- Premiership season kicks off 2 September
- Six stories to look out for throughout the season
The Aviva Premiership kicks off on Friday after a hive of summer activity which has seen some of the best players in world rugby arrive in English rugby's top flight.
Reigning champions Saracens will be looking to replicate last year’s flawless season but there will be competition from all corners of the country; here are six stories to look out for this season in Premiership Rugby.
Sale Sharks captain Josh Beaumont believes the arrival of Wales legendary scrum half Mike Phillips will push the north west side into the top four this season.
Sale finished sixth last season earning qualification in to the Champions Cup but with 197 caps shared with Irish scrum half Peter Stringer, Beaumont is excited to see the impact from both half backs.
“We’ve brought in a lot of experience with the likes of Rob Webber from Bath and Mike Phillips who’s renowned at international level so they’ll benefit our squad," said Beaumont.
"We qualified for the Champions Cup which was a big positive but I think we missed out on a few points and could have pushed for the top four so this season is all about going one better and making that top four."
Beaumont was selected in England’s RBS 6 Nations squad but injured his shoulder in training and the Sharks captain has his sights on an England debut this season. He also described being appointed captain as a "massive honour".
"I got a taste of it last season," he added. "So for me it’s about finding my form again with Sale and hopefully the rest will follow.
"I’m a north west lad so to captain my local Premiership team is a hugely proud moment for me and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it."
THREE TEST WINS AND A WEDDING
2012 champions Harlequins celebrate their 150th year this season with a retro kit, a pre-season in America and England scrum half Danny Care as captain.
"It’s an unbelievable honour," said Care.
""I don’t really recognise now how special it is and how fortunate I am to be asked to lead the club in such a special year. It’s one of the oldest clubs in history and hopefully we can push for some success on the field.
"I love the new kit, the new shirt looks really good for the 150th anniversary. It’s retro and a bit old school, I think we’ll win best dressed this year if nothing else."
The 29 year-old had a remarkable summer winning a historic Test series with England, enjoying a pre-season tour with Quins in the USA, and getting married.
“It was an interesting summer, a bit different to normal but it was brilliant," he revealed. "We got back from Australia and I had four weeks to fit in a stag do, a wedding and a honeymoon but we managed to do it all," Care added.
“We did John Major XO for our first dance but stopped half way through to sing Cheerleader and get everyone dancing.”
WASPS READY TO LAUNCH
South Africa star Willie Le-Roux is the latest elite player to pen a contract with Wasps, joining Kurtley Beale as well as Danny Cipriani among others and captain Joe Launchbury understands the challenge of managing expectations.
"It’s hard because the expectations on us are increasing and that’s something we have to be aware of," said Launchbury.
"We had a good season last year but we need to repeat that and this league is getting so tough with great teams."
The 25-year-old lock has taken over the captaincy from fellow England players James Haskell and Matt Mullan for the new season.
“It’s a huge honour and something I’m really looking forward to," he said. "I feel like I had a really good season last year and performed well on the pitch.
“I came off the back of a great high in Australia and I managed to get a few weeks holiday with the family which was lovely and recharged the batteries. I had to move house as well which is a big job but luckily I was in Australia at the time.”
BURGERS ALL ROUND
Mark McCall’s Saracens side will do well to better last season after winning the Premiership and Champions Cup, but the arrival of South Africa legend Schalk Burger is a big boost.
“Obviously we lost two experienced players through Jacques Burger and Charlie Hodgson so we decided we needed to sign an experienced player to step in and Schalk Burger has joined us. He’s made a great impression in the first two weeks," said Head Coach McCall.
The biggest challenge for the reigning champions is the loss of seven England internationals for the RBS 6 Nations and Old Mutual Wealth Series in November.
“It is an issue for us, being able to cope during those international windows," added McCall.
"We’re going to have seven or eight players at least away. To win down in Australia is tough to do and to win 3-0 is incredible and it’s put so much confidence in the squad. I think England have a great set of young players who aren’t reliant on a few individuals."
Former England Head Coach Andy Robinson has led Bristol back into the top flight for the first time since 2009 but insists survival is not their only aim.
“We’re looking up the table," said Robinson.
"It’s not about survival but performing for 80 minutes, never giving up and fighting for everything. We’re under no illusions if we under-perform then we’re going to take a hiding and that’s the nature of the Premiership."
“Everybody in the group has to understand how to defend well and enjoy the occasions because Bristol have been waiting a long time for this and played really hard to get to this stage."
Bristol will travel to The Rec in November to take on old rivals Bath in a historic local derby.
"We've got to enjoy going out there and playing on the big stage because it's great to be playing in places such as Allianz Park, Welford Road, Newcastle and going to Kingsholm, even for the players going to The Rec to play against Bath," added Robinson.
"There'll be some great occasions for us to have and we've got to thrive on that."
ALL CHANGE AT THE REC
It has been a busy summer at the Recreation Ground both on and off the pitch. Out goes director of rugby Mike Ford and in comes New Zeland duo Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson - who has been named Head Coach. There are also roles for Andy Rock and former captain Stuart Hooper.
There will also be a new leader on the pitch with Guy Mercer captaining a side that underachieved last season but has been boosted by the arrival of star names Taulupe Faletau and Luke Charteris.
“This is a huge honour for me,” said Mercer. “I grew up watching Bath, so to play for them was always a huge ambition of mine, and now to have been asked to lead the players makes me incredibly proud."
Mercer also hailed the "positive atmosphere" at the club as they look to repeat the 2015 season when they reached the Premiership final. “Now we’ve got our coaching structure locked in, the atmosphere is very positive and we’re ready to crack on with the Premiership games.
“It was frustrating (last season) but there have been some good foundations put in place over the last couple of seasons. The other thing with not being as successful as we wanted is that we’ve learned a lot."