Here we go then for the new Premiership Rugby season, and the first of my weekly predictions articles. New coaches, new players, a new team, and lots of excitement ahead of the long build up to the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year.
In a case of extremely bad timing, I am moving house this week, and so writing these predictions on Wednesday, well before any team news or lineups have been announced.
So with the excuses out of the way before I’ve even begun, here are my Gallagher Premiership predictions for Round 1.
Bristol v Bath
I really want Bristol to do well this season, and they have a strong-looking squad that should be able to compete. They’ve been preparing for a while for life in the Premiership, and with some of Bath’s internationals having a shorter pre-season, and others such as Francois Louw still away with South Africa, I want to pick an upset. A Bristol win in the West Country derby would be a splendid way to kick off the season, but history says that Premiership experience counts for a lot, and the smart money is on Bath to win this one. They’ll be well aware of the home side’s threats, a big 45-12 preseason win over the Scarlets will give them some confidence, and Todd Blackadder will have prepared his cohort effectively. Bath by 13
Gloucester v Northampton
Northampton will be keen to put a torrid season behind them as quickly as possible, but a trip to Kingsholm is a tough start. Gloucester will have a strong South African contingent this year, with coach Johan Ackerman recruiting several of his star players from the Lions, and if he can replicate the success he had there, the Shed will be buzzing. Saints have won 5 of the last 6 against Gloucester, but I’m backing the home side in this one. Gloucester by 6
Harlequins v Sale
Here’s another team that needs a strong start after a disappointing campaign last year, and they have a slightly kinder opening match. The home team has won this fixture on the last six occasions, and I think Quins will start with a win. It’s a new era under Paul Gustard, with various coaching changes that should see them get more from their stellar squad, and a relatively kind opening 4 fixtures means they can build some confidence and challenge for Europe at least. Harlequins by 9
Worcester v Wasps
I think it could be a long season for Worcester, not helped by the fact that they play 4 of last seasons top 5 teams in the opening 5 rounds. Wasps have beaten them in the last eight matches between the two sides, and all but two of those have been double-figure winning margins. Wasps by 16
Exeter v Leicester
The Tigers are looking a bit weak in the front five at the start of the season after a couple of key injuries, and Sandy Park is no place to play without a solid pack. The Chiefs are looking like title contenders once again, and I expect them to get their campaign underway with a home win. Exeter by 7
Newcastle v Saracens
Expectations in the north-east are considerably higher than this time last year, and whilst they have a very tough opening fixture, what better way to lay down a marker for the season than by beating the champions? I’m having to put aside my long-held beliefs about Newcastle’s weaknesses, but I still can’t see them defeating Saracens in Round 1. The quality of their first-choice team, allied to the extraordinary squad depth, means it’s safer to pick Sarries to win every week. Saracens by 6
Follow Hutch on Twitter: @Hutch_James