Who Will The Contenders Be to Become the Guinness Premiership Champions?

James NichollsContributor IJuly 17, 2008

The new Guinness Premiership season begins in under two months time and already fans from all 12 teams are eagerly waiting for it to begin.

Last year saw Gloucester finish top of the table, only for London Wasps to win the trophy at Twickenham, after beating Leicester Tigers in the final, and this September, it all starts again.

In my opinion, the contenders for the Guinness Premiership are likely to come from the same three of the same four teams as last season: Gloucester, Wasps, and Bath, with Harlequins joining them this year.

When the end approaches in May, I would not bet against the top four looking like the above.

Gloucester will be looking to go one better than the two previous seasons, where, despite topping the table twice, they were beaten in the playoffs on both occasions, perhaps proving the farce of the playoff system.

Recruiting well, adding the likes of Olly Barkley and Greg Somerville, will only enhance the prospects of the one of the best supported teams in the world.

Ryan Lamb, the hugely influential young fly-half, will be looking to create all sorts of mayhem, and with players like James Simpson-Daniel, Mike Tindall, and Lesley Vainikolo around him, he may be the key player for the Gloucester boys.

Injuries to Akapusi Qera and Gareth Delve sustained in international games will not be great news, but with the superhuman Andy Hazell waiting in the wings, Gloucester have a more than able replacement for the flying Fijian.

The fans will be hoping that this will be the year, and with Gloucester looking even stronger than last season, there is no reason why they can't go on to finally get the trophy they desire.

London Wasps will be looking to retain their title at Twickenham next week. Though not the wealthiest of teams, they do have some very good players, such as Tom Rees, Eoin Reddan, and of course, Danny Cipriani.

With Shaun Edwards coaching them, Wasps are always a team to be feared. Time will tell how much England call-ups will affect them, as Wasps are set to be without a significant amount of players for a big chunk of the campaign.

Also, Danny Cipriani's injury may stretch them at fly-half, with only Dave Walder to come into the No. 10 shirt. They are good enough to reach the top four, and once they are into the playoffs, write them off at your peril, as they are masters of timing their form. 

Bath, like Gloucester, were beating in the playoffs last year. With Olly Barkley, Butch James, and Steve Borthwick all proving to be influential players, Bath did not finish the season without a trophy, winning the European Challenge Cup.

However, with Barkley now plying his trade down the road at Gloucester, and Borthwick at Saracens, they may face more of a struggle. As of yet, they have not signed any players of the same standard, and with the start of the season not far off, and pre-season matches approaching soon, they must find players.

On a plus side, their team is littered with talent. Michael Lipman was outstanding last season, and Nick Abendanon, Michael Claasens, and Matt Banahan all proved their worth.

They will hope to continue the fantastic links between the forwards and the backs this season, and I see them finishing in third place.

Harlequins went through some very good spells last season and some bad ones, noticeably the last game of the season, losing to Leicester, which left them lying outside of the top four.

This season, I believe, will be the season they reach the top four. They will not win it, but they will push quite a few teams hard during the regular season. Danny Care proved what a tremendous talent he is and a future England star he will become.

Quins will hope to have David Strettle fit for most of the season, as they missed his pace and running when he was injured. They have recruited well, signing the highly rated New Zealander Nick Evans from the Auckland Blues to give them quality at fly-half.

In front of the backs, Harlequins also possess some great forward power. Chris Robshaw and Tom Guest burst onto the scene last year and will be looking to further enhance their reputations. Quins will surprise a few, sneaking into fourth place.

Leicester is not looking to be the highly threatening team they once were, and this season, may struggle to get more away wins. London Irish have a good squad, but are not yet ready to break into the top four.

Saracens have recruited well, but are not thought to be contenders for the league. Sale look to be weaker than ever and have not signed a lot of quality players. They may struggle this season, and a bottom three finish would not be surprising.

At the other end of the table, most seem to have it set that either Bristol or Newcastle will be at the bottom of the mountain at the end of the season. It is hard to disagree.

With Worcester bolstering their squad with an army of Kiwi's, and not forgetting Chris Latham, and Northampton already having a Premiership standard team, the West Country men and the Geordies will have a lot on their plates.

Bristol do not possess the greatest resources so are restricted in terms of buying new players, and the Falcons simply do not have the quality. Losing Mat Tait and Toby Flood will have done them no favors either.

So with another season of rugby ahead, we can only hope it is as entertaining as last season. With some of the Experimental Law Variations being trialed, much to the objection of the English public, and not needed at all, we will what happens with them.

What we do know is that the prospects of another thrilling Premiership campaign are very high.