Freddie Burns holds the Premiership trophy aloft
Freddie Burns’ last-minute drop-goal secured Leicester the Premiership title last season

The new Premiership rugby season begins on Friday, with a west country derby between Bristol Bears and Bath.

For the second time 13 teams will compete for the title of champions of England with no promotion or relegation from the league, like last season.

Leicester Tigers are reigning holders, winning their 11th Premiership title in dramatic fashion with a last-minute drop-goal in the final against Saracens in June.

But which team will come out on top at the end of the 2022-23 campaign?

Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick has overseen a massive revival at the club and they enter the new campaign looking to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2010.

While Leicester have bolstered their squad with South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard and British and Irish Lions wing Anthony Watson among nine new faces, beaten finalists Saracens and 2021 champions Harlequins have made relatively few changes by comparison.

The gap between the powerhouse teams and the rest seemed to be closing last season, with the battle for the top four going right to the wire and only six points separating fourth and seventh place.

Gloucester will be aiming to continue their evolution under George Skivington, two-time champions Exeter will surely come back stronger after a season hampered by injuries to key players and there is renewed optimism around the prospects for London Irish.

Bristol, beaten in the play-offs in 2021 after topping the regular-season table, could also be back in the mix if they generate early momentum.

Bath have entirely overhauled their coaching staff, bringing in Johann van Graan from Munster, while Dean Richards stepped down as Newcastle Falcons supremo after 10 years in the job, with former player Dave Walder moving into the top job at Kingston Park.

The build-up to the new campaign has been dominated by the financial problems at Worcester, though, and questions surrounding the club’s long-term future. While that still remains uncertain, Premiership Rugby have said the Warriors can at least participate in the new season – with relegation scheduled to return in 2023-24.

In what could be one of the most competitive Premiership campaigns to date, BBC Sport’s experts examine each team’s prospects.

Bath – ‘A summer of change’

Johann van Graan in pre-season training with Bath
Johann van Graan has been brought in at Bath to try and turn the club’s recent fortunes around

Key new signing: Dave Attwood (Bristol)

Last season: 13th

Director of rugby: Johann van Graan

Ed Hadwin, BBC Radio Bristol

The big change at Bath this summer came off the field with the arrival of new head of rugby, Johann van Graan.

After the mess of last season’s campaign – they didn’t win a game until January, and ultimately finished bottom of the pile – and the turmoil caused by the short-lived involvement of Ed Griffiths, a bit of stability wouldn’t go amiss at the Rec.

Van Graan has certainly struck the right notes early on, bringing defence coach JP Ferreira with him from Munster and recruiting former Bath favourite Joe Maddock as attack coach.

On the pitch, some familiar names have departed – including Anthony Watson, Taulupe Faletau and Semesa Rokoduguni.

The new recruits have a distinct South African flavour, with the initial emphasis on making the team more consistently competitive again.

Bristol Bears – ‘A fearsome front row’

Ellis Genge playing for England against Australia in July 2022
England prop Genge returns to his hometown club Bristol, where he started his career

Key new signing: Ellis Genge (Leicester)

Last season: 10th

Director of rugby: Pat Lam

Damian Derrick, BBC Radio Bristol

It’s not often the front row is responsible for sprinkling stardust on a rugby side, but the return of Bristolian and England prop Ellis Genge is an exception. Teaming up with his good friend and fellow international Kyle Sinckler is a mouth-watering prospect for Bears fans.

In the backs, the signing of AJ MacGinty from Sale will mean Bristol have two proven Premiership performers at fly-half, as he challenges Wales international Callum Sheedy for the number 10 shirt.

A 10th-place finish last season was some fall from grace having finished top of the table the previous year.

Director of rugby Pat Lam says he’s confident that they have addressed the inconsistency that cost them so dearly.

Improving their defence, which shipped on average more than 32 points per game, and coping when their internationals are away will be key if their title-winning ambitions are to be realised.

Exeter Chiefs – ‘The spotlight is off’

Jack Nowell returns for Exeter
England winger Jack Nowell missed months of last season for Exeter after breaking his arm during the Six Nations

Key new signing: Scott Sio (Brumbies)

Last season: Seventh

Director of rugby: Rob Baxter

Alan Richardson, BBC Radio Devon

Exeter will be looking for a better year than they had to mark their 150th anniversary last season.

After six successive Premiership finals – two of which they won – the Chiefs never seriously troubled the top four, although in fairness they were unlucky with injuries.

With the spotlight off them, it will be interesting to see how they react and an early chance to test their mettle awaits when the champions Leicester come to Sandy Park on the opening day.

With the new branding now in place, the Chiefs will doubtless be targeting a top-four finish at the very least.

Gloucester – ‘Steady improvement’

Ruan Ackermann drives the maul for Gloucester against Saracens
Gloucester’s driving maul proved highly effective last season at producing try-scoring opportunities

Key new signing: Albert Tuisue (London Irish)

Last season: Fifth

Head coach: George Skivington

Paul Furley, BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Gloucester will look for continued steady improvement as head coach George Skivington starts his third full season in charge at Kingsholm.

Apart from academy graduates stepping up, there is only one new signing, Albert Tuisue, who effectively replaces Ed Slater following his enforced retirement after being diagnosed with MND. If Jake Polledri returns anything like the player he was before 18 months out with a knee injury, he could be like a new talisman for Gloucester.

Captain Lewis Ludlow has already proved himself a leader by example who can carry team-mates with him and is still improving and growing with the team.

The driving maul was a weapon used to great effect last season and although the Shed loves nothing more than a rampant pack, Gloucester will also look to add layers to their game that enable them to release a back-line featuring the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, Jonny May, Ollie Thorley and Santiago Carreras out wide.

If they succeed in that aim, Gloucester could easily mount another strong challenge for the top four.

Harlequins – ‘Strive for the top two’

Harlequins centre Andre Esterhuizen and fly-half Marcus Smith
Harlequins will be relying on star players such as Andre Esterhuizen and Marcus Smith again this season

Key new signing: Charlie Matthews (Kamaishi Seawaves)

Last season: Third

Head coach: Tabai Matson

Andy Rowley, BBC Radio London

Harlequins put in a robust defence of their Premiership title last season. They were the only team that finished in the top four in 2021 to return to the play-offs in 2022, but having started well in their semi-final at Saracens they eventually succumbed to their arch rivals.

It must have left a bitter taste in the mouth over the summer and it is difficult not to reflect that Quins seemed to lose a bit of momentum after their European Champions Cup exit.

With fallow weekends towards the end of the season Quins actually lost three of their last four Premiership games, including the semi-final, and just did not look quite the same team that eviscerated teams with their all-court game for most of the previous 12 months.

They were not far off though and the big positive is that the squad is relatively unchanged coming into this season.

The club seems to be on a great footing, selling out home games and taking a couple of ‘Big Games’ across the road to Twickenham. There seems to be a strong motivation to not only qualify for the play-offs again but strive for a top-two finish to secure home advantage. They also have a strong Champions Cup group to look forward to with matches against French club Racing 92 and South Africa’s Sharks.

When Quins are in full flow it is hard for any team to live with them and their free-flowing attacking rugby has been inspirational. Many of the squad will have eyes on a World Cup place at the end of the season too, which should provide extra motivation if any was required.

Leicester Tigers – ‘A deeper and more versatile team’

Handre Pollard kicks a penalty for South Africa against England in November 2021
South African fly-half Handre Pollard comes in to Leicester this season as George Ford departs

Key new signing: Handre Pollard (Montpellier)

Last season: First – champions

Head coach: Steve Borthwick

Adam Whitty, BBC Radio Leicester

Leicester achieved something remarkable last season in completely dominating the Premiership, and yet winning the title against the odds.

Nobody expected the trophies to come so soon, but Steve Borthwick’s team were extraordinary. Their revival from the depths of English rugby to Kings of the Jungle again was built on grit, determination, fitness and hard work, as well as a perfect mix of international quality and exciting academy talent.

They have arguably lost their two best, and most influential, players this summer. Ellis Genge (to Bristol) and George Ford (to Sale) are essentially irreplaceable, but Leicester have been savvy, recruiting big names like Handre Pollard and Anthony Watson, experienced players like Jimmy Gopperth and James Cronin, and young players that can be moulded into Tigers’ image.

Some argue Leicester’s squad is deeper and more versatile than last year. One thing is for certain though, Borthwick will not allow complacency after that magical afternoon in June.

London Irish – ‘Make the home stadium a fortress’

Augustin Creevy evades a tackle for London Irish
Argentine Augustin Creevy was top try scorer for London Irish last season with 14 tries in the league

Key new signing: Luca Morisi (Benetton)

Last season: Eighth

Director of rugby: Declan Kidney

Mark Church, BBC Radio London

London Irish lit up the Premiership last season and for a long period were threatening the top four. Their style of rugby won admirers and they never knew when they were beaten.

They will be looking to build on those positives this campaign and continue to turn the Brentford Community Stadium into a fortress, which opposition sides do not look forward coming to.

They have talent across the board and experience in key positions. Augustin Creevy continues to defy logic and you wouldn’t put it past the veteran hooker to be involved in next year’s World Cup with Argentina. Fly-half Paddy Jackson is the pendulum that keeps Irish ticking and his knowledge and experience are crucial.

Irish will definitely be targeting the top four this season and will win more new fans with their vibrant style of rugby.

Newcastle Falcons – ‘Core of experience remains’

Dave Walder applauds
Dave Walder has stepped up from head coach to director of rugby at Newcastle this season

Key new signing: Tian Schoeman (Bath)

Last season: 12th

Head coach: Dave Walder

Ian Smith, BBC Radio Newcastle

A new era begins on Tyneside with the departure of director of rugby, Dean Richards. Dave Walder takes the step up from head coach and is supported by a team of coaches who are all former Falcons players, including former England back-rower Mark Wilson who retired from playing in the middle of last season.

Newcastle were shaken when several of their emerging crop of youngsters moved on at the end of last season, but they have held onto their core of experienced players with their most notable addition to the squad being fly-half Tian Schoeman from Bath.

This season will again be a challenge for the Falcons.

Northampton Saints – ‘Homegrown talent has been nurtured’

Lewis Ludlam with the ball for Northampton
Saints captain Lewis Ludlam tops the long list of senior players who have developed through the club’s academy

Key new signing: Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (Queensland Reds)

Last season: Fourth

Director of rugby: Phil Dowson

Graham McKechnie, BBC Radio Northampton

Saints were great to watch in the second half of last season and Franklin’s Gardens was an exciting place to be.

Chris Boyd had the team playing his brand of expansive, attacking rugby and, but for a few fumbles at Welford Road, it could have taken them all the way to the Premiership final.

But Boyd has now gone back to New Zealand and it’s over to new director of rugby Phil Dowson and head coach Sam Vesty.

Boyd nurtured the young talent coming through the Saints academy and these players are now reaching maturity and have plenty of Premiership experience. They’ve also added to the squad, including Australians Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young and James Ramm.

Finishing fourth surprised a few people last season but would be regarded as a minimum this time around. Saints should be in a position to mount a serious challenge for silverware this season.

Sale Sharks – ‘The start of a new era’

George Ford
Fly-half George Ford joins Sale after winning the Premiership title with Leicester

Key new signing: George Ford (Leicester Tigers)

Last season: Sixth

Director of rugby: Alex Sanderson

Jay Freeman, BBC Sport online

Last season marked the end of an era in some ways for Sale as they waved goodbye to the talismanic Faf de Klerk, who joined Japanese side Yokohama Canon Eagles after the 2021-22 campaign.

De Klerk left the Sharks having reinvigorated his own career and the fortunes of the club.

In his four seasons at the AJ Bell Stadium, the scrum-half helped them to a third-placed Premiership finish in 2020-21 after kick-starting his own career with South Africa on the way to winning the Rugby World Cup.

Following him out of the door were fellow South Africans Lood de Jager, JP du Preez and Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, as well as AJ MacGinty, Cameron Neild and Curtis Langdon.

So to the future. In steps England fly-half George Ford, recruited last November from Leicester, but likely to be sidelined until the new year with the Achilles injury he suffered in the Premiership final.

He is joined by England lock Jonny Hill from Exeter, as Sale embark on a new era under Alex Sanderson.

From the highs of their third place two seasons ago to sixth place last time around. Can a much-changed Sale break into the top four once again?

Saracens – ‘Targeting domestic and European success’

Owen Farrell leads a dejected Saracens team after the Premiership final defeat to Leicester
Saracens fell agonisingly short in the Premiership final on their return to the league last season

Key new signing: Hugh Tizard (Harlequins)

Last season: Second

Director of rugby: Mark McCall

Phil Parry, BBC Radio London

Saracens returned to the top table last season after a year on the naughty step in the Championship as if hardly anything had changed, finishing second behind a resurgent Leicester in the regular season and then setting up a meeting with the Tigers in the Premiership final.

Defeat in the Twickenham showpiece would have hurt, as losing is not a feature of the Sarries culture. But it will no doubt have sent all concerned away with a desire to return after the break with determination to challenge again.

Director of rugby Mark McCall has admitted he instructed everyone to have a break over the summer after a tough couple of years and return refreshed and ready to go for another twin assault on the domestic and European fronts.

Their time in the second tier allowed a number of developing players from their academy to get vital game-time alongside some seasoned internationals and the benefits of that were seen last season.

As well as club honours, there will be plenty in the Saracens ranks eyeing up the World Cup next year who know that success with their club will be of huge benefit. News of Nick Isiekwe’s absence for several months after surgery is a blow to him and the club, but the Saracens way demands the ‘next player up’ steps into the breach and carry the team ethos forward.

Wasps – ‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

Vincent Koch playing for Saracens
South African tight-head prop Vincent Koch makes the switch from Saracens to Wasps this season

Key new signing: Vincent Koch (Saracens)

Last season: Ninth

Head coach: Lee Blackett

Clive Eakin, BBC CWR

Wasps have endured difficult times off the field in the run-up to the new Premiership season, most notably their well-publicised financial problems.

Then the kudos of having the Coventry Building Society Arena used as a Commonwealth Games rugby venue was somewhat diminished by damage to the pitch which left tenants Coventry City and their fans angered.

The surface has now been repaired and there are was some light at the end of at least the short-term money tunnel when head coach Lee Blackett last week revealed that a player recruitment embargo has been lifted.

He promptly brought South Africa international wing/scrum-half Francois Hougaard back to the club.

Before the embargo Wasps had already made a couple of high-profile signings, bringing in props John Ryan from Munster and South Africa World Cup winner Vincent Koch from Saracens.

But several players have departed, notably influential back Jimmy Gopperth, along with James Gaskell, Thomas Young, Vaea Fifita, Marcus Watson and Malakai Fekitoa.

An improvement on last season’s ninth place would be a decent effort.

Worcester Warriors – ‘The fight for off-field survival’

Worcester's Sixways Stadium
Worcester’s pre-season has been dominated by uncertainty around the club’s finances and it’s future

Key new signing: Curtis Langdon (Sale)

Last season: 11th

Director of rugby: Steve Diamond

Trevor Owens, sports editor, BBC Hereford & Worcester

Any preview of a Worcester season normally centres on the hope that this will the year when Warriors finally shake off the ‘also-rans’ tag that has dogged their Premiership history. After winning the Premiership Cup in May, there were genuine grounds for optimism. But this summer has been far from normal at Sixways.

The RFU and PRL waited until six days before the start of the season to confirm Warriors would even take part in this year’s Premiership. But, such has been the chaos, should Warriors get to Brentford and put in a credible opening-day performance against London Irish, supporters would see that as a huge achievement.

The real frustration is the feeling that, in Steve Diamond, they finally have the right man in place to drive Warriors forward. But on-field ambitions have to take second place to off-field survival. Even after finally paying August’s delayed wages, there is still that winding-up petition from HMRC, who are owed over £6m, plus a long list of other creditors.

The stark truth is that, in the eyes of the majority of staff and supporters, the owners have lost all trust and credibility.

There is again no relegation, so most Warriors fans would gladly take another season of struggle – and still having a Premiership club to support in 2023-24.

Compiled by BBC Sport’s Sophie Hurcom

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