The 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership season will begin on Saturday, a day later than initially planned following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday.
Bristol against Bath and Sale against Northampton Saints had been due to kick-off the campaign on Friday night, but those games have now been put back to Saturday and Sunday respectively.
The matches originally scheduled for Saturday will proceed as normal as professional rugby in England plays on, unlike football’s Premier League.
The Gallagher Premiership will return for the 2022/23 season on Saturday
With a World Cup in France to follow at the end of the new campaign, it’s a huge year to come for the rugby world.
Almost all of the build-up to the next 12 months has not been focused on the field but instead been dominated by the financial plight of Worcester Warriors.
Here, BT Sport pundits Lawrence Dallaglio, Ben Kay and Ugo Monye talk Sportsmail’s Alex Bywater through their views on what’s been going on at Sixways and the year ahead…
Question: What have you made of Worcester’s financial plight and how worrying is it for the Premiership and English rugby?
Lawrence Dallaglio: ‘The last two to three years have had a massive impact on sport, particularly professional rugby. There are consequences of Covid coming home to roost now. Rather than being too pessimistic, what I would like to say is we have an opportunity now to accelerate our sport.
‘We must work together as much as we possibly can to make the situation better. I do feel we work in silos a little bit. There are 13 clubs in the Premiership and we are enemies. The sport relies on rivalry. We need a strong competition and need all the clubs to be part of it.
‘But I just feel that rightly or wrongly we have become somewhat disconnected from each other. A lot of that has been due to Covid. Everyone has been building their own battalion and not working together. We’ve got a new chief executive in Premiership Rugby in Simon Massie-Taylor who is a good guy. He’s been in rugby a long time and understands the pressures that exist on all sides.
Worcester Warriors have endured a series of well-publicised financial issues
‘The relationship between clubs, stakeholders and fans needs to grow. If that happens, the sport grows. Rugby clubs are enemies for 80 minutes each weekend, but we need to work and collaborate together to grow the game. I wouldn’t say rugby is at a crisis point because it’s not, but it is at a point where it needs to decide where it wants to go.
‘We have to do it quickly because there is catching up to do. We can’t afford to wait four or five years. If I had one wish for this season it would be that the clubs and people who run the clubs, plus the administrators and broadcasters, work a little bit closer together.’
Ben Kay: ‘Obviously it’s concerning.
‘For some fans, rugby has become a bit of a business and not all businesses have it rosy all of the time. You have to ride through economic conditions and financial uncertainty.
‘When you have something like the pandemic come along, all the plans you have are completely thrown into disarray.
‘The majority of income streams were taken away. Hopefully Worcester can survive because although they’re not at the top of the Premiership, they’ve got a really loyal set of fans, a good ground to go and visit, and I’m sure if they can get through this period they’ll be backed by renewed support from the fans who know how hard this time has been. No-one wants to see a team in a position like this but hopefully a solution can be found and Worcester can concentrate on playing.
‘Steve Diamond has done very, very well. I’ve seen some responses to the social media work they’ve been doing and the #together message saying how well he’s led them through this.
‘Everyone is in the same boat and I genuinely do think if they can find a solution, then absolutely it can galvanise the team. Situations like this do give you more of a purpose and funnily enough can buy you a bit more loyalty because you are fighting for something you believe in.’
Ugo Monye: ‘It’s been terrible looking from the outside. There has been a huge level of uncertainty for the players, staff and support base. I’m just hoping they can find a positive solution as quickly as possible. It’s important those at the club can do their jobs to the best of their abilities but to do that, they need to have these distractions taken away. In Covid we all had a situation where no-one knew what was going on and I imagine this has been similar.’
Q: How do you see the Premiership season panning out and who do you think will win?
BK: ‘It’s impossible to say who is going to win. Just look at what happened last year. You’d expect Saracens to be up there at the end. Leicester’s chances will depend on how they do without some of the really important players they had last year. There will be a lot of pressure on Handre Pollard coming in but I think Leicester will be up in the top four even if they don’t finish top. If you look at the other clubs, for me the ones that will do best will be the ones with the most consistency in their squad. We’ve seen a lot of players leave clubs because of the reduction in the salary cap. Quite a few teams have lost some big names and replaced them with some less big names. There are also teams who lost a bit of their identity last season and are looking to regain it like Bristol and Exeter. I’m not expecting too many drastic changes this year.’
Leicester captured their eleventh Premiership title last season and will look to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2010
UM: ‘I say it every year, but I think this season could be the most competitive yet. You’ve got the obvious frontrunners with Leicester as defending champions and Saracens who would have learned a huge amount from their Challenge Cup semi-final defeat. Sale have recruited very well. I could mention most clubs! There are a lot of unknowns because no-one has made a tackle or kicked a ball yet but right now, for me it feels like it’s going to be a crazily competitive league once again.’
LD: ‘I think there is a lot to be excited about. On the first weekend we’ve got some really interesting fixtures and great stories. Bristol against Bath and Exeter against Leicester are great match-ups with great stories. Some of the teams have frontloaded the appearances of their England internationals because needs must. I think Bristol have done that because they want to start well when they didn’t last season. I don’t think this season is any easier to predict. Leicester winning last season was a great story for a great club but I think they probably overachieved a little bit last season. There is nothing wrong with that and sometimes it happens, especially when you get off to a good start. ‘They’re not suddenly going to go away and not be in contention, but it’s always harder to be chased than it is to chase and it will be interesting to see how they fill the void of George Ford and Ellis Genge. Leicester have structured themselves not to be in a flash in the pan and I think the Premiership now is not necessarily competition for a top four. It’s a top six at least because it’s that competitive.’
Q: Who is the best new signing in the Premiership?
LD: ‘If I’m Bristol I’m thinking Genge is the signing of the season because he’s going to lead them. They need a leader on the field. I didn’t know if he’d be able to do that at Leicester because of the time he spends away with England. But his influence on the team is clearly quite infectious. I think he’s a great signing for Bristol because I don’t think they’re a million miles away. Genge and AJ MacGinty is a great bit of business.’
Prop Ellis Genge has joined Bristol after winning the league with Leicester last season
UM: ‘The signing of Zach Mercer for Gloucester is timely. He’s not joining until the start of next season but I think he’s a great signing. There is Pollard at Leicester, bringing in a World Cup winner isn’t bad after they lost Ford. Genge is going to be massive for Bristol.’
BK: ‘The most obvious one is Genge going home to Bristol. His partnership with Kyle Sinckler is going to be fascinating. Bristol have had a big rise and they hit a block last year. They need something to rejuvenate that rise and I think Genge could be that player. He’s the one who stands out.’
Q: Who is your player to watch this year?
UM: ‘I think Gabriel Ibitoye coming back and joining Bristol is very interesting. We all remember his try for Harlequins against Clermont. If Bristol can supply him with some ball then I think he’s a player who can get supporters on the edge of their seats. He’s brilliant. I’m looking forward to seeing him land back in the Premiership and how he goes.’
BK: ‘This one is easy for me! I thought last season was going to be Raffi Quirke’s year, but he got injured for the majority of it. That battle between him and Jack van Poortvliet is one we’ve been looking at for a number of years. Raffi got ahead in the pecking order before his injury and then Jack took his chance. Those two and Alex Mitchell and Harry Randall are the nines looking to take over from Ben Youngs. I think with Faf de Klerk having moved on from Sale, Raffi could have a great season there.’
LD: ‘In a World Cup year I like to look at the leaders, people like Courtney Lawes at Northampton. He was outstanding for England in Australia. I’m excited to see him and Owen Farrell. Look at the influence Farrell had on Saracens when he came back from injury. He nearly led them to another title.’
Q: It’s now less than 12 months to go until the World Cup in France. How do you see that tournament panning out?
BK: ‘It’s hugely exciting because this far out from a World Cup I’m not sure we’ve had so many teams taking games off each other. We’ve seen that particularly in the southern hemisphere, especially in the current Rugby Championship. You’d say France are out-and-out favourites at the moment closely followed by Ireland but a poor Six Nations for either of those teams could throw anything in the mix! It’s great for World Rugby it’s so open. I played in the 2007 World Cup in France. It’s a fantastic host nation and I’m hugely looking forward to it. France are favourites, but we’ve seen home pressure do funny things in the past and the winner could come from any of five nations.’
New Zealand suffered a shock defeat to Australia after a difficult summer for the All Blacks
UM: ‘It’s so hard to get a handle on the international landscape at the minute. Look at the last two weeks of the Rugby Championship. We’ve seen Australia beat South Africa, New Zealand lose three in a row at home for the first time and be beaten by Argentina and then a week later, it’s a completely different story. To win a World Cup you have to be consistently at your best over an eight-week window. What’s interesting is we haven’t seen that level of consistency from any team recently, particularly in the southern hemisphere. That adds an extra level of excitement.’
LD: ‘I’m a bit biased because I’m very passionate about England. It’s a big year for these guys with it being a World Cup year. How many more chances are this group of players going to get at winning it? It’s a really big deal. In my opinion the two hemispheres have never been closer together. We have to recognise that all but one of the World Cups has been won by the southern hemisphere. But if you look at the rankings now France and Ireland are No 1 and No 2 and they deserve that. South Africa are No 3 with England fourth. When have we ever had three of the top four nations from the north 12 months out from a World Cup? It’s a really interesting year ahead of us. We’ve never been able to say it’s this open.’
GALLAGHER PREMIERSHIP ROUND ONE FIXTURES
Saturday, September 10:
Exeter Chiefs vs Leicester Tigers (3pm) – BT Sport
London Irish vs Worcester Warriors (3pm)
Newcastle Falcons vs Harlequins (3pm)
Bristol Bears vs Bath (5.30pm)
Sunday, September 11
Gloucester vs Wasps (3pm) – BT Sport
Sale Sharks vs Northampton Saints (3pm)