THE CHAMPIONSHIP season is finally here, arriving just a week after the Aviva Premiership kicked off.
With Ealing jumping up to the division and London Welsh dropping down, clubs running out of money or securing plans for a new home, it is all go. Predictable? Probably not, but we’ve given a rundown a go. Look at our team-by-team guide to see where we think everyone will finish once the dust has settled.
RUGBY WORLD’S CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM GUIDE
Last season: 3rd
Head coach: Mike Rayer
Highly-rated prop Nico Steenkamp returns after a season at Coventry, while a Saracens trio have signed up, including centre Sam Stanley, nephew of All Black great Joe.
Last season: 5th
Head coach: Sean Holley
Andy Robinson is the man to reawaken Bris in their 125th anniversary season. Fly-half Nicky Robinson is the biggest name among a clutch of arrivals from the Premiership.
Last season: 6th
Head coach: Ian Davies
Kiwi fly-half Jonny Bentley has signed for Gloucester, but No 8 Aaron Carpenter and wing Matt Evans are raring to go after helping Canada to a famous win over Fiji in June.
Last season: National One winners
Head coach: Ben Ward
After winning promotion with 20 points to spare, DoR Mike Cudmore has spent the summer bringing in 17 new faces, including six players on loan from Quins and Wasps.
Last season: 11th
Head coach: Ben Harvey
Tonga hooker Elvis Taione and Wales Sevens scrum-half Nicky Griffiths must lead from the front for the Channel Islanders, who are captained by ex-Wasps lock Alex Rae.
Last season: 8th
Head coach: TBA
All the Exiles are full-time now and they hope to climb to the top. They were in Hong Kong this summer, where they coached children and watched the Lions. Have lost their coach Simon Amor to the England Sevens, but have made some shrewd signings.
Last season: 12th in Premiership
Head coach: Justin Burnell
They’re staying at the Kassam but bouncing back is a tall order for a new coach who’s seen lots of players depart. Gordon Ross is backs coach and Tom May the team captain.
Last season: 4th
Head coach: James Lowes
Ex-Leeds Rhinos coach Lowes has switched codes, with the brief to take Carnegie back to the top flight. Influential back-row Rob Baldwin has extended his contract.
Last season: 10th
Head coach: Kevin Maggs
Andy Robinson’s 20-year-old son, Olly, who has England U18 honours, packs down at openside. In the backs, much will be expected of Simon Hunt, an England Sevens star.
Last season: 2nd
Head coach: Martin Haag
Lack of finance has forced Haag to cut his playing staff from 30 to 23. Tim Streather, Championship Player of the Year last term, has signed for Saracens. May struggle a little.
Last season: 9th
Head coach: James Shanahan
All change at Albion after a player influx and new-look coaching team headed by Shanahan and forwards coach Rhys Oakley. Pale Nonu, brother of Ma’a, has signed up.
Last season: 7th
Head coach: Lee Blackett
Ex-Titans captain Blackett says his ambition is to see passion every week. Former Falcons Micky Ward and Ed Williamson will help coach and fans’ favourite Alfie To’oala returns after a ten-year gap.
To read an exclusive interview with Bristol’s Director of Rugby, Andy Robinson, check out the October issue of Rugby World – Out now!