Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Aviva Premiership 2013/2014 predictions

Aviva Premiership starts this Friday (06.09.2013)! The upcoming season looks incredibly interesting. Year by year, Premiership is becoming more competitive with lots of exciting games. The average win margin is just 11 points which makes it one of the lowest in professional rugby. This year, fans have a chance to follow the league closer than ever. BT Sport will broadcast 69 live games! Another good news is that TMO will be present at all 135 matches.  

Just like in the last season I would like to share my predictions with you about how I think the standings in May will look like. I must admit that this year it was much harder to make up my mind on the final table. Next to the clubs' names you can see my predictions and in brackets positions from last season.

Northampton Saints
1 (4)

Northampton reached the final last year, but eventually lost to Leicester Tigers. Dylan Hartley’s red card cost him the place in the British and Irish Lions squad and also made beating the rivals impossible. I’m sure that the team and its captain learnt a lot from this experience. Saints strengthened their team with very talented players. They attracted a fantastic prop Alex Corbisiero and one of the biggest stars of Welsh rugby George North. Samoan international Kahn Fotuali will also strengthen the backs. I think that Northampton will be able to win with every opponent and aim for the highest laurels if only new players fit into the squad quick enough. The most challenging may be the time when the team will have to cope without international players.

2 (1)

Saracens are one of the favourites to the title. The club can select 22 international players. Their desires are high and last year’s defeat in the semi-final will only make them hungrier for success. The club focused on the brand making and attracting new fans. They played home games on many different stadiums, also at Wembley. Saracens' new home Allianz Park is the only stadium with the modern, artificial grass. A few new players already joined the strong team. James Johnston and back row Billy Vunipola deserve a special mention. Saracens will be very dangerous; they will target both Premiership and Heineken Cup.

Leicester Tigers 
3 (2)

Leicester Tigers is one of the best and most famous English clubs. Tigers have stayed at the top level for several years and every year they aim for the highest trophies. The team is very experienced and has a winning mentality. This season they will try to achieve a difficult task of defending the title. Although some good players left the club, among them were Martin Castrogiovani and George Ford, the squad is still incredibly strong and Gonzalo Camacho as well as Ryan Lamb will make it even stronger. Similar as Saracens, Leicester is full of international stars among them there are six British and Irish Lions. Injuries and Six Nations period may be the only worry for Tigers – skipper Tomy Flood will probably miss at least first game. I think that that Leicester Tigers will reach the final, but they may not be on the first place before the play-offs.

4 (5)

If anyone could change the look of the first four it would be Gloucester. The team has a very good and balanced squad with plenty of talent on every position. Last season they played in effective and spectacular style. Players such as Matt Kvesic, Freddie Burns or Billy Twelvetrees may soon become England’s first choice. To make it happen they have to prove their quality by performing well in the cherry and white stripes. I think that Gloucester will be a real threat this season and has a big chance to qualify to the play-offs.

5 (3)

Last few seasons were very successful for Harlequins. The core of the team is pretty much the same. There were no spectacular transfers. The club prefers to rely on its own academy products. Although I love this attitude I’m afraid that in some games they may miss a “star” who would do some magic to secure the win in the crucial moment. The team will definitely be in the top part of the table but may struggle to reach the play-offs.

6 (7)

I expect Bath to make a few surprises this season. Although I put this club on the seventh place Bath will definitely aim for the first four. The team has been strengthened by some quality players. To name just a few: David Sisi, Gavin Henson or IRB young player of the year George Ford. Huge lock Dave Attwood is the one to look for as well as Irish and Munster legend, one of the most experienced fly-halves Peter Stringer. Inconsistent form was the issue last season, but if they manage to get rid of this problem they may join the fight for the first four.

Exeter Chiefs 
7 (6)

Although Exeter Chiefs don’t have a massive experience in Aviva Premiership they have a very good, well deserved reputation. Every newcomer would like to copy their success in the league, but it’s not an easy task. Similar to the previous season Exeter will target maintaining mid table position and further progress in the Heineken Cup. The club is well known for the “one for all, all for one” ethos and keeps producing talented young players. Some quality foreign players are in the squad too. The one to look for is definitely Dean Mumm, who previously played for Waratahs, the other one is a formidable centre Sireli Naqelevuki. I think that Chiefs will once again be a strong mid-table team, but this time they may just miss the first six.

Sale Sharks 
8 (10)

Season 2012/2013 was very unfortunate for Sale. The club which was expected to join the battle for first four lost seven games in a row and ended up on the last place in the table. Their fight for survival was tough but successful. A mess in coaching structure and not always positive media attention did not help the team. The end of the season was however much better than the start. Sharks were the LV cup runners-up, and their form in the league improved. They showed a big ambition as they fought and defeated some higher rank opponents. Although Richie Vernon, Richie Gray and Andy Powell all left the club, getting the best London Welsh players on the board can come in as a very smart move. I think that Sale Sharks will not be involved in the relegation battle, they should place somewhere in the mid-table but I’m afraid that the club my miss the first six.

London Wasps 
9 (8)

London Wasps are in the process of metamorphosis. Same as in the last season, also this time they were very busy on the transfers’ market. One of the latest big signings is Andy Goode who joined from Worcester. The team has lots of talented players like Joe Launchbury, Sam Jones or Christian Wade, who can certainly be on the front-page this season. The loss of Billy Vunipola may be noticeable but if the team gels quickly enough they may join a fight for the first six. For now though, I don’t expect them to be a real threat to the big boys.

Worcester Warriors
10 (11)

Worcester is another team with lots of changes. Warriors have 13 new players, some of them with experience on the international area. But the most important change is probably the new coach Dean Ryan, who said he will target first four. The task is very ambitious but in my opinion not quite possible yet. Perhaps when the team spends more time together, it will be able to join the top fight, but for now the club is in the transition period. I think Worcester will not be in real danger of relegation but they probably finish at the bottom the table.

Newcastle Falcons
11 (recently promoted)

Newcastle came back to the Aviva Premiership and the task for this season will certainly be staying in the elite.  A very good coach Dean Richards, whose bloodgate ban has just finished, will definitely want to make up for the lost time and prove that he deserves to be in the Aviva Premiership. I think that Falcons will have to fight hard to survive but the outcome will be positive for them. Although the squad is not the most impressive it should be just enough to stay on the safe eleventh position. The one whose form will have a massive impact will probably be the experienced Mike Blair.

London Irish
12 (9)

London Irish is the team which, in my opinion, is most likely to be relegated. Lots of good players left the club in the previous season and the team struggled. This season even more players decided to try their luck in different clubs (among them Alex Corbisiero and Jonathan Joseph) so the situation is not looking better. No impressive names were added to the squad so I think that this time surviving relegation battle may be much more challenging.

How accurate my predictions are we will find out in May. I’d like to encourage all Aviva Premiership fans to try their luck in the predicting games on the