Looking at the Aviva Premiershipâ€™s fixture list for the opening rounds of the season, there is much entertainment to be noted on.
Most of all is the daunting task set for newly promoted London Welsh, welcoming Richard Cockerillâ€™s nine-time English Champions Leicester Tigers, before travelling to reigning champions Harlequins the following week. A tough start to their first season in the Aviva Premiership but an exciting one at that! The Tigers are drenched with experience with 20 of their squad having international caps, an ominous statistic for London Welsh supporters.
A concern for supporters of the club has been the move to Oxfordâ€™s Kassam Stadium in order to meet the stadium size requirements the Aviva Premiership holds. Whilst the new stadium is a long 55 miles from â€˜Old Deer Parkâ€™ (their old ground), the London Welsh chairman, Bleddyn Phillips, believes that this is a such an opportunity to play against the best teams in England, and moreover some of the best teams in Europe and the World, that people will be willing to travel the extra distance to support. Phillips stated that whilst they â€œhope we can retain our traditional supporter baseâ€¦ we hope we will be able to build up a very strong local following also.â€ The good news that comes from their tough first two rounds is that Sky Sports will be covering it live and the stadium will undoubtedly be sold out; the distinguished status of their opponents giving them an early opportunity to get numbers into the Kassam Stadium.
The London Double Header on September 1stÂ will see London Wasps, a team who struggled last year, finishing a mere 1 point ahead of relegated Newcastle Falcons, against the reigning champions Harlequins. Harlequins finished a resounding 42 points ahead of Wasps last year, and will be keen, under the captaincy of Chris Robshaw, to start their season off in due form. The Double Header will be completed with London Irish making the short trip to Vicarage Road to face Saracens. After losing in the Semi-final last year to Leicester finishing in third position, the team welcome new signing Chris Ashton, who will combine with David Strettle on the other wing, a counter-attacking force to be reckoned with.
Sale Sharks start their season off with a battle against Exeter Chiefs. Both ending in the middle of the table (coming 5thÂ and 6thÂ place), Sale will be looking forward to a new season with the new signings of Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray. Richie Gray stood out in the Six Nations tournament as one of the up and coming bright stars of the Northern Hemisphere. With excitement, however comes trepidation with the superstar outside-half that is Danny Cipriani. His 18 months spent down under playing for the Melbourne Rebels, albeit being their top-scorer with 122 points, was plagued by critics for both his lack of defensive capabilities, and his off-field behaviour. Under the management of Bryan Redpath, he will have the chance to settle down and get into the newspapers for the right reasons. I am of the opinion that his potential is far from reached yet, but Sale Sharks could prove to be the stepping stone he needs to take to fulfil it.
Round One is completed with Gloucester facing Northampton Saints at Kingsholm Stadium, and Worcester Warriors taking on Bath. Overall this is a very exciting first round of games. Not too long to go!