The temp­ta­tion is to put Ex­eter’s name on the tro­phy right now

With Sara­cens al­most cer­tainly out of top-four mix, Chiefs look the ones to beat af­ter three Pre­mier­ship rounds

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Rugby Union - WILL GREEN­WOOD

Bath

Bat­tered in round one on a Fri­day night at Bris­tol. That may hap­pen to a few teams. Dog­fight in a swim­ming pool at home to Ex­eter in round two to de­liver Stu­art Hooper his first vic­tory as di­rec­tor of rugby. The road was their en­emy again at Wasps.

Star man Tom El­lis. Proper unit at six. Tough line-out man. Big tack­ler. Car­ries a heavy ball.

Bris­tol

Fri­day night at Ash­ton Gate will be their friend. Took Bath to clean­ers in round one. Th­ese boys will be in the mix at the higher end of the ta­ble. Coach Pat Lam has filled all his play­ers with the con­fi­dence not only that they be­long, they should also be top four.

Star man Chris Vui. Ath­letic, dy­namic, ball-han­dling hy­brid.

Ex­eter

Sara­cens will surely find it im­pos­si­ble to make the top four and the temp­ta­tion is to en­grave Ex­eter on the tro­phy now. Rob Bax­ter’s man­age­ment is ex­em­plary. They have splut­tered this sea­son, but still have two wins un­der their belt. Nine points and nowhere near their best. Ex­eter will be top four, no ques­tion.

Star man Jack Ye­an­dle. Cap­tain who epit­o­mises ev­ery­thing good.

Har­lequins

Round one nearly served up a crack­ing win at Ex­eter. Re­lief was spread across the Stoop when the fi­nal whis­tle went at home to Bris­tol, then out­played at Northamp­ton. Paul Gus­tard needs to sort the de­fence out.

Star man Alex Dom­brandt (right). Most likely to give some thrust.

Glouces­ter

Huge things are ex­pected of th­ese boys. The back line is or­ches­trated by Danny Cipri­ani. Sale should have been 20 clear by half-time in round one up north and snatched de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory. Bul­lied Wasps off the park at

home, then blew it when they should have won at Le­ices­ter. Have “top four” writ­ten all over them.

Star man Joe Simp­son. Looks as happy as a pig in muck.

Le­ices­ter

Des­per­ate to get five lads back who played in a World Cup fi­nal. Ge­orge Ford rode to their res­cue last sea­son and will need to do it again. To­mas La­vanini – sent off for the high chal­lenge on Owen Far­rell in Japan – will be big for them. The re­in­force­ments can­not ar­rive soon enough.

Star man Tom Hard­wick. Head up, plays what is in front of him.

Lon­don Irish

Won their opener, but then lost the next two. I do not think Lon­don Irish are in the same state as last time they failed to stay up. Some huge sign­ings, such as Waisake Na­holo. Con­sis­tency the key for a newly pro­moted team.

Star man Ruan Botha. Big lump who can run and han­dle as well.

Northamp­ton

Bal­ance of the team looks great. De­sire to play if space is on. Happy to roll up their sleeves if needed. How was Taqele Nai­yar­a­voro (right) not play­ing in the World Cup for Aus­tralia? Can some­one tell me how Rory Hutchin­son was not in the Scot­land mid­field in Japan? He is go­ing to tear it up this year, a proper ball-han­dling run­ning cen­tre with some real wheels. Round-one win at Sara­cens, then de­stroyed Worces­ter and Quins in rounds two and three. Proper team.

Star man Nai­yar­a­voro. Huge man with bal­ance and soft hands.

Sale

Steve Di­a­mond’s play­ers snatched de­feat in round one against Glouces­ter. Then Lon­don Irish bore the brunt. Sale de­served a point at Bris­tol in round three. If they can sort out their line-out, they will take some big scalps.

Star man Coe­nie Oosthuizen. Mas­sive South African tight­head.

Sara­cens

There is a temp­ta­tion to leave a blank sec­tion. But, rugby-wise, three rounds of mixed qual­ity from Mark Mc­call’s men. Not sur­pris­ing when you have so many un­be­liev­able play­ers away at the World Cup. Nine points with all their stars away was a tidy re­turn. But the tec­tonic plates have shifted. Mc­call now has his great­est chal­lenge.

Star Man Ben Earl. A dy­namo in the back row.

Worces­ter War­riors

The sus­pi­cion is th­ese boys will be in the rel­e­ga­tion dog­fight af­ter one win from three. No English su­per­stars to re­turn, but that could be a bless­ing af­ter the toll the World Cup may have taken on some. They have some­thing about them I like: tough, te­na­cious, happy to play with ball in hand. One-man show in round one as Ted Hill beat Le­ices­ter on his own. Blown away in round two by Northamp­ton. Had Ex­eter where they wanted them in round three be­fore a sucker punch just be­fore half-time.

Star man Hill. Bossed the game in Worces­ter’s one win so far.

Wasps

I get the feel­ing this year will be tough for Wasps. They do not have the strike power to score 20 points quickly like they had. Poor per­for­mance at home to Lon­don Irish, then beaten up at Glouces­ter. Backs against the wall against Bath at home. Col­lec­tive ef­fort to win will please Dai Young.

Star man Zurab Zh­va­nia. Prop for­ward who is huge in the scrum.

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