Saturday sees the return of Aviva Premiership rugby and under the shadow of the RWC, teams will be stretched in the early-season.
Saturday sees the return of Aviva Premiership rugby and under the shadow of the World Cup, teams will be stretched during the early-term.
Reigning champions Saracens will be in no mood to take a backward step during 2011/12 following their taking of the crown off Leicester. However, the Tigers do not take kindly to being poked and we expect them to be right back in the play-off mix. Phew that seems a long way off.
Others likely to be in the shake-up are Gloucester, who returned to something like the form they are known for late last season, and Northampton.
New-boys Worcester may struggle but ultimately survive with that trapdoor taking Newcastle, who let's face it, have flirted with the drop for too long.
Now have the squad and ethos to back up their triumph of last season. What might help them during the early stages is their surprising lack of absentees due to the RWC so we expect them to be challenging again. Their big dilemma is whether to play Owen Farrell or Charlie Hodgson at fly-half. Nice dilemma to have for Director of Rugby Mark McCall.
Sky Bet odds: 3/1
Last season: 2nd (champions)
In: Mako Vunipola (Bristol), John Smit (Sharks), Charlie Hodgson (Sale Sharks), Joe Maddock (Benetton Treviso), Marcus Watson (London Irish), Nemia Kenatale (Tailevu).
Out: Ethienne Reynecke (Connacht), Richard Skuse (Retired), Matt Parr (Nottingham), Alex Brown (Doncaster), Tom Ryder (Glasgow), Don Barrell (Retired), Kevin Barrett (Exeter Chiefs), Noah Cato (Northampton Saints), Henry Staff (Bedford).
We have a strong feeling that Welford Road could be the making of Mathew Tait. Tigers will improve his game and having Geordan Murphy as his mentor will help a great deal. They have not lost any key personnel over the off-season – barring their many World Cup absentees – so expect Leicester to be going toe-to-toe with Saracens until the very end.
Sky Bet odds: 7/4
Last season: 1st (Beaten play-off finalists)
In: Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), Graham Kitchener (Worcester Warriors), Julian Salvi (ACT Brumbies), Micky Young (Newcastle Falcons), Mathew Tait (Sale Sharks), Richard de Carpentier (UWIC), Tom Youngs (Nottingham), Niall Morris (Leinster).
Out: Joe Duffey (Nottingham), Dave Markham (Gloucester), Dan Hemingway (Leeds Carnegie), Lucas Amorosino (Montpellier), Matt Everard (Bedford), Will Hurrell (London Welsh).
Standing by Bryan Redpath has proved a stroke of genius from the Cherry and Whites as their form towards the end of 2010/11 won them many admirers. Wing Charlie Sharples was one man in serious form and was unfortunate to miss out on England's 30. But their loss is Gloucester's gain, expect both him and his team to kick on in all competitions.
Sky Bet odds: 9/1
Last season: 3rd
In: Dan Murphy (London Irish), Matias Cortese (Pampas XV), Nathan Charles (Western Force), Dario Chistolini (Petarca Rugby), Dave Markham (Leicester Tigers), Tom Savage (Hartpury), Nick Runciman (London Welsh).
Out: Alasdair Dickinson (Sale Sharks), Olivier Azam (Toulon), Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), Pierre Capdevielle (released), Dave Attwood (Bath), Jordi Pasqualin (Newcastle Falcons), Nicky Robinson (London Wasps), Dan Williams (Colomiers).
Saints will miss the likes of Courtney Lawes, Dylan Hartley, Ben Foden and Chris Ashton during the World Cup period and so will expect the likes of Paul Diggin and Noah Cato to fill in strongly. If they can stay in the mix until their big names return, then they will feature.
Sky Bet odds: 4/1
Last season: 4th
In: Paul Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Samu Manoa (San Francisco Golden Gate RFC), James Craig (Leeds Carnegie), Martin Roberts (Scarlets), Ryan Lamb (London Irish), Tom May (Toulon), George Pisi (Clermont Auvergne), Noah Cato (Saracens), Vasili Artemiev (VVA-Podmoskovye Monino), Cesar Sempere (Nottingham).
Out: Regardt Dreyer (released), Dan Sanderson (Moseley), Mark Easter (Sale Sharks), Shane Geraghty (Brive), Joe Ford (Leeds Carnegie), Joe Ansbro (London Irish), Matt Cornwell (Mogliano), Bruce Reihana (Bordeaux), Ryan Powell (retired), Dan Vickerman (Waratahs).
Savvy signings have been made at the Recreation Ground ahead of 2011/12 and Francois Louw, Dan Hipkiss and Kyle Eastmond are set to be crowd favourites. However, sizeable voids needed filling due to big-name exits and it could be too much to ask of the new men.
Sky Bet odds: 7/1
Last season: 5th
In: Charlie Beech (London Wasps), Anthony Perenise (Hurricanes), Dave Attwood (Gloucester), Ryan Caldwell (Ulster), Carl Fearns (Sale Sharks), Francois Louw (Stormers), Stephen Donald (Chiefs), Kyle Eastmond (St Helens RL), Dan Hipkiss (Leicester Tigers).
Out: David Barnes (Retired), Danny Grewcock (Retired), Peter Short (Exeter Chiefs), Luke Watson (Southern Kings), Butch James (Lions), Shontayne Hape (London Irish), Jacques Bousugge (Brive).
It is hard to spin how their new arrivals eclipse what has left during the off-season. Only Daniel Bowden remains from the main four faces who shared 10, 12 and 13 last year as Ryan Lamb, Seilala Mapusua and Elvis Seveali'i move on to pastures new. Mid-table.
Sky Bet odds: 25/1
Last season: 6th
In: Leo Halavatau (Birmingham & Solihull), Bryn Evans (Hurricanes), James Sandford (Rotherham Titans), Edward Siggery (Scarlets), Ross Samson (Edinburgh), Adrian Jarvis (Leeds Carnegie), Steven Shingler (Scarlets), Shontayne Hape (Bath), Jonathan Spratt (Ospreys), Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), Jebb Sinclair (The Rock), Alex Gray (Newcastle), Tom Alexander (Eastwood).
Out: Dan Murphy (Gloucester), George Stowers (Ospreys), Steffon Armitage (Toulon), Ryan Lamb (Northampton Saints), Seilala Mapasua (Kubota Spears), Chris Malone (retiring), Ben Stevenson (London Welsh), James Tideswell (London Welsh), Jon Fisher (Bedford Blues), Elvis Seveali'i (Bourgoin), James Lennard (Bedford Blues).
Nick Easter, Ugo Monye, Maurie Fa'asavalu, James Johnston and Tomas Vallejos will all be at the World Cup while Danny Care and Ollie Smith are currently injured, meaning Quins will be tested early on. Chris Robshaw will be key but we can't see them challenging.
Sky Bet odds: 12/1
Last season: 7th
In: Nic Mayhew (North Harbour), Tim Fairbrother (Western