Team-by-team Guide

 

Compiled by GERRY THORNLEY

BENETTON TREVISO

Head coach:Franco Smith.

Captain:TBC

Ground:Stadio Monigo (cap: 6,000).

Last five seasons:DC (Didn’t compete), DC, DC, 10th, 10th.

INS:J Ambrosini (Queensland), D Budd (NEC Green Rockets), A de Marchi (Aironi), A Esposito (Tarvisium), S Favaro (Aironi), G la Grange (Lions), C Loamanu (Toulon), G Maistri (Calvisano), L Morisi (Crociati), J Roux (Bordeaux-Begles), G Toniolatti (Aironi).

OUTS:A Chillon (Zebre), C Fazzari (Zebre), E Galon (Mogliano), G Garcia (Zebre), E Pavanello (Mogliano).

Fell away badly last season when losing their last 10 but until then Treviso had looked a well-drilled team under Smith, competitive away as well as at home. The signing of Azzurri-qualified James Ambrosini, the great white hope of Italian rugby, from Queensland will be interesting.

Forecast:6th.

DRAGONS

Head coach:Darren Edwards.

Captain:Lewis Evans.

Ground:Rodney Parade (9,092).

Last five seasons:8th, 9th, 7th, 7th, 9th.

INS:D Evans (Scarlets), I Nimmo (Cornish Pirates), T Prydie (Ospreys), T Ryan (Prato), H Stoddart (Newport).

OUTS:A Brew (Biarritz), R Buckley, L Burns (retired), R Cadman, L Charteris (Perpignan), H Ellis, R Jenkins, J Leadbeater, T Riley (Cornish Pirates), G Robinson, M Thomas (Gloucester), J Tovey (Cardiff Blues).

Retaining Dan Lydiate was a coup, but this has been more than offset by further trimming of their sails with the departure of Luke Charteris, Aled Brew, Martyn Thomas and Jason Tovey. Have oscillated between 7th and 9th for the last seven seasons thanks in the main to their competitiveness at Rodney Parade, but may even dip below that.

Forecast:10th

MUNSTER

Head coach:Rob Penney.

Captain:Doug Howlett.

Ground:Thomond Park (25,000) and Musgrave Park (9,251).

Last five seasons:3rd, 1st, 4th (semi-final), 1st (winners), 3rd (semi-final).

INS:S Dougall (Rotherham Titans), J Downey (Northampton Saints), C Laulala (Cardiff Blues), CJ Stander (Bulls).

OUTS:P Borlase, D Cusack, J Flannery (retired), D Fogarty (Aurillac), T Gleeson, J Hayes (retired), D Hurley (retired), D Leamy (retired), L Mafi (Perpignan), M O’Driscoll (retired), T O’Leary (London Irish), D Wallace (retired).

Unless Tommy O’Donnell or Dave O’Callaghan come on a ton, or the 22-year-old Stander (ex-Boks under-21 capt) hits the ground sprinting in October, Munster look thinner at backrow and elsewhere. Rob Penney can only work with what he’s got and the transitional era continues.

Forecast:4th.

GLASGOW

Head coach:Gregor Townsend.

Captain:Alastair Kellock.

Ground:Scotstoun Stadium (cap 5,250).

Last five seasons:5th, 7th, 3rd (s/f), 11th, 4th (s/f).

INS:S Lamont (Scarlets), V Ma’afu (Mitsubishi Dynaboars), A MacDonald (Coca Cola Red Sparks), N Matawalu (Suva), B McGuigan (Border Bulldogs), T Paris (Canada 7s), T Swinson (Newcastle Falcons), J White (Clermont Auvergne).

OUTS:F M Aramburu (retired), J Beattie (Montpellier), R Dewey, C Forrester (Ayr), R Gray (Sale Sharks), D Lemi (Worcester Warriors), R McAlpine (Edinburgh), C Shaw, F Thomson, R Verbakel.

Curious how Sean Lineen effectively rebuilt a financially shredded squad to make them improbable semi-finalists for a second time in his tenure and was then moved aside for Gregor Townsend. Richie Gray will be a huge loss.

Forecast:7th.

ZEBRE

Head coach:Roberto Manghi.

Captain:Marco Bortolami.

Ground:XXV Aprile Stadium (5,000).

Last five seasons:Didn’t compete.

INS:Everybody.

OUTS:Nobody.

These are a new Italian outfit to replace bottom-of-the-table Aironi, although the new Parma-based professional region have taken 22 players from the now defunct Viadana-based franchise.

In the process, they have has become very much a plaything of the Italian Federation, with much of their academy and under-age management also operating out of the Zebres.

Liable to be particularly competitive at their own compact home, and it could be Connacht’s misfortune to be served up there first.

Forecast:12th.

CONNACHT

Head coach:Eric Elwood

Captain:Gavin Duffy

Ground:The Sportsground (cap 6,000).

Last five seasons:10th, 10th, 10th, 9th, 8th.

INS:W Faloon (Ulster), J Harris-Wright (Bristol), B Murphy (Galwegians), D Parks (Cardiff Blues), D Poolman (Stormers), N White (Leinster)

OUTS:H Fa’afili, D Murphy, N O’Connor (Ulster), R Ofisa, D Rogers, J Stephens, B Tuohy.

All-time high of eighth last season was all the more remarkable given the extra demands placed on them of their first H Cup campaign and a mid-season losing sequence of 13 in both competitions and there was significant progress off the pitch too.

The addition of Dan Parks could potentially be the key to turning near misses into wins.

Forecast:8th.

LEINSTER

Head coach:Joe Schmidt

Captain:Leo Cullen

Ground:RDS (cap 18,000).

Last five seasons:1st, 3rd, 1st (finalists), 2nd (finalists), 1st (finalists)

INS:M Bent (Hurricanes), T Denton (Leeds Carnegie), A Goodman (Tasman Makos), Q Roux (Stormers).

OUTS:M Berquist (Biarritz), S Horgan (retired), E Sheridan (Rotherham Titans), N White (Connacht).

The best side, pound for pound, last season (bar the final) and the last three seasons (bar three finals!). That must rankle, but given they also have the most settled squad in the league, with no changes to a quality coaching staff, and have again sought to improve their less than impressive recruitment of locks with Roux and Denton, look to have the means to overcome another weakened start and reach a holy grail.

Forecast:1st and champions.

SCARLETS

Head coach:Simon Easterby.

Captain:Gran Evans.

Ground:Parc y Scarlets (14,800).

Last five seasons: 6th, 5th, 9th, 5th, 5th.

INS: G Earle (Cheetahs), G Owen (Ospreys), K Phillips (Ospreys), T Vallejos (Harlequins), J Adriaanse (MTN Lions).

OUTS:D Day (Bath), D Evans (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Gilbert (Mogliano), S Jones (London Wasps), S Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), B Morgan (Gloucester), L Reed (Cardiff Blues), I Thomas (retired), R Thomas (retired), D Welch (Exeter Chiefs).

Already lacking oomph in the tight five, Simon Easterby inherited a squad which lost both Thomas props to retirement along with locks Lou Reed, Damien Welch and Dominic Day. If the new signings can provide the ammunition the Scarlets have a gifted array of young backs to capitalise.

Forecast:3rd.

EDINBURGH

Head coach:Michael Bradley.

Captain: Greig Laidlaw.

Ground:Murrayfield (cap 67,144).

Last five seasons: 4th, 2nd, 6th, 8th, 11th.

INS:B Atiga (Highlanders), D Basilaia (Georgia), R McAlpine (Glasgow Warriors), W Petrus Nel (Free State Cheetahs), P-J Parker (Esher), M Penn (Worcester Warriors), R Rees (Cardiff Blues), G Tonks (Northampton), I Van der Westhuizen (Free State Cheetahs), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues).

OUTS:M Blair (Brive), P Godman (London Scottish), J Thompson (London Scottish), S Webster (retired), U Gamboa, J Gilding, A Kelly, E Lozada (Agen), A MacDonald, C Paterson (retired), K Traynor.

Last season’s thrilling run to the Heineken Cup semi-finals masked a continuing decline in the bread and butter stuff which culminated in a worst ever 11th place finish. Neil Back as forwards coach will be interesting.

Forecast:9th.

CARDIFF BLUES

Head coach:Phil Davies.

Captain:Andreas Pretorius.

Ground:Cardiff Arms Park (cap 13,000).

Last five seasons:2nd, 6th, 5th, 6th, 7th.

INS:B Borrust (Perpignan), R Copeland (Rotherham Titans), A Kyriacou (Ulster), R Lewis (London Welsh), C Ma’afu (West Harbour Pirates), L Reed (Scarlets), J Tovey (Dragons).

OUTS:B Blair (Agen), G Henson (London Welsh), G Jenkins (Toulon), D Jones (retired), C Laulala (Munster), M Molitika, D Parks (Connacht), R Rees (Edinburgh), R Thomas (London Wasps), P Tito, M Williams (retired), J Yapp (Edinburgh).

After some flawed investments (Cardiff City Stadium and Gavin Henson) the cash-strapped Blues have returned to the Arms Park amid a flight of Wild Geese proportions to pastures new. The net effect will mean a trying, transitional season (or more).

Forecast:10th.

OSPREYS

Head coach:Steve Tandy

Captain:Alun Wyn Jones.

Ground:Liberty Stadium.

Last five seasons:7th, 4th, 2nd (Winners), 4th (s/f), 2nd (Winners).

INS:J Spratt (London Irish).

OUTS:H Bennett (Lyon), T Bowe (Ulster), M Davies (Swansea), C Griffiths (London Irish), P James (Bath), G Owen (Scarlets), S Parker (London Welsh), K Phillips (Scarlets), T Prydie (Newport Gwent Dragons), T Smith (London Irish), W Taylor (London Wasps), N Walker (Worcester Warriors), S Williams (Mitsubishi Dynaboars), C Griffiths.

With the remainder of last season’s pack, the Ospreys should have the firepower up front to remain the strongest Welsh contenders but more than a sprinkle of stardust has been lost with the retirement of Shane Williams and departure of Tommy Bowe.

Forecast:2nd.

ULSTER

Head coach:Mark Anscombe.

Captain:Johann Muller.

Ground:Ravenhill (11,600).

Last five seasons:9th, 8th, 8th, 3rd (s/f), 6th.

INS: T Bowe (Ospreys), S Doyle (Southern Districts), M Heaney (Doncaster), R Herring (Western Province), N O’Connor (Connacht), N Williams (Aironi), R Wilson (Northampton).

OUTS:T Barker (Rainey OB), J Cronin (Doncaster), S Danielli (retired), W Faloon (Connacht), I Humphreys (London Irish), A Kyriacou (Cardiff), J McKinney (Rotherham), I Porter (Banbridge), P Wannenburg (Castres), I Whitten (Exeter Chiefs).

Understandably prioritised the H Cup on the run-in. As ten league defeats and 13 overall in 21 competitive games underline, they lacked the strength in depth to sustain a prolonged charge at two trophies. Need young talent to come through.

Forecast:5th.

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