PREVIEW: Premiership, Round One
PREVIEW: Maverick talents Kurtley Beale and Danny Cipriani will spearhead Wasps' bid to dethrone Saracens and be crowned English champions for the first time since the 2007/08 campaign.
Wasps have invested heavily in freshening up the squad - England centre Kyle Eastmond has arrived from Bath and Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux will join in January - for the season which starts on Friday.
Director of rugby Dai Young will be praying both Australian Beale and Englishman Cipriani focus their efforts on the pitch and do not make the wrong sort of headlines as they did when they were at Melbourne Rebels four years ago.
Beale - who will earn a reported £1.5 million (1.7m euros, $1.9m) over two years but will not be available until late November at the earliest because of a knee injury - says those days are in the past, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika having reformed him when he was in charge of the Waratahs.
"That's quite a few years ago now," the 27-year-old utility back told The Times.
"Nobody's perfect in this world, but the culture at Wasps is fantastic and I don't think there will be any trouble."
Cipriani, whose last England appearance was in a World Cup warm-up match last year, is returning 'home' as he first sprang to prominence at Wasps before a troubled spell in Australia and then finding a safe haven at Sale.
"Saracens have set the bar and it is up to the chasing pack to close the gap," said Cipriani, who returns to a team where virtually the only fmailiar face is hoary backrow forward James Haskell.
"That is my focus, to help this team move forward and win trophies."
The 28-year-old added: "I can sleep happily at night knowing that I am doing all I can for that."
Despite the sparkling creative talent Wasps have accrued, they will find it tough to wrest the crown away from Saracens and their young but battle-hardened locks George Kruis and Maro Itoje.
They not only won the domestic title and a maiden European Champions Cup but were also part of the England side that cruised to the Six Nations Grand Slam and then a historic 3-0 series win in Australia over the World Cup finalists.
Aside from the arrival of Springboks legend Schalk Burger, the squad remains stable and Director of Rugby Mark McCall is confident they will not let their standards slip.
"The age profile of our group is good, they are highly motivated and hopefully better things are ahead," said McCall.
"We have grown as a club and we need to remember the underlying factors which have made us successful over the past couple of years.
"If we do stay true to those things, then hopefully we will give ourselves a chance."
Others hoping to gatecrash the title race are Leicester, Northampton - who have signed outstanding France No.8 Louis Picamoles - and Bath, who have hired former All Blacks skipper Todd Blackadder as head coach.
However, the inexorable rise of Exeter will engender most interest as they bid to go one better than last term's Final defeat to Saracens.
The vibrancy of their backs, flyhalf Henry Slade and wing Jack Nowell, will be bolstered by the arrival of centre Ollie Devoto, whilst experience in the pack has been added with Wallabies prop Greg Holmes.
"It's going to be another great challenge for us and what we've got to make sure we do is look forward to that challenge and make sure it brings the best out of us," head coach Rob Baxter told local paper Express and Echo.
"That's what we've thrived on in the past with Exeter and that's got to be what we make sure stays as one of the foundations we work on this season."
We take a look at all the Round One action!
Friday, September 2:
Gloucester Rugby v Leicester Tigers
(Kingsholm, Gloucester - Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Gloucester's only win in their last six season opening encounters in the Premiership came with their victory at Newcastle last year.
Leicester Tigers have secured an opening weekend victory in Premiership Rugby for the past four years. The Tigers only victory in their last seven away games was 30-24 at Northampton in round 20 last season.
Gloucester have won only one of their last seven fixtures with Leicester: 33-16 at Kingsholm in the Premiership in October 2014.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Yann Thomas
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Joe Latta, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 James Hook, 23 Gareth Evans
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Luke Hamilton, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Greg Bateman, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Will Evans, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Matt Smith, 23 Adam Thompstone
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest, Peter Allan
TMO: David Grashoff
Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks
(Kingston Park, Newcastle - Kick-off: 20.00; 19.00 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons have not won on the opening weekend of a new Premiership season since Sale visited Kingston Park in 2007.
The Tynesiders only victory in their last nine encounters in the competition was 13-6 at home to relegated London Irish on 17 April.
Newcastle have not beaten Sale in the Premiership since a 15-14 scoreline at AJ Bell Stadium in September 2013.
The Sharks have won on each of their last three visits to Kingston Park in the Premiership.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Evan Olmstead, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Jon Welsh
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Sam Lockwood, 19 Opeti Fonua, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Dominic Waldouck
Sale Sharks: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Will Addison, 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Nev Edwards, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Josh Beaumont (captain), 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Magnus Lund, 21 David Seymour, 22 James Mitchell, 23 Dan Mugford
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: John Meredith, Wayne Falla
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Saturday, September 3:
Saracens v Worcester Warriors
(Twickenham Stadium, London - Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
Saracens concluded last season with a run of ten successive victories in all competitions to lift the the Premiership and the European Champions Cup trophies.
Saracens have won on the opening weekend of the past four seasons, three of those being London Double Header encounters.
Saracens have won their last six matches against Worcester in all tournaments, including a 48-18 victory during last season's London Double Header at Twickenham on November 28.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Mike Ellery.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Jackson Willison, 14 Dean Hammond, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze (captain), 7 Marco Mama, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Na'ama Leleimalefaga, 18 James Johnston, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Perry Humphreys.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Simon McConnell, Roger Baileff
TMO: Graham Hughes
Northampton Saints v Bath
(Franklin's Gardens, Northampton - Kick-off: 15.30pm; 14.30 GMT)
The Saints only defeat in their last six encounters at Franklin's Gardens came when Leicester were the visitors in Round 20.
Bath have not defeated Northampton in the Premiership since a 38-8 victory at the Recreation Ground in February 2011 whilst they have only beaten Saints once on their own soil in the history of the tournament: 17-13 in April 2000.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ahsee Tuala, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood (captain), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 George North.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 David Denton, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 David Sisi, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jeff Williams.
Referee: J-P Doyle
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Ross Campbell
TMO: David Sainsbury
Harlequins v Bristol
(Twickenham Stadium, London - Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
Bristol return to the Premiership for the first time since they lost 3-73 to Leicester at the then Walkers Stadium in Round 22 of the 2008-09 campaign.
Bristol's only defeat in their last 17 RFU Championship matches came in leg two of last season's Final at home to Doncaster Knights.
Bristol have not played at Twickenham since they defeated Waterloo there in the Final of the Pilkington Challenge Cup in April 2004.
Harlequins have won their last five Premiership fixtures against Bristol, the most recent of which being at Memorial Stadium in March 2009.
The two clubs have met at Twickenham just once before, with Harlequins lifting the John Player Cup 28-22 in a game which also doubled up as part of the 1987-88 Division One campaign.
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (captain), 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sam Twomey, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Alofa Alofa.
Bristol: 15 Jack Wallace, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Jack Lam (captain), 6 Jon Fisher, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Mitch Eadie, 22 Rhodri Williams, 23 Ben Mosses.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kit
Sunday, September 4:
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs
(Ricoh Arena, Coventry - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Wasps have been defeated in their opening game of a Premiership season for the past four years.
Wasps have won their last nine matches at the venue in all tournaments since Saracens were victorious there in the Premiership Rugby on December 27.
The two sides met on four occasions during the 2015/16 last season with Wasps only victory being 25-24 at Ricoh Arena in the quarterfinal of the European Champions Cup in April - the Chiefs won all three Premiership encounters including the semifinal at Sandy Park in May.
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Sam Jones, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Brendan Macken, 23 Frank Halai.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand (captain), 5 Damian Welch, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 James Short.
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Stuart Terheege
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