Rugby Union preview: Harlequins and Leeds

By Jerome Butcher

Rugby union

The Sport Review’s exclusive club-by-club guide will provide you with all there is to know about the latest news, transfers and predictions for the season ahead.

Guinness Premiership Preview: Harlequins

The Stoop 12,700. Last season: 2nd

Where to start with the south-west London club? After such a promising last season finishing second they reached the play-offs. However the Quins, with a sell-out crowd and the home advantage, were unable to get on the scoresheet as London Irish were supreme and brushed them aside 0-17.

Since that day a lot has happend this summer at Harlequins but without wanting to demonise the club, one cannot escape the notorious ‘bloodgate’ affair that has been so widely reported by the media. The long and short of it is 25 year-old winger Tom Williams was found guilty of faking an injury so that specialist kicker, Nick Evans, could replace him with five minutes remaining in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster. The outcome has been catastrophic for Harlequins.

Not only have the club damaged their own reputation but the entire sport’s as well. It has seriously undermined rugby union’s integirty and can only be described as an embarrassing scandal. The club have since been fined £215,000. Williams has been given a 12-month ban meanwhile Dean Richards after having resigned from his job as Head Coach, was later given a worldwide ban from coaching for three years by the IRB.

The governing body said, “The IRB operates a zero tolerance policy towards cheating of any form in the game and works tirelessly with all 116 member unions and key stakeholders to ensure that players are protected as well as the image of the game.”

Harlequins will have a tough season ahead trying to repair the damage done. Having said this they can take solace in the fact that William’s ban was reduced to four months on appeal and that they have not been ejected from this year’s Heineken Cup. Harlequins and its fans will now have to put all of this behind them with the prospect of the London Double Header at Twickenham against a not so small team called Wasps.

TSR predicts a top half finish but Quins may find it hard to reach the play-offs. Given all that has happened both players and staff will probably be concentrating on not allowing their club’s name to be dragged through the mud any further.

In: Lewis Stevenson, John Andress and Josh Drauniniu (Exeter Chiefs), Gonzalo Camacho, Rory Clegg (Newcastle Falcons), Karl Dickson (Bedford Blues), James Johnston (Ponsonby, NZ), Sam Stitcher.

Out: Andy Gomarsall (Leeds Carnegie), Mike Ross (Leinster), De Wet Barry (Southern Kings), Chris Malone (London Irish), Charlie Amesbury (Newcastle), Alex Rogers, Mickey Pointing, Peter Bracken, John Brooks, James Inglis, Shane O’Connor, Tom Sargeant and Phil Davies (Released).

TSR writers’ Prediction: 5th


Guinness Premiership Preview: Leeds Carnegie

Headingley 20,500. Last season: National One Champions

Leeds were crowned National One Champions (recently renamed the Guinness Championship), and have had a topsy turvy time of it these past few years. They have yo-yo’d between the top flight and the second tier of English rugby union for the last four years. The club, which gets its name from having been part-owned by Leed’s Metropolitan University and its Carnegie Sports College, have since been restructured and are once again fully owned by Leeds Rugby.

England World Cup winner Neil Back and Andy Key are the new head coaches and will hope they have the resources and quality at their disposal to keep Leeds in the Premiership. Marco Wentzel the second-row South African international, who recently arrived from Champions Leicester Tigers will take over the club captaincy from US international prop Mike McDonald.

Wentzel along with new signing Andy Gomarsall will provide much needed experience and some vital leadership skills to an otherwise young squad. Leeds have bolstered the ranks with seven new signings. Prolific fly-half Ceiron Thomas, having scored 288 points in 71 appearances for the Llanelli Scarlets, will be expected to do the same for Leeds.

There have been problems elsewhere with certain foreign players unable to obtain visas and work permits. McDonald, Juan Gomes from Argentina, Samoans Fosi Pal’amo and Henry Fa’fili are all still awaiting to hear if they can return to the UK to fight for Leeds’ cause. They should all, technically, be back in time for the opening fixture against potential relegation battlers Newcastle Falcons on Sunday, 6 September.

So already the problems start to pile up for the newly promoted side. They have also lost one of their two full-backs to injury. Leigh Hinton picked up an injury during his side’s win against French side Aurillac in a pre-season friendly, which could see him spend two months on the sidelines. Director of rugby Andy Key pointed out, “Losing Leigh is a big blow as we only have him and Jon Goodridge as our two out-and-out full-backs.”

Leeds will struggle and may find themselves heading straight back down to the Guinness Championship. Home wins against the bottom half, especially Worcester and Newcastle, and the odd bonus points will be their only way out.

In: Andy Gomarsall (Harlequins), Marco Wentzel (Leicester Tigers), Alfie To’aola (Bristol), Juan Gomez (Leinster), Henry Fa’afili (Biarritz Olympique), Gareth Hardy (Western Force), Ceiron Thomas (Scarlets).

Out: Rob Vickerman (Newcastle Falcons), Tom Biggs (Newcastle Falcons), Jon Dunbar (Released), Alberto Di Bernardo (Bourgoin), James Brooks, Andy Boyde and Adam Hopcroft (Doncaster).

TSR writers’ Prediction: 12th, relegated

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