And breath. The wait over. After a shortened summer thanks to the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, Aviva Premiership Rugby is back – and it promises to be bigger and better than ever.
The wealth of talent, both homegrown and imported is immense and with a number of tasty clashes on the opening weekend, it promises to be a fine opening salvo of action – made even better by the return of Sunday evening free-to-air highlights!
See below for our own predictions and picks on every game from Unibet…
Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs
Friday 1 September, 7.45
Live on BT Sport
This new 2017/18 season kicks off with a Friday Night Lights double-header and the first offering comes from Kingsholm, where Gloucester host defending champions Exeter Chiefs.
These two last met on the final day of last season as the Chiefs triumphed 34-20 to secure a home semi-final berth, don’t be surprised to see a bonus-point win on this first outing against a lacklustre looking Gloucester squad.
Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors
Friday 1 September, 7.45
Friday’s alternative show comes from the Premiership’s most northernly club as Newcastle Falcons welcome Worcester Warriors to Kingston Park, with all eyes on Toby Flood’s return to the English top flight.
Former England No 10 Flood has been plying his trade with Toulouse in the Top 14 for the past three years, but his return means Newcastle appear to have enough on paper to expect an opening win in front of their faithful following.
Saracens v Northampton Saints
Saturday 2 September, 2.00
Defending European champions Saracens get their campaign underway at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon with Northampton Saints the travelling side in the opening salvo of a Round 1 London Double Header from Rugby HQ.
The arrivals of half-backs Cobus Reinach and Piers Francis from Super Rugby will bring hope to already star-studded Northampton backline, but will they have enough to stop a fired up Saracens juggernaut? No. It is hard to see a route past a Saracens side with a point to prove having been denied the crown last term.
You can expect one thing for sure in this game, tries. And a fair few of them.
Wasps v Sale Sharks
Saturday 2 September, 3.00
Wasps, table toppers at the end of the 2016/17 regular season, played some sublime rugby last season and their visitors Sale Sharks will struggle to keep pace on Saturday at the Ricoh Arena.
Sale were left straddling in 10th last season and will do well to make much improvement as they come up against rampant Wasps side power-packed with international talent and a bonus-point win is on the cards here.
London Irish v Harlequins
Saturday 2 September, 4.45
A London derby on the opening weekend? Yes please. Second up on the mainstage at Twickenham on Saturday are London Irish, taking on city rivals Harlequins, who step up the big stage from The Stoop for this ‘away’ fixture.
Each year the financial gulf between Championship and Premiership Rugby is pondered, but after returning to the top flight at the first time of asking, it is difficult to see London Irish having enough in the tank to see off Quins, who are littered with England internationals throughout and should claim a big win.
Leicester Tigers v Bath Rugby
Sunday 3 September, 3.00
Possibly the tastiest of the Round 1 clashes is reserved for post Sunday roast viewing as Leicester Tigers host Bath Rugby at Welford Road in what has to be billed as a battle of the No 10s.
With George Ford returning to Leicester from Bath and Freddie Burns heading in the opposite direction there will be plenty of eyes on half-back showdown. A fiercely-contested, tight encounter is assured, but with fellow England back Jonny May donning to famous Tigers stripes alongside Ford it is Leicester who should be backed to take this on home turf.