All the weekend teams can be found here.
Northampton vs Gloucester Rugby
Two contrasting summers add more intrigue to what always tends to be an exciting encounter anyway. The Saints side has a hugely settled look to it, with no new faces, while Gloucester give debuts to five (Hook, Laidlaw, Hibbard, Afoa and Rowan) of their plethora of new signings. Burrell against Twelvetrees is the pick of the personal battles, given the connotations it has for England, while the battle in the front row will be brutal – a real test of Gloucester’s new recruits.
It’ll take time for Gloucester to settle, and a trip to the home of the champions, who have an established team, is not the ideal start. A home win. Northampton by 10.
Sale Sharks vs Bath Rugby
Difficult one to call, this. Sale won both games between the two sides last year, which will give them enormous confidence. Bath know this is exactly the kind of game they need to be winning if they are to break into the top four this season. The agonising experience of last year should serve them well this time around, and give them extra motivation. Their backline is seething with attacking talent, and if they can hold their own up front, they have a great chance.
Nobody at Bath will forget last season in a hurry. It’s a huge game for them first up, and one in which they can really make a statement. Bath by 3.
Saracens vs Wasps
The first game of the London Double Header should be an absolute belter. Saracens are missing their first choice front row, and the trio of Barrington, George and Longbottom looks a little raw. Wasps have plenty of experience in the likes of Matt Mullan and Lorenzo Cittadini, and could even look to dominate this area. Christian Wade makes his long-awaited return after injury and his battle (if not direct) with Chris Ashton will be fascinating with the spectre of England selection hanging over it.
This could be a lot closer than people are expecting: neutral ground, an inexperienced Saracens front five and some devastating pace in the Wasps ranks who could tear up a pitch as wide as Twickenham’s. That said, anything other than a Sarries win would still be a surprise. Saracens by 5.
Leicester Tigers vs Newcastle Falcons
Like Bath, there will be a sense of righting wrongs surrounding the Tigers this season. They are handed a relative softball of a fixture first up, against a side they have not lost to since 2009. All eyes will be on Freddie Burns, who has a bruising centre partnership of debutant Seremai Bai and Manu Tuilagi outside him to dictate. Tom Croft is another welcome addition after missing the entirety of last season with injury. Tigers old boy Alex Tuilagi is named on the Falcons’ bench, while Italian international Josh Furno will be looking to make an immediate mark from the engine room.
The Tigers do have a habit of starting slowly, but even so it’s very difficult to see anything other than a fairly convincing home win here. Leicester by 18.
London Irish vs Harlequins
The second instalment of the London Double Header is an intriguing one. There’s been plenty of moving and shaking at London Irish in the off season, some of which directly involves their opponents this weekend. Tom Guest starts in Irish colours having crossed the divide, while Marland Yarde starts for Quins having made the opposite journey. It should be a fairly open game with both sides boasting plenty of players capable of opening it up.
These two are likely to find themselves at opposite ends of the table come the end of the season, and that should show here. Harlequins by 15.
London Welsh vs Exeter Chiefs
The final game of the weekend is also one of the more difficult ones to predict. London Welsh’s adventures in the transfer market have been well-documented, and plenty of their new recruits are handed debuts this weekend. Most intriguingly, Piri Weepu joins up with Olly Barkley to form a new half-back partnership, and one that has plenty of experience. Exeter have a few new faces in their ranks as well, with Thomas Waldrom looking to prove a point at number eight and speedster Chrysander Botha an exciting prospect at fullback.
Welsh won this fixture two years ago, but with all their new faces it might take a while for them to click. Expect the Chiefs to hit the ground running with a win. Exeter by 9.
How do you see the weekend unfolding? How do your predictions compare to ours below? Don’t forget to join our free predictions league on SuperBru.
|NORvGLO||NOR by 10||NOR by 5|
|SALvBAT||BAT by 3||BAT by 8|
|SARvWAS||SAR by 5||SAR by 13|
|LEIvNEW||LEI by 18||LEI by 23|
|HARvIRI||HAR by 15||HAR by 10|
|WELvEXE||EXE by 9||WEL by 5|
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images