The 2022-23 Gallagher Premiership season kicks off on Friday with a west country derby between Bristol and Bath at Ashton Gate.
Less than three months after Leicester won a first Premiership title since 2013, the race for silverware will be off and running.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into a new campaign.
Worcester’s fight for survival
The big pre-season story has been about Worcester and their financial strife. HM Revenue & Customs has frozen the club’s finances in its pursuit of unpaid tax, while players and staff have seen delays in wages being paid. Four Worcestershire MPs have called for Warriors to be placed in administration, and on the field they face a Premiership opener at London Irish after playing no pre-season friendlies. It looks like Worcester will kick off the league campaign on schedule, but their troubles are far from over amid continued uncertainty.
Tigers on the prowl
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) September 6, 2022
It took head coach Steve Borthwick just two years to transform Leicester from Premiership relegation contenders into league champions as Tigers triumphed by beating Saracens in a pulsating Twickenham final. Leicester were at the wrong end of the table before Borthwick arrived in mid-2020, but alongside key individuals like Kevin Sinfield, George Ford and Ellis Genge, a stunning transformation was completed. Ford and Genge have now moved elsewhere, yet Borthwick has brought in the likes of international stars Anthony Watson and Handre Pollard, so expect another big season.
Hot or cold Bath?
It is difficult to imagine how Bath can be any worse than last term, when they finished bottom of the Premiership after winning just five of 24 league games and conceding more than 760 points. They suffered some humiliating defeats – notably 71-17 at home to Saracens and 64-0 at Gloucester – and a summer shake-up has seen former Munster boss Johann van Graan arrive as the club’s new head of rugby. Player-wise, the likes of Watson, Taulupe Faletau, Semesa Rokoduguni and Danny Cipriani have departed, but notable new arrivals include Chris Cloete, Quinn Roux and Piers Francis. The only way is up, surely.
Bristol’s Genge factor
Genge is on the back of a season to savour, captaining Leicester to the title and starring for England as their international schedule ended with a Test series triumph against Australia Down Under. The prop’s performances were consistently outstanding, and his hometown club Bristol can now reap the benefit of recruiting a player in the form of his life. He offers a huge presence on and off the field, and while a squad is about way more than just one player, Genge could make the biggest impact of any player in the Premiership this term.
Can Gloucester be the big cheese?
Gloucester are among only four clubs – Leicester, Bath and Wasps are the others – to have enjoyed unbroken top-flight status since leagues began in English rugby 35 years ago. They have yet to lift the title, though, making Premiership final appearances in 2003 and 2007 when they were crushed by Wasps and Leicester. But under head coach George Skivington, a sleeping giant is stirring, with the Cherry and Whites finishing only two points outside the play-off zone last season. The pack looks capable of mixing it with any rival, while stardust is provided by players such as Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonny May and Chris Harris. It could prove a heady mix.