Aviva Premiership 2014 - New Season Preview
2nd September 2014
As the new Aviva Premiership season gets underway this month, Ben Kay, BT Sport rugby pundit, England World Cup winner and six-time Premiership champion with Leicester Tigers, picks out some of the key live televised games in September
Northampton Saints v Gloucester Rugby, Friday 5 September, 7.45pm BT Sport
The season gets underway with a big Friday night battle at Franklin's Gardens as reigning champions Saints host Gloucester. This is the start of a new era for the visitors, the Cherry-and-Whites having undergone a real overhaul both on and off the field during the summer, and it would be a major coup for new director of rugby David Humphreys if his team got off to a winning start here against a formidable - and settled - Saints squad. For his part, Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder is unlikely to allow his charges to rest on their laurels after last season's glory and will be focusing once more on adding to last season's silverware.
Saracens v Wasps, Saturday 6 September, 2pm BT Sport
The first leg of what promises to be another epic London Double Header at Twickenham on the opening weekend of the season. Over 62,000 fans packed into HQ at last year's event and were rewarded with nine tries over the course of an action-packed day. Saracens' last appearance here was in the Aviva Premiership Final when they suffered the agony of defeat in the last minute of extra time against Saints. Given that they also finished as runners-up to Toulon in the Heineken Cup final the week before that and essentially finished the season with no tangible reward for their outstanding efforts, Saracens will certainly not be lacking motivation in this showpiece game.
London Irish v Harlequins, Saturday 6 September, 4.30pm BT Sport
London Irish's army of faithful fans will be demanding that the club improves on its disappointing tenth-place finish of last season and Exiles boss Brian Smith certainly seems to have bolstered his squad over the summer with that end in mind, particularly up front with the addition of experienced internationals Luke Narraway, Geoff Cross and Tom Court. And they've also made a major backroom signing from Toulon in strength and conditioning coach Steve Walsh who has been a key figure in the French side's rise to pre-eminence over the last few seasons. Quins made a late charge into the play-offs last season and have also added to their squad this season, not least England winger Marland Yarde from London Irish.
London Welsh v Exeter Chiefs, Sunday 7 September, 2pm BT Sport
Having secured promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking, London Welsh wasted little time in signing virtually a whole new squad of players during the off-season, the men they believe will help them flourish in the rarefied air of the Aviva Premiership. And topping that list is former All Black scrum-half Piri Weepu, a hugely experienced player who just three years ago was helping New Zealand secure the World Cup. The Exiles' first opponents, the Chiefs, have also drafted in some talent from the Southern Hemisphere in the form of Namibia fullback Chrysander Botha who has been plying his trade with South African Super Rugby outfit the Lions.
Harlequins v Saracens, Friday 12 September, 7.45pm BT Sport
Just one week into the season and viewers will be treated to this clash featuring two of last season's 'top four', last seen going head-to-head in a rather niggly Premiership semi-final, won in the end by Saracens 31-17. With the personnel involved this time around largely the same, you can expect another combative display with the two teams' newly appointed captains Alistair Hargreaves (Saracens) and Joe Marler (Harlequins) leading from the front in typically robust fashion. Of course, both sides have some dazzling talents in their backlines and it will be fascinating to see how rising England star Marland Yarde slots into Quins' back three.
Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers, Saturday 13 September, 3.15pm BT Sport
Leicester Tigers will not have enjoyed seeing East Midlands rivals Northampton Saints picking up the Aviva Premiership trophy at last season's conclusion, especially after coming desperately close to beating the eventual champions at the semi-final stages, and will be set on regaining the title they last held aloft in 2013. Director of rugby Richard Cockerill has shored up the Tigers squad ensuring plenty of competition in key positions, not least at fly-half where highly rated England international Freddie Burns and Welshman Owen Williams will tussle for the No.10 jersey once the latter serves out the six-week ban handed down to him in May.
Bath Rugby v Leicester Tigers, Saturday 20 September, 3.15pm BT Sport
Bath finished in fifth place last season, narrowly missing out on a semi-final spot but qualifying for the European Rugby Champions Cup, and will aim to kick on and perhaps gain some silverware for the first time since 2008. Influential backrower Francois Louw will miss the first month of the season after being called up by South Africa for the Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere but the club has been boosted by the return to fitness of England fly-half George Ford after a close season shoulder operation. Bath's most high-profile signing, Rugby League superstar Sam Burgess, will not arrive at The Rec from Australia until October when he will begin the process of adapting to his new code.
Ben Kay is a rugby expert for BT Sport which is the exclusive home of Aviva Premiership rugby and will broadcast 69 live games this season.