As 2017 turns to 2018, the first round of Aviva Premiership fixtures of the year takes place this weekend where winning runs will look to be extended and losing streaks ended.
Among the stories across the six games this week are a possible try-scoring streak continuing, milestone appearances for players and the England contingent back in action after this week's training camp in Brighton.
The Aviva Premiership weekend kicks off Friday with the only game of the night when Worcester Warriors host Bath at Sixways. The Warriors will be looking to the league’s top try scorer Josh Adams for some inspiration after scoring for a sixth-consecutive league game in the loss at Saracens last time out, a scoring run that stretches back to October.
Adams has scored eight tries during that time and is closing in on Mark Cueto’s record of crossing in eight straight league games. After signing a new long-term deal this week, Ryan Mills starts at inside centre.
Following his first call-up to the England squad, Bath prop Beno Obano starts alongside two other faces who were at the training camp with the national team in Tom Dunn and Henry Thomas. Rhys Preistland makes his 50th appearance for the Blue, Black and Whites who have lost their last three Premiership games - they have not lost four in a row since the 2011/12 season.
Stat: Bath’s only defeat in their last 10 fixtures with Worcester was 25-19 at Sixways last April.
That losing feeling
At Welford Road there are two teams desperate to find some form. A loss for Leicester on Saturday would equal their worst-ever Premiership run from 2003 where they lost five games straight, while London Irish have won just one of their last 17 games in the competition.
Leicester won a tight game 28-27 in the reverse fixture and have George Ford captaining the side with England team mate Ben Youngs at scrum half. It's a landmark day for centre Manu Tuilagi who makes his 100th appearance for the Tigers as he continues his comeback. Irish signed South African pair Arno Botha and Piet van Zyl this week but they have not been named in the squad which has an unchanged XV.
Stat: Leicester have lost their last three matches at Welford Road in all tournaments but have not lost four in a row at the famous venue since 1975.
Two teams meet at Franklin’s Gardens in contrasting form with Northampton Saints losing their last seven Premiership games, while Gloucester have won seven of their last eight outings. In fact, it was Gloucester's win over the Saints in October at Kingsholm that sparked their current run.
Three days, three live games— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 5, 2018
Worcester v Bath
Northampton v Gloucester
Wasps v Saracens ⚫️
It all starts tonight at Sixways...pic.twitter.com/GW2kIvE196
England captain Dylan Hartley leads Saints in technical coaching assistant Alan Gaffney's opening game with ex-England U20 back Harry Mallinder switching from full back to fly half. The Cherry and Whites will look to improve on a record of two league wins on their travels this season and gain a first win at the Gardens since February 2013, and have Willi Heinz back to skipper the side.
Stat: Gloucester beat Northampton 29-24 at Kingsholm in round six but have not achieved a season’s double over Saints since 2010/11.
Sale Sharks and Harlequins both had their three-game runs ended at the weekend as the Sharks winning streak was stopped at Gloucester, while Quins overcame Northampton at Twickenham Stadium to end a run of three losses in a row.
England wing Marland Yarde will not face his former side for the first time since his mid-season move to Sale as the two club's came to an agreement before the move that he would not play. At the AJ Bell Stadium, Sale have been impressive this campaign with just two narrow losses. Scrum half Will Cliff will make his 100th Premiership appearance if he comes off the bench.
Quins, who are looking for their first win at the Sharks since April 2015, are missing Mike Brown with a minor knock as Ross Chisholm replaces him, but England's Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care are all included.
Stat: Sale fly half AJ MacGinty has been the most accurate kicker so far in the Premiership with a record of 89.47% of his kicks going over, including his last six strikes.
Chiefs go hunting
Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs go into the weekend with a 10-point lead at the top of the table having won their last seven Premiership games, but will face a Newcastle Falcons side bang in form themselves as they go in search of six straight victories for the first time since 2013/14.
Gary Graham starts at openside flanker for Newcastle after his first England call-up for the two-day training camp this week, while there are three changes to the starting XV including captain Will Welch returning. The Chiefs have the league’s leading points scorer Gareth Steenson at fly half but are without England trio Harry Williams, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell through injury.
Stat: In 13 Premiership meetings between the two clubs, Newcastle have just one win in October 2014.
Ricoh Arena hosts one of the games of the weekend as second-placed Saracens travel to a Wasps side sat in third. Wasps boss Dai Young will be hoping to celebrate signing a his new long-term deal with a win that will move them up above Sarries.
Ashley Johnson leads Wasps in the absence of Joe Launchbury who is rotated to the bench, with former England U20 prop Tom West set for his Premiership debut if he comes on as a replacement. Scrum half Richard Wigglesworth will make his 200th Sarries appearance playing alongside Owen Farrell, while England No 8 Billy Vunipola makes his return from a knee injury in a pack that includes brother Mako along with Maro Itoje and Nick Isiekwe.
Stat: Saracens have lost just two of their last 12 encounters with Wasps in Premiership Rugby.