Bristol Bears will mark their return to the newly-branded Gallagher Premiership by raising the curtain on the season at home against rivals Bath, with reigning champions Saracens due to begin their title defence on the road against Newcastle Falcons.
With Twickenham out of action as redevelopment work on the East Stand steps up a gear in preparation for the autumn internationals, the annual ‘Double Header’ is unable to take place on the opening weekend of the season, meaning a long trip north for Saracens and a home match at the Twickenham Stoop against Sale Sharks for Harlequins.
The new campaign will kick off on Friday night though when West Country rivals Bath and Bristol meet for the first time since Bristol’s last attempt to survive in the top flight two years ago, and it will prove to be the first real indicator of whether they have what it takes to buck the trend of the promoted Championship club slipping to immediate relegation – something that has happened every year since 2014.
With Bristol set to welcome Premiership rugby back to Ashton Gate, head coach Pat Lam believes that the local rivalry will send out a statement that the newly-named Bears are back in the big time.
"To open the season against Bath and come up against [Bath rugby director] Todd Blackadder – a man I know and respect a huge amount – is really exciting and a major boost for our supporters, too," Lam said.
"We have no doubt they will fill Ashton Gate and create an incredible atmosphere.
"It's great for us to be in Gallagher Premiership rugby, and everybody is relishing the opportunity to test themselves in a fantastic competition."
The remainder of the opening weekend matches sees Worcester host Wasps, beaten finalists Exeter Chiefs welcome Leicester Tigers to Sandy Park and Gloucester take on Northampton Saints in a contest that will see two new fly-halves strut their stuff as Danny Cipriani and Dan Biggar begin the next chapter in their careers.
Gallagher Premiership fixtures (first six rounds):
August 31 - Bristol v Bath (1945); September 1 - Gloucester v Northampton (1400), Harlequins v Sale Sharks (1500), Worcester v Wasps (1500), Exeter v Leicester (1630); September 2 - Newcastle v Saracens (1500).
September 7 - Northampton v Harlequins (1945); September 8 - Wasps v Exeter (1400), Leicester v Newcastle (1500), Saracens v Bristol (1500), Bath v Gloucester (1630); September 9 - Sale Sharks v Worcester (1500).
September 14 - Gloucester v Bristol (1945); September 15 - Exeter v Sale Sharks (1500), Harlequins v Bath (1500), Northampton v Saracens (1500), Worcester v Newcastle (1500); September 16 - Wasps v Leicester (1500).
September 21 - Newcastle v Exeter (1945); September 22 - Bath v Northampton (1500), Bristol v Harlequins (1500), Leicester v Worcester (1500), Sale Sharks v Wasps (1500); September 23 - Saracens v Gloucester (1500).
September 28 - Newcastle v Wasps (1945); September 29 - Bristol v Northampton (1500), Exeter v Worcester (1500), Gloucester v Harlequins (1500), Saracens v Bath (1500); September 30 - Leicester v Sale Sharks (1500).
October 5 - Bath v Exeter (1945); October 6 - Northampton v Leicester (1500), Sale Sharks v Newcastle (1500), Wasps v Gloucester (1500), Harlequins v Saracens (1930); October 7 - Worcester v Bristol (1500).
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies