O Fabiani (Colorno), A Tuivuaka (Racing 92), A Lovotti (Colorno), G Bisegni (Colorno), G di Guilio (released), R Giammarioli (Worcester Warriors), M Mbanda (Colorno), D Fischetti (London Irish), E Bello (Saracens), L Mitchell (Saitama Wild Knights), J Laloifi (released), T O’Melley (released), G Palazzani (Calvisano), J Tuivati (Emilia), P Leavasa Jr (Manawatu), M Ceciliani (Calvisano), M Biondelli (Fiamme Oro), C Canna (Fiamme Oro), G D’Onofrio (Fiamme Oro), S Stoian (Fiamme Oro), M Violi (Emilia).

Prospects: Head coach Fabio Roselli has just completed his first preseason having taken over from the previous incumbent Emiliano Bergamaschi last April. There has been a huge turnover in the playing roster and it’s difficult to see how it’s anything but a medium-term project given that background and coming off last season where they managed just a single victory.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer