England’s elite will recommence battle in less than week as the Aviva Premiership makes its highly-anticipated return to our weekend schedules.
With that in mind, it’s time for one last rundown of each club heading into the 2013/14 campaign, breaking down just what each respective side can realistically hope for this season.
Will Leicester be able to win back-to-back Premiership titles again? Who will be the most likely candidate for relegation? Who’s made the best signings in time for the new season?
Read on to find the answers to all these questions and more.
In: Gavin Henson (London Welsh), Juan Pablo Orlandi (Racing Metro), George Ford (Leicester Tigers)
Out: Sam Vesty, Lee Mears, Dan Hipkiss (all retired), Michael Claassens (Toulon), Stephen Donald (Mitsubishi Dynaboars)
Opening their season at newly-promoted Newcastle, Bath couldn’t hope for a much easier platform on which to start their campaign.
In three preseason fixtures, Gary Gold’s side have managed to come out on top of two, but were unfortunate not to do better, losing to Newport and Gwent Dragons 22-20.
Bath’s forwards were particularly impressive in the club’s most recent friendly, a 27-10 win over Ospreys, which puts Gold and his men in good spirits heading into their first real test.
Last season, Bath were highly impressive when playing at The Rec, with nine of their 10 wins coming in front of a home crowd.
With several notable retirements this summer, the club have lost some important dressing room figures and may in fact experience a drop in the standards that saw them compete for the playoffs last term.
In: Tom James (Cardiff Blues), Fetu’u Vainikolo (Connacht), Don Armand (Stormers)
Out: Gonzalo Camacho (Leicester Tigers), Ignacio Mieres (Worcester Warriors), Richard Baxter (retired)
By continuing their admirable run as a Premiership outfit, this season again promises to provide testament as to whether Exeter can be considered a playoff-quality side.
For the past three seasons, the Devon outfit have lingered on the edge of the top four, but are now developing a side capable of causing some disharmony among the division’s higher powers.
The arrival of Tongan Fetu'u Vainikolo and flanker Don Armand from South Africa will provide some additional power to their ranks.
With a good mixture of experienced talent and upcoming prospects in his squad, Rob Baxter can once again hope to improve this term after finishing last season as the Premiership’s second-highest scorers.
In: Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets)
Out: Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Dave Lewis (Exeter Chiefs)
In seven matches last season, Gloucester either drew or lost by five points or less.
Considering the Cherry and Whites missed the playoffs by five points, their record shows just how close they are to being involved in the post-season silverware hunt.
If Nigel Davies’ men can muster the resolve to ensure that similar matches go their way this time around, they will again be in the running for a top-four finish.
Gloucester have had a mixed preseason, with Davies’ side losing away at Munster and Toulouse but managing decent home wins over Plymouth and Scarlets.
With a squad containing more international talent than many others, shoring up their defence will be the biggest priority for Gloucester this season.
The arrival of England flanker Matt Kvesic from Worcester should make them more solid in that regard.
In: Paul Sackey (Stade Francais), Nick Kennedy (Toulon), Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton)
Out: James Johnston (Saracens), Olly Kohn (retired), Chris Brooker (Worcester Warriors)
The highest scoring team in the Premiership last season, Harlequins were beaten in their playoff semi-final by eventual winners Leicester Tigers.
Quins' opening win against Wasps, which ended 42-40, would be a motif for most of the entire season, as the London side scored plenty of points but also conceded an unhealthy amount.
There hasn’t been too much change in Conor O’Shea’s roster sine then, perhaps the biggest piece of business being Chris Robshaw’s contract extension until 2016.
Despite having one of the most talented squads in the league, inconsistency crept into Quins’ campaign last season and could threaten their attempts at success again this term.
Only for so long can a tactic orientated around always trusting in the ability to outscore one’s opponent last, and this could be where Harlequins’ system comes undone.
With two wins and a loss in preseason encounters with Glasgow Warriors, London Scottish and Racing Metro, the sense of inconsistency doesn’t appear to have disappeared over the summer period either.
In: Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter Chiefs), Ryan Lamb (Saints), David Mele (Perpignan)
Out: George Ford (Bath), Geordan Murphy (retired), Martin Castrogiavanni (Toulon)
Leicester have had a bumpy preseason following their resounding triumph of 2012/13, winning two of their three friendly outings.
August started with a 52-15 loss against Montpellier in Switzerland before the Tigers then saw out wins over Jersey and Ulster.
The latter was a particularly encouraging victory and will put Richard Cockerill’s side in good mood building up to their season opener against Worcester next Sunday.
The touchline ban imposed upon Cockerill may have an impact, but the Leicester squad have achieved enough together to persevere through the first nine games of the season.
Leicester are a club who just know how to win, and over the summer they have added some decent options to a squad which already had impressive depth.
In: Jamie Hagan (Leinster)
Out: Alex Corbisiero (Saints), Joe Ansbro (retired), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Anthony Watson (Bath)
London Irish have been unable to find much consistency in recent seasons, going from playing some very attractive rugby in Europe to struggling in the league.
Having lost some big names in the off-season, things are unlikely to improve for Irish this season, and the term could easily be one spent battling in the bottom spots.
The Exiles managed to win their first preseason fixture, an outing against Nottingham, but have since lost matches away to Wasps and Munster.
Like last season, London Irish have struggled in defence of late, regardless of how renowned Shaun Edwards might be in that area.
The loss of British and Irish Lions star Alex Corbisiero to Northampton will do nothing to help their chances.
In: Andy Goode (Worcester Warriors),
Out: Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Stephen Jones (retired), Sakaria Taulafo (Stade Francais)
With Christian Wade and Tom Varndell leading their assault, the 2012/13 campaign saw London Wasps boast an attacking tally more worthy of a top-six side, rather than their eighth-place finish.
However, with their defence not up to the same standards, the club finished with a negative points difference.
The departures of Billy Vunipola and Sakaria Taulafo could hit Dai Young’s team hard as they haven’t been replaced with players quite as talented.
With Stephen Jones’ retirement, Andy Goode’s acquisition provides a reliable, but far from exhilarating presence at No.10, where Jack Carlisle could also feature.
Young still has an impressive roster at his disposal, particularly in his back-row options, but Wasps are unlikely to better their league placing of last term.
In: Nahuel Lobo (Montpellier), Kieran Brookes (Leicester Tigers), Mike Blair (Brive)
Out: Jimmy Gopperth (Leinster), James Hudson (Gloucester)
Life is going to be tough for Newcastle upon their return to England’s top tier.
Under head coach Dean Richards, the Falcons have brought in a healthy raft of talent players, some with experience at the top level.
But they have also had to let go of a few squad players who impressed in the North East, especially their New Zealand points machine Jimmy Gopperth.
Finding that balance without spending outside one’s limits is always the issue when making the step up to the Premiership level, something we won’t truly know if Newcastle have accomplished for some weeks.
Richards' side have had a varied preseason, drawing with Bath before beating Connacht and then finishing their summer preparation with a loss to Edinburgh.
There appears to be a lack of star talent at Kingston Park right now in a squad that still looks too close to being Championship standard.
Much responsibility will be on the shoulders of new arrival and former Scotland captain Mike Blair to keep the Falcons in the Premiership.
In: George North (Scarlets), Kahn Fotuali’l (Ospreys), Alex Cobisiero (London Irish)
Out: Ryan Lamb (Leinster), Soane Tonga’uiha (Racing Metro), Brian Mujati (Racing Metro)
In what has been a busy summer at Franklin’s Gardens, Jim Mallinder heads into this season with a squad capable of challenging on both domestic and European fronts.
George North and Alex Corbisiero join the Saints squad after extremely successful tours with the British and Irish Lions earlier this summer, and undoubtedly have big things ahead.
There has been good reason for Corbisiero’s arrival, though, given that fan favourites Soane Tonga’uiha and Brian Mujati have both moved on to their Parisian venture with Racing Metro.
But the Saints look stronger going into the new season and will seek to utilise the experience built up in recent seasons to really establish themselves as a trophy-winning side once more.
In the last fortnight, the Saints have gone four for four in their preseason preparations, and look set to improve on last season’s finish.
In: Michael Paterson (Cardiff Blues)
Out: Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh)
Much in line with the way things have gone at the Salford City Stadium for the last few seasons, Sale look set for another sluggish term fighting relegation.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, the club’s Scottish contingent have drawn attention from other clubs and the likes of Richie Vernon, Richie Gray and Alasdair Dickinson have moved elsewhere this summer.
Their departures are likely to be felt hard. Sale have poached from clubs of Championship standard or lower, and these replacements may not be of adequate strength for the club to avoid another relegation battle.
In: Marcelo Bosch (Biarritz), Billy Vunipola (Wasps), Michael Tagicakibau (Bristol)
Out: John Smit (retired), Kameli Ratuvou (Zebre)
As the club who finished the normal season top of the Premiership, Saracens again have expectation on their shoulders.
Saracens have had a promising recruitment period, managing to hold onto the vast majority of their players, while the most notable loss was the now retired John Smit.
The additions of Marcelo Bosch and Billy Vunipola, brother of Mako, adds some excellent depth in the centres and back row, respectively.
Saracens proved last season that good defence wins the majority of games, but they will need to maintain that level in the playoffs this season if they are to have a crack at winning the title.
Having experienced the pain of losing in the playoffs, the Allianz outfit will be all the more determined this season and will again be involved in the title race.
In: Paul Warwick (Stade Francais), Agustin Creevy (Montpellier)
Out: Matt Kvesic (Gloucester), Andy Goode (Wasps)
It’s difficult to call just how Worcester will perform this coming season after seeing the club lose their last two preseason fixtures against Cardiff and then Ospreys.
At times last season, Sixways was a tough place to travel to but the Warriors struggled with consistency.
The one thing that did do the club proud was some stern defence that proved difficult to overcome for periods.
With Australian Paul Warwick now orchestrating things from fly-half, there might be a chance for a bit more ingenuity in the Worcester back line.
Worcester will miss England flanker Matt Kvesic and Warwick's signing could make all the difference to them avoiding a dog fight at the foot of the table.