Refs told to re-assert their authority
There will be two contests underway when the English Premiership season starts - the battle for the title and a place in England's World Cup squad.
Away from the build-up to next year's World Cup, where hosts England will be bidding to win the trophy for only the second time, this season will be a huge test for London club Saracens.
Just prior to the end of last term Saracens chairman Nigel Wray told AFP: "We are on the verge of history - or nothing."
They ended up with nothing after losing the European Cup Final to a Jonny Wilkinson-inspired Toulon and the following week going down to an agonising 24-20 defeat by Northampton in the Premiership final at Twickenham.
Saracens' already-strong pack has been bolstered by the arrival of aggressive Scotland lock Jim Hamilton, brought in following the retirement of club captain and former England skipper Steve Borthwick while Argentina prop Juan Figallo is another new recruit.
Owen Farrell, currently England coach Stuart Lancaster's first choice No.10, will continue to direct operations at flyhalf.
But while England's pack is regarded as a world-class unit, doubts remain about whether they have a sufficiently skilful back division to knock reigning world champions New Zealand off their perch.
It was an issue flagged up by Clive Woodward, England's victorious coach in 2003, when he ran the rule over England's backs in his Daily Mail column published on Wednesday.
The comments Woodward, himself a free-running and creative England centre made about Farrell "a world-class goal-kicker" who "tackles hard", might apply equally to several current England backs.
"Do I see England winning a World Cup with Farrell starting at No 10?," asked Woodward.
"Not currently, I want to see more craft and devil in his kicking and passing, asking more questions of defences," Woodward added.
The likes of Freddie Burns, who has moved from Gloucester to the perennial contenders Leicester and Danny Cipriani, who showed glimpses of his old form with Sale last season, will look to put the pressure on Farrell and England reserve flyhalf George Ford.
Northampton, with New Zealand-born England hooker Dylan Hartley key to their side, will be a side bolstered by the experience of winning both a maiden Premiership title and the European Challenge Cup.
Harlequins, whose side features England captain Chris Robshaw, will also be desperate to maintain their place among the top four.
Bath will be keen to force their way into the top four and plenty of eyes will be turned westwards to see how former rugby league star Sam Burgess fares in his debut union season.
Burgess quit Australia's NRL in a bid to force his way into Lancaster's World Cup squad but whether he can master the 15-man code's complexities in one season remains to be seen.
One southern hemisphere recruit for whom that won't be an issue is World Cup-winning All Black Piri Weepu.
The former New Zealand scrumhalf has signed for newly-promoted London Welsh, the 'glamour' club of English rugby back in the 1970s when such greats as JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and John Taylor all played for the Exiles.
In what could be a forerunner of World Cup protocols, Premiership referees have been told to re-assert their authority.
Last season saw referees able to consult television match officials not just on the act of scoring a try but up to two phases beforehand.
The ensuing rows were one thing, but the biggest bugbear for players, coaches and fans alike was the time it took to make a decision.
It also emerged the TMO could intervene himself, as happened controversially in the Premiership final where Saracens were awarded what may have been a match-clinching try on the field, only for it to be disallowed 'upstairs'.
"There has been a tendency to say 'we better check this' or 'we better check that'. But we want none of that now," said Rugby Football Union referees' chief Tony Spreadbury.
All the Premiership teams and match details:
Friday, September 5
Northampton Saints v Gloucester
(Franklin's Gardens - Kick-off: 19.30, 18.30 GMT)
Northampton Saints: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 James Craig, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Ben Foden.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 James Hudson, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Dan Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Tom Palmer, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Mark Atkinson, 23 Steve McColl.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Paul Dix, Stuart Terheege
TMO: Sean Davey
Saturday, September 6
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons
(Welford Road - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers: 15 Niall Morris, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (captain), 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Sebastian De Chaves, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Jamie Gibson, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Matt Smith.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Noah Cato, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Calum Green, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Alex Tuilagi, 23 Gonzalo Tiesi.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Andy Watson, Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Grashoff
London Irish v Harlequins
(Twickenham - Kick-off: 16.30, 15.30 GMT)
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 James Short, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Dan Leo, 4 George Skivington (captain), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Matt Parr, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Tomás O'Leary, 22 Chris Noakes, 23 Tom Fowlie.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler (captain).
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ollie Lindsay-Hague.
Referee: Gregory Garner
Assistant referees: Ashley Rowden, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Keith Lewis
Sale Sharks v Bath
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 14.00, 13.00 GMT)
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Will Addison, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Mark Easter, 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid (captain), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Nathan Hines, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Alberto di Marchi, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Magnus Lund, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Tom Arscott.
Bath: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Alafoti Fa'osiliva, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Carl Fearns, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Matt Banahan.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Paul Burton, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Saracens v London Wasps
(Twickenham - Kick-off: 14.00, 13.00 GMT)
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Al Hargeaves (captain), 4 George Kruis, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Tim Streather.
London Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Chris Bell, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Will Hughes, 7 James Haskell (captain), 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 John Yapp , 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Andrea Masi.
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey, Peter Huckle
TMO: David Sainsbury
Sunday, September 7
London Welsh v Exeter Chiefs
(Kassam Stadium - Kick-off: 14.00, 13.00 GMT)
London Welsh: 15 Seb Jewell, 14 Seb Stegmann, 13 Tom May (captain), 12 Tim Molenaar, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Olly Barkley, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Richard Thorpe, 6 Pete Browne, 5 James Down, 4 Dean Schofield, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Koree Britton, 1 Ricky Reeves.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Pablo Henn, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Matt Corker, 20 Ollie Stedman, 21 Rob Lewis, 22 Tristan Roberts, 23 Rhys Crane.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Moray Low, 19 Don Armand, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Jack Arnott.
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant referees: Roger Baileff, Roy Maybank
TMO: Graham Hughes