Newcastle Falcons will be keen to prove they are worthy when they get the 2013/14 Premiership season underway against Bath at Kingston Park tonight. While the opening round has a number of intriguing fixtures – London Irish v Saracens, Gloucester v Sale Sharks, Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs, London Wasps v Harlequins and Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors – it is the Falcons that will hog most of the early limelight.
Guiding the Falcons back to the big time after being relegated for a season, Dean Richards is relishing Friday’s encounter with Bath.
“I’m excited and the players are too, but we won’t get over excited and we’ll do the job to the best of our ability,” said Richards.
“The step up from the Championship is massive and there’s no getting away from that – in the Championship you might get two or three games where you are really tested to the limit for the full 80 minutes, but in the Premiership you have to play at the same intensity week in, week out,” he added.
A squad encompassing a mixture of youth and experience has been assembled at Kingston Park, and Falcons boss Richards believes he has a side capable of handling the rigours of the Premiership.
He said: “When you look at the likes of Carlo del Fava, Mike Blair, Phil Godman, Andy Saull and Adam Powell to name but a few, we have lads who have been involved at the highest level.
“All of these players have been there, seen it and done it on the big stage. Looking at the side that we have now, we have a far more balanced team than we’ve had for a little while, and that balance of youth and experience will serve us well.
“It’s consistency throughout the year which is going to be the biggest and most difficult thing because the Premiership isn’t just about the odd game, and that’s one of the most exciting things about it.”
At the other end of the scale is the defending champions, Leicester Tigers, where Geordan Murphy has joined Richard Cockerill’s coaching team.
His experience, having amassed 322 appearances for the club, scoring 93 tries and 691 points, would have undoubtedly come in handy.
Fellow Irishman Morris proved last season he could be the man to take over from Murphy, the 25-year-old more than doubling his appearances as he made the No.14 shirt his own.
Morris marked his first-ever Twickenham appearance with the first try in Leicester’s Premiership final victory over Saints, and his form led to him being called up to the Emerging Ireland ranks.
And while Murphy might not be lacing up his boots anymore Morris insists he will be gone but not forgotten, with his former team-mate’s advice set to help him build on his dream year.
“I was very happy with my season last year as I got a really good run in the team and managed to play in a lot of big games in the Heineken Cup and the Premiership semi-final and Finals,” he said.
“Twickenham was a new experience for me and it was great to score a try in the Final but I have to forget about that now and move on really.
“Having Geordan around the club as a coach still is fantastic and I am sure his influence and advice will help me build on last season.
“He is obviously very experienced and last year when he wasn’t playing as much he was always happy to help out and give advice.
“And now that is his job and he clearly knows his stuff. He has played so much rugby and if you ever have any questions he always has the right answer and I am sure he can help me improve further.”
We look at all the Round One matches!
Friday, September 6
Newcastle Falcons v Bath
(Kingston Park – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons return to the Premiership after a one year absence buoyed by the knowledge that the newly promoted team has lost its round one game just once since 2007.
The Falcons have not won their opening match of a Premiership campaign since beating Sale 33-12 at Kingston Park in 2007.
Bath Rugby’s only opening weekend defeat since 2006 came at Gloucester in 2009, whilst Bath have not lost at Kingston Park since October 2003.
Bath’s solo away victory in the Premiership since February 2012 came in last season’s opening round at Worcester.
This game is a repeat of the first ever Premiership fixture on 23 August 1997 at The Rec which the Falcons won 20-13.
Newcastle’s only victory over Bath in their last 16 encounters in all competitions was 27-16 at The Rec on 24 October 2009.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Ally Hogg (captain), 7 Andy Saull, 6 Dom Barrow, 5 Scott MacLeod, 4 Carlo del Fava, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Matt Thompson, 1 Franck Montanella.
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Gary Strain, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Adam Powell.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Mat Gilbert, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Alafoti Fa’osiliva, 21 Micky Young, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Tom Biggs.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Robin Goodliffe and Paul Dix
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Saturday, September 7
London Irish v Saracens
(Twickenham Stadium – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
London Irish have won just two of their last six London Double Headers, whilst their only victory at Twickenham in their last eight visits in all competitions was 33-16 against Saracens in round one in 2010.
Saracens lost on their most recent visit to Twickenham: 12-24 to Toulon in the semi-final of last season’s European Cup. Sarries overall record in the nine previous London Double Headers is won 4, lost 5.
The Exiles won 29-16 when the two sides last met on 9 February at Vicarage Road in the Premiership, to end a four game losing run against Saracens.
The three previous London Double Headers between the two clubs have been edged by Saracens by two wins to one.
London Irish: 15 Topsy Ojo, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Guy Armitage, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Tomás O’Leary, (captain), 8 Jon Fisher 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Kieran Low, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Nic Rouse, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Matt Parr.
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 John Yapp, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Declan Danaher, 20 Chris Hala’ufia, 21 Andrew Fenby, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Darren Allinson.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Billy Vunipola, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain) 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Jamie George, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 George Kruis, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Ben Ransom.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton and Ashley Rowden
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Gloucester v Sale Sharks
(Kingsholm – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Gloucester have lost in round one of the Premiership in the last three seasons, whilst Gloucester’s only home defeat in the Premiership since the opening round last season came on 5 January with a 12-18 reversal to London Irish.
Sale Sharks have lost their opening Premiership fixture for the past two seasons and have not won away from home since beating London Welsh at Kassam Stadium on 17 February.
The last ten clashes between the two sides in all competitions have been split five wins apiece with no side managing to achieve successive wins.
The Sharks have won just once at Kingsholm in their last 14 visits since 2000: 24-19 in the Premiership on 21 April 2012.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 James Simpson-Daniel, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Lua Lokotui, 4 Tom Savage (captain), 3 Rupert Harden, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Yann Thomas, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Akapusi Qera, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Mike Tindall, 23 Martyn Thomas.
Sale Sharks: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Phil McKenzie, 13 Andy Forsyth, 12 Jonny Leota, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 James Gaskell, 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid (captain), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Johnathan Mills, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Kirill Kulemin, 20 Josh Beaumont, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Rob Miller.
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant Referees: Kevin Stewart and Nigel Carrick
TMO: Geoff Warren
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs
(Franklin’s Gardens – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints have begun the Premiership season with victory in round one for the past six seasons but have not managed maximum points in their opening fixture since 2004.
The Saints have won three of their last four matches at Franklin’s Gardens.
Exeter Chiefs have never been defeated in their three previous round one fixtures in the Premiership, beating Gloucester, Leicester and Sale in successive seasons.
The Chiefs finished off last season with four consecutive wins.
The Saints’ won both Premiership encounters with Exeter last season, although the Chiefs did win their Anglo-Welsh Cup meeting at Sandy Park 28-19 in February.
Exeter have lost on all four previous visits to Franklin’s Gardens in all competitions.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Tom Mercey, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 James Wilson, 23 Jamie Elliott.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (captain), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Tom Hayes, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Sam Hill.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff and Peter Huckle
TMO: Rowan Kitt
London Wasps v Harlequins
(Twickenham Stadium – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
London Wasps have a won 4, drawn 1, lost 3 record in previous London Double Headers. Wasps only win at Twickenham in their last five visits was 20-15 in the 2011 London Double Header against Saracens.
Wasps have lost their last eight matches in all competitions – their poorest run of the professional era.
Harlequins have lost just one of their past six London Double Headers: 15-26 to London Wasps in 2009.
Quins only defeat in their last seven visits to Twickenham was 11-19 on 27 December 2011.
Wasps 17-16 victory at the Twickenham Stoop in the Premiership last February ended a seven game winless run against Harlequins in all competitions, whilst their three previous encounters in the London Double Header have been evenly split with a win apiece plus a draw.
London Wasps: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Charlie Hayter, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Sam Jones (captain), 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Lindsay, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Will Taylor, 19 James Cannon, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Tommy Bell.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 George Merrick, 3 Will Collier, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Charlie Walker.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank and Andrew Pearce
TMO: Sean Davey
Sunday, September 8
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors
(Welford Road – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers won their opening clash of the 2011/12 campaign against London Welsh – their first victory on the opening weekend since 2008. The Tigers’ only loss in their last eight Premiership matches was at Bath, 26-27, on 20 April.
Worcester Warriors’ solo victory in round one of the Premiership came in 2011 when they defeated Sale at Sixways.
The Warriors finished off last season with five straight defeats and have not won away from home in the competition since a visit to London Wasps on New Year’s Day 2012.
The Tigers have won their last eight matches against Worcester, whilst the Warriors’ have never won in eleven previous visits to Welford Road since 1895.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Niall Morris, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Anthony Allen, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 David Mele, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Manusamoa Tuilagi.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Ravai Fatiaki, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Jeremy Su’a, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Sam Betty, 6 Jonathan Thomas (captain), 5 Dean Schofield, 4 Mike Williams, 3 John Andress, 2 Ed Shervington, 1 Jeremy Becasseau.
Replacements: 16 Nick Seymour, 17 Paul Andrew, 18 Rob O’Donnell, 19 Chris Jones, 20 Jake Abbott, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Jon Clarke.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Andy Watson and Greg Macdonald
TMO: David Grashoff