So let’s take a look at the upcoming Premiership Rugby seasons fixtures, as well as maybe even making some predictions about the upcoming season.
Premiership Rugby 2023/24 Preview
While the rugby world focuses on the Rugby World Cup, a lot has been happening in Premiership Rugby since Saracen’s were crowned champions for the sixth time in their history.
For one thing, this season is going to be pretty strange. The Rugby World Cup means games will start a lot later than usually, with the first round of fixtures taking place midway through October, instead of in September when the season usually starts.
Not only that, but the first few rounds of the tournament will likely be missing some of the leagues biggest stars. The first round of the Premiership season starts on the same weekend that the quarter-finals take place. Also, the players involved in the tournament will likely need a few weeks off once they are knocked out.
So don’t be surprised if we have to wait until Round 6 or 7 to see Premiership Rugby teams see their stars returning. The other major storyline heading into the season is about how does Premiership Rugby cope with all of the players and teams leaving. It will be a ten team league in 2023 due to London Irish going into administration.
The leagues struggles with finances has also meant that Premiership Rugby has lost some of it’s biggest stars. Player’s like Semi Radradra, Charles Piutau, Sam Simmonds, Joe Marchant and Jack Nowell will all be playing overseas next year. Premiership Rugby is struggling to keep up with the pay checks of French and Japanese clubs.
But there is going to be a lot of stars back in the Premiership this season. Those returning to the league after spells away include Zach Mercer, Joe Launchbury, Telusa Veainu and Gabriel Oghre. What might be more exciting is the player’s who will be making their debut in the league.
Finn Russell, Thomas du Toit and Joe Hawkins are some of the internationals that will be in the Premiership next season. There are also a lot of teams which have brought in players from London Irish after their demise. Harlequins, Northampton Saints and Gloucester have particularly benefitted, bringing in multiple exciting young players.
The Strange start of the season
The Premiership season which is immediately after a Rugby World Cup always starts off pretty strange. One of the odd things about this season is that the first three rounds of the Premiership are going to clash with the Rugby World Cup.
Smartly enough from the Premiership, it does not seem like any of the games will directly clash with the Rugby World Cup, as the Premiership Rugby games are much earlier in the day than the knockout games. But similarly to how they are tested in the Six Nations, the depth of Premiership Rugby teams will be crucial to the start of the season.
Almost every team will be missing at least a few of their most important players. If you look at the players who were involved in the Premiership final last season, there is a good chance that 17 of those players will be featuring at this tournament. If you look at the Premiership Rugby team of the season, only five of the fifteen will be with their clubs at the start of next season.
It is also not just a couple of rounds where these international player’s will be away from their teams. Considering world cup squads will be together for at least three months, the players will likely need a few weeks break before getting back into rugby for the entire season.
Premiership Rugby have planned for this and it seems like they believe that teams will get their internationals back around Round 6. That is because a brand new Derby weekend will be taking place on Round 6 which sees all 10 teams in derby matches against their local rivals.
The hope for the Premiership is that teams will be at full strength for these games, especially considering it is three weeks after the Rugby World Cup final. What also makes this start to the season strange is that Premiership fans will need to get used to having only five games per weekend.
With three teams folding in the 2022/23 season and no team’s ready to make the jump up to the Premiership, we have just a ten team league this season. At the moment then it does not seem like any individual team rest weeks will take place, instead the entire league having certain rest periods throughout the season.
One of the big notes about this Premiership season is that the fixtures have been designed so that they do not clash with the Six Nations. The Premiership will pause for eight weeks between the end of January and the end of March at the start of next year to avoid any fixtures clashing with the 2024 Six Nations.
Key Fixtures at the start of the season
There are some games towards the start of the season which look to be very important.
Rd1- Exeter Chiefs vs Saracens
While derby week is in round 6, everyone knows the history that the Exeter Chiefs and Saracens have. They have often been fighting at the front against each other, but it might not be as competitive of a matchup this season.
The reason this is highlighted is because the Exeter Chiefs are one of the big unknowns in this season. They have lost so many of their star players like Sam Simmonds, Jack Nowell, Stuart Hogg, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Dave Ewers. This is going to be a very young, inexperienced Exeter side.
They are putting a lot of faith into some exciting young players, but much of their squad will be high untested at the start of this season. So Saracen’s are going to be a brilliant test to start. Of course the reigning champions will be missing some of their biggest stars.
But they are still likely to feature experienced Premiership veterans like Alex Goode, Ollie Hoskins, Hugh Tizard and Sean Maitland. It will be a great test to see whether Exeter are going to be at the back this season, or whether their rebuild has gone a lot better than people think.
Rd2- Leicester Tigers vs Sale Sharks
In round 2 we get a repeat of the Premiership Rugby semi-final from last year. The Tigers came close to upsetting Sale in Manchester last season and they will hope to produce a better result this close to the start of the season.
What makes this fixture so exciting is that both of these teams should still have a lot of exciting players despite the Rugby World Cup. The home side should still have stars like Solomone Kata, Charlie Atkinson, Mike Brown and Joe Heyes available.
Sale are in a similar position, hoping that they should be able to call on Bevan Rodd, Raffi Quirke, Robert due Preez, dan du Preez and Tom O’Flaherty. Both teams have the players to make this game incredibly exciting, with the Leicester players wanting to get some revenge after the heartbreak of last season.
Expect this game to be incredibly physical, with both teams looking to make the most of others not having their internationals.
Rd 3- Newcastle Falcons vs Northampton Saints
Newcastle once again finished bottom of the Premiership last season. Despite a good run of form towards the end of the season, the Falcons were comfortably the worst team in the competition for most of the season.
If the Falcons want to avoid finishing bottom of the table, they have to win some of their earlier games. Newcastle will likely only be missing a few of their Argentinian talent at the start of the year, still being able to hold onto some of their better players. They are also bolstered by some of the stars from London Irish like Rory Jennings and Hugh O’Sullivan.
Northampton should be one of those teams that Newcastle target for a win. The Saints had one of the worst defences in the league last year, with only the Falcons conceding more points than the Saints.
As well as being at home, Newcastle will benefit from a lot of Northampton’s best player’s being at the Rugby World Cup. Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Tom Pearson, Sam Matavesi and Alex Mitchell could all be missing for the Saints, so Newcastle have a good chance of picking up a crucial victory at home.
If the Falcons want to bring European rugby to Newcastle, they need to win games at the start of the season and Northampton presents a good opportunity for a victory for them.
Rd 4-Saracen’s vs Leicester Tigers
A repeat of the 2022 Premiership Final, the thing that is going to make this game so exciting is that there is a chance that some of both team’s best player’s could make a return. Round 4 of the Premiership takes place one week after the Rugby World Cup final. Any player’s who make it that far certainly won’t be playing in this game.
But any players who are knocked out in the pool stages or even the quarter-final could feature in this game. Those players would have had at least three weeks of rest prior to this game and so could make a slightly early return to Saracen’s or Leicester.
Even if they don’t, this still looks to be a pretty exciting game. Both teams are full of stars and the game will undoubtedly be physical. Both of these teams will be hoping to get a big win at the start of the season.
Rd 5-Gloucester vs Bath
A west country derby tends to always be an exciting game. Bath fans would have been thrilled to finish ahead of Gloucester in the Premiership last season, particularly with how poorly they begun their season.
Gloucester have been the better of the two teams over the last couple of years, but Bath will want to stamp their intent with a big win over their rivals. What could help Bath is that there is a very good chance that Finn Russell will be available for Bath at this round. Scotland would have to produce a miracle to escape their group in the World Cup.
While that might be bad news for Scotland fans, it is great news for Bath fans. This could even be the round that England player’s return to their clubs, with Bath possible being able to call on Will Stuart, Ollie Lawrence and Joe Cokanasiga once again.
The game is just as interesting on the Gloucester side. Their star signing of the summer is former Bath back rower Zach Mercer. Mercer has improved a lot since leaving Bath, yet it still seems like he will be available for Gloucester from the start of the season. Despite leading Montpellier to the Top 14 title, Mercer has not been in the England training squads.
Both teams have a huge amount of exciting, attacking players. I’m sure that Bath fans will also remember the memorable game between the two teams towards the end of the 2021-22 season and will want to get revenge in a similar way to they were able to get over Gloucester last season.
Beating their close town rivals would be a real sign of intentions for Bath this season. On the other side, a lot of people have been counting out Gloucester after their form tailed off towards the end of last season. But Zach Mercer will have a lot to prove and so Gloucester could be a surprise team this season.
Prevewing the contenders for the title
As reigning champions, we have to start by talking about Saracen’s chances of winning back to back Premiership Rugby titles. The team’s unlimited pockets have meant that despite losing Max Malins, Duncan Taylor and Ruben de Haas, this team have still improved massively over the summer.
Bringing in Tom Parton, Ollie Hoskins, Lucio Cinti and Tom Willis are clear improvements that are going to make Saracen’s almost impossible to beat again. Sale came close last year and they should benefit from not having as many player’s away at the Rugby World Cup. The Sharks are also bolstered by new signings like Sam Bedlow, Agustin Creevy, Ernst van Rhyn and Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Last year’s semi-finalists will also hope to go one further this year. Leicester Tigers have similarly gone through a lot of change, but signings like Josh Bassett, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Solomone Kata means the Tigers have one of the best and deepest back groups. It will be interesting to see how new head coach Dan McKellar moulds this new Tigers team.
If Northampton want to get back to the Premiership final four, they will surely need to be better than the second worst defence in the Premiership. Some of their outgoings are concerning, with the Saints losing a lot of size in David Ribbans and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, although Tom Pearson is a good addition to the backrow.
Harlequins will be one of the team’s looking to break back into the top four. They have had an excellent summer, bringing in experience in Joe Launchbury and Dillon Lewis who will add a lot of power to this front five. Launchbury should help the team fix the lineout problems which plagued them last year.
Quins are one of the teams to really benefit from London Irish going into administration, adding exciting young prospects Will Joseph and Chandler Cunningham-South. Joseph is a very good Joe Marchant replacement, while Cunningham-South can offer some competition to Alex Dombrandt.
Bath have made the biggest signings this summer. Finn Russell will have an incredibly exciting backline to use, as well as some of Bath’s key player’s getting back to full health. Bath have arguably the deepest back row group, with any three of Alfie Barbeary, Josh Bayliss, Chris Cloete, Ted Hill, Sam Underhill and Fergus Lee-Warner making a scary back row to face.
Gloucester were heavily hampered by injuries towards the end of last season. While they have added Zach Mercer, the team still lacks depth in important areas which could be crucial this season. While their starting XV is one of the most exciting in the league, Gloucester’s lack of depth could really hurt them this season.
Considering all of the changes that Exeter, Bristol and Newcastle are going through, it seems unlikely any of those teams will challenge. Bristol have a huge amount of talent all over, but they really struggled a lot more than expected last season. They have added some excellent signings, but they would need a massive turnaround to be a contender.
Some very early Predictions
Seeing as this season is going to be extremely complicated, it seems pretty difficult so far to determine who will finish where. But why not give it a try.
Saracen’s to finish top of the league
Alright sure, this one is not the flashiest or craziest predictions that you can make. But it just seems like Saracen’s have all of the pieces to be the unstoppable force they were last season.
They are one of the teams who will be hurt the most by the Rugby World Cup, but their depth is scary to the rest of the league. At full strength, it seems almost impossible for anyone to beat this Saracen’s side. Now this does slightly depend on health.
Saracen’s have been relatively injury free over the last few years and will hope that major players like Maro Itoje, Ben Earl and Owen Farrell can avoid injury. If they can do, then Saracen’s would surely finish the season at the very top of the table.
Northampton drop out of the top four
The Northampton Saints were undoubtedly the most exciting team to watch last season. Not only did they have the second best attack, but they also had the second worst defence in the league. Despite that disparity, the Saints still finished in the top four, losing to Saracen’s in the semi-finals.
I don’t see a way that this inconsistency can continue with the Saints in the top four. They are losing a lot of the their strongest players. There is a good chance that the well designed attack from Sam Vesty will be figured out slightly better by some of the better teams in the league.
If that attack can be slowed down, then the Saints leaky defence would become much more of a problem. I think they will be caught out more this season, particularly without some of their leaders in defence like Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam in those first few rounds.
Exeter Chiefs finish bottom of the league
This is the sort of call which could look very silly at the end of the season. While all teams eventually go through transition periods, losing this many key player’s in such a short amount of time is massively difficult.
They are going to need multiple young players to step up. While that might not be too much of a problem at the top level, Exeter’s depth could be on the wrong end of some incredibly painful results if they are pushed too early.
It also does not help this team that the few international experienced player’s they have will be at the world cup. Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza and Henry Slade will all be absent from the first five rounds of the Premiership and so things are going to be extremely difficult for the Chiefs in that period.
While Newcastle, Gloucester or even Bristol could struggle, it does not seem like there is a team heading into this season with more challenges than the Exeter Chiefs.
Checkout our Rugby Predictions