Bristol Bears vs. Bath
What better way to kick-off the brand new 2019-20 Gallagher Premiership season than with a scintillating West country showdown between these two longstanding rivals at Ashton Gate. There was very little to separate the sides when they met last season, with each winning their home fixture by 7 points. Bristol will be hoping for a repeat of last season’s opening match, when an Alapati Leiua try and 12 points from the boot of Ian Madigan helped the Bears record a 17-10 victory over Todd Blackadder’s men. On the whole, both sides had fairly mediocre 2018-19 campaigns and will be hoping to push on further up the table this time round.
PREDICTION: Déjà vu at Ashton Gate – Bristol Bears Win.
Exeter Chiefs vs. Harlequins
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this will be the most entertaining encounter of Round 1. Last season’s defeated finalists will be chomping at the bit to put early pressure on Saracens and you can guarantee that the Sandy Park faithful will be an ever-reliable 16th man for the Chiefs. Similarly to Gloucester, Harlequins had one of their best seasons in quite some time and only missed out on a play-off spot on points difference. Quins notched up some remarkable results last season, most notably a 25-27 away victory at Kingsholm and a 28-26 win over Exeter at The Twickenham Stoop. This will be an extremely close-cut game, with both sides wanting to hit the ground running and take maximum points.
PREDICTION: Harlequins to take Chiefs to the wire – Exeter Chiefs Win.
Sale Sharks vs. Gloucester
With the arrival of six South African Super Rugby stars, Mark Wilson and Simon Hammersley from Newcastle Falcons, Sale are definitely the ones to watch. A mid-table finish was a fair reflection of Sale’s inconsistency throughout last season, however their opponents had one of their best campaigns in recent memory. The Cherry & Whites reached their first Premiership semi-final since the 2010-11 season and will be sure to want to replicate this success. Despite Sale’s impressive enlistment, I would imagine quite a few of their international stars will be plying their trade at The Rugby World Cup, meaning that the Salford-based side may have to rely on a few old(er) faces to put in a shift at The AJ Bell.
PREDICITON: The Cherry & Whites win on the road – Gloucester Win
Saracens vs. Northampton Saints
The reigning Gallagher Premiership champions kick start their season against a rejuvenated Northampton Saints side, reinforced by Southern Hemisphere talents such as Matt Proctor and Owen Franks. Saracens recorded back-to-back victories over The Saints last season, however a 23-9 triumph for Northampton in the inaugural Premiership Cup showed that the Londoners were not unbeatable. However, having gone undefeated at Allianz Park in all competitions last season, you’d have to think that Saracens will start their title defence with a straightforward win.
PREDICITON: Saracens pick up where they left off – Saracens Win.
Worcester Warriors vs. Leicester Tigers
Without a doubt, the 2018-19 season was a one to forget for the Leicester Tigers. Finishing 11th and only 10 points above relegated Newcastle Falcons, the Tigers will want to get back to winning ways and once again challenge for the top 4. Worcester have flirted with relegation over the past 3 seasons and with the likes of London Irish, Bristol Bears and Leicester Tigers all recruiting well over the summer, you’d have to think the West Midlanders are favourites for an exit to The Championship. Having said this, the Warriors did produce some impressive victories last season, picking up victories against Saracens, Bath and Leicester and with the likelihood of George Ford, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May all away on international duty, Worcester may fancy their chances to pick up the win at Sixways.
PREDICTION: Warriors tame the Tigers – Worcester Warriors Win.
Wasps vs. London Irish
Last but by no means least is the return of London Irish to English rugby’s elite. Undeniably, Irish have recruited some seriously exciting players, with the likes of Waisake Naholo, Sean O’Brien and Sekope Kepu all pledging their allegiance to the Reading-based side. Having said this, Wasps have had a busy summer too and conducted some impressive business of their own. The additions of Malaki Fekitoa, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Matteo Minozzi to name but a few will undoubtedly bolster a Wasps team looking to re-establish themselves as genuine contenders for the play-off spots. The small matter of The Rugby World Cup will mean that both sides will no doubt be without a number of their big guns, so it will be interesting to see the depth of both squads when put to the test early on in the season. Unsurprisingly, Wasps have dominated this fixture over the past 5 years, with the Midlands side notching up 7 victories in comparison to Irish’s 2.