If it’s an improvement on last year, we’re in for a real treat

LAST season was a fantastic year for Premiership rugby, culminating in one of the best finals I have ever seen.

Leicester and Saracens went hammer and tongs at each other in a high-quality game, which swung from one end to another right to the very last passage of play.

On reflection, it was a season of contrast given the changes made to the breakdown mid-way through the campaign, which brought a very different style of rugby and making for a fascinating final few weeks.

My old club Saracens have come on leaps and bounds under Brendan Venter and I expect them to be the team to beat again this year.

They, more that anyone I feel, showed they are capable of playing both defensive and expansive styles to suit.

The signing of Matt Stevens is a masterstroke and all eyes will be on him when he makes his return in January, while in Richard Wigglesworth and David Strettle they have two top English talents.

Northampton seem to get better and better too under Jim Mallinder and Dorian West and you can never write off the Tigers – they are the Manchester United of Premiership rugby. Bath will be boosted by the signings of Lewis Moody and Sam Vesty from Leicester and will take a lot of stopping, taking their end-of-season form into account.

With the World Cup just over 12 months away, this is a big breakthrough season for many young players and it will be interesting to see who catches the eye of Martin Johnson.

My money is on Alex Goode coming good. Much in the mould of James Hook, he was a fly-half playing for full-back at Saracens for much of last season and was outstanding for them. Toby Flood could soon find himself under pressure if he continues to progress.

Kyran Bracken is associated with GamePlan Solutions – Managing profile and popular sport & entertainment stars, perfect for all variety of corporate events. Visit www.gameplansolutions.co.uk.

LONDON WASPS
KEY INS: Nic Berry (Racing Metro), Charlie Davies (Stade Francais), Riki Flutey (Brive), Richard Haughton (Saracens), Seb Jewell (Harlequins), Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues)
KEY OUTS: Danny?Cipriani, Lachlan Mitchell (both Melbourne Rebels), Hugo Ellis (Dragons), Warren Fury, Lee Smith (Leeds), Dan Leo (Bordeaux), Paul Sackey (Toulon), George Skivington (Leicester)
VERDICT: Will bounce back fighting


NEWCASTLE FALCONS
KEY INS: Luke Eves, Redford Pennycock (both Bristol), Andrew Henderson (Montauban), Ally Hogg (Edinburgh), Jeremy Manning (Munster), Tim Ryan (Toulon),
KEY OUTS: Adam Balding (Worcester), Tom Biggs (Bath), Peter Browne (Harlequins), Carl Hayman (Toulon), Rob Miller (Sale), Laurence Ovens (Bedford), Mark Sorenson (Northampton)
VERDICT: Another long season may await

NORTHAMPTON
KEY INS: Scott Armstrong, Calum Clark, Joe Ford (all Leeds), Adam Eustace (Gloucester), Tom Mercey (Saracens), Ryan Powell, Tom Wood (Worcester), Mark Sorenson (Newcastle), Greig Tonks (Leicester)
KEY INS: Neil Best (Worcester), James Cannon (Wasps), Joe Gray (Quins), Nick Greenhalgh Jon Vickers (both Exeter) Juandre Kruger (Blue Bulls)
VERDICT: Play-off contenders again

SALE SHARKS
KEY INS: Aston Croall (Harlequins), Rob Miller (Newcastle), Apolosi Satala (Gloucester), Robin Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff)
KEY OUTS: Luke Abraham (Lyon), Rob O'Donnell (Rotherham), Oriol Ripol (Worcester), Dean Schofield (Toulon), Lee Thomas (Lyon), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Brent Cockbain, David Doherty, Dafydd James (all released)
VERDICT: Much improvement needed

BATH RUGBY
KEY inS: Tom Biggs (Newcastle), Ross Batty (Rotherham), Mark McMillan (Glasgow), Lewis Moody, Sam Vesty (both Leicester), Simon Taylor (Stade Francais)
KEY outS: Daniel Browne (Leeds), Ryan Davis (Exeter), Rob Hawkins (Leicester), Nicky Little (Bristol), Joe Maddock (Treviso), Michael Stephenson (Leeds)
VERDICT: Serious contenders

EXETER CHIEFS
KEY INS: Luke Arscott (Bristol), Garrick Cowley (Esher), Ryan Davis (Bath), Ignacio Elosu (Viadana), Andrew Higgins (unattached), James Phillips (Bristol), Jon Vickers (Northampton), Chris Whitehead (Wasps)
KEY outS: Richard Bolt, Sean Marsden (both Bristol), Matt Cornwell, Nick Greenhalgh (both Northampton)
VERDICT: Survival is the key

GLOUCESTER
KEY INS: Matt Cox (Worcester), Brett Deacon (Leicester), Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh)
KEY OUTS: Marco Bortolami (Aironi), Gareth Delve (Melbourne), Adam Eustace (Northampton), Apolosi Satala (Sale), Greg Somerville (Melbourne), Semi Tadulala (Leeds)
VERDICT: Bryan Redpath’s men are set for another season of transition

HARLEQUINS
KEY INS: Peter Browne (Newcastle), Tom Casson (unattached), Maurie Fa'asavalu (St Helens RL), Joe Gray (Northampton), David Moore (Leinster), Ollie Smith (Montpellier)
KEY INS: Aston Croall (Sale), Tani Fuga (Bristol), Seb Jewell (Wasps), Nils Mordt (Saracens), David Strettle (Saracens), Gonzalo Tiesi (Stade Francais),
VERDICT: Steadied the ship after “Bloodgate”, could now sneak into the play-offs

LEEDS CARNEGIE
KEY INs: Daniel Browne (Bath), Warren Fury (Wasps), Sean Hohneck (Viadana), Michael Stephenson (Bath), Semi Tadulala (Gloucester), Steve Thompson (Brive)
KEY outs: Scott Armstrong (Northampton), Peter Bucknall (Leicester), Calum Clark (Northampton), Joe Ford (Northampton), Erik Lund (Biarritz), Andy Gomarsall (released)
VERDICT: Could surprise a few

LEICESTER TIGERS
KEYS INS: Horacio Agulla (Brive), Peter Bucknall (Leeds), Rob Hawkins (Bath), Lee Robinson (Bristol), George Skivington (Wasps)
KEYS OUTS: Mefin Davies (Ospreys), Brett Deacon (Harlequins), Lewis Moody (Bath), Johne Murphy (Munster), Greig Tonks (Northampton), Sam Vesty (Bath), Robbie Harris (released), Harry Ellis, Ben Kay, Aaron Mauger (all retired)
VERDICT: Are there too many big-name exits?

LONDON IRISH
KEY INS: Darren Allinson (Cardiff), Guy Armitage, Sam Edgerley (both Wellington College), Brian Blaney (Leinster), Daniel Bowden (Crusaders), Marland Yarde (Whitgift School)
KEY OUTS: Peter Hewat (Suntory, Japan), Charlie Gower, Andy Perry (both released), Mike Catt, Danie Coetzee, Peter Richards, John Rudd (all retired)
VERDICT: Could well push for a play-off place