Who to watch out for in the opening round of the Premiership Rugby Cup
English domestic rugby finally returns this weekend, with all 12 top-tier sides in Premiership Rugby Cup action.
Following thrills and spills at the Premiership Rugby 7s, six mouth-watering ties are set to get the 15-a-side game fully up and running.
And with Gallagher Premiership Rugby still four weeks away, much has been discussed about which players will be drafted in to get their first minutes of the campaign.
Ahead of Round One, we take a closer look at the men picked for their respective teams’ opening Premiership Rugby Cup battles.
Marchant returns from England duty
Quins head coach Paul Gustard has named seven new recruits in his first XV of the season, highlighting his intention to rotate his new-look squad throughout their first four Premiership Rugby Cup fixtures.
Joe Marchant enjoyed a spell with England during the summer and will be hoping to strengthen his international credentials with a strong display in midfield.
Elsewhere, Aaron Morris has impressed in pre-season after a long injury lay-off and gets his chance at fullback, and hooker Max Crumpton skippers the side against his former employers.
Pat Lam is also hoping to test a number of combinations across the opening few weeks, and has handed Bears debuts to Toby Fricker and Max Lahiff, while Tiff Eden gets his first competitive start at inside centre.
Academy back-rower James Dun starts his first competitive game since November 2018, and will be joined in the back row by Jake Heenan, who will captain the side.
Harlequins XV: 15. Morris, 14. R Chisholm, 13. Marchant, 12. Tapuai, 11. Ibitoye, 10. Herron, 9. Saunders; 1. Auterac, 2. Crumpton, 3. Swainston, 4. Young, 5. Lamb, 6. Lawday, 7. Evans, 8. J Chisholm
Replacements: 16. Musk, 17. Botta, 18. Kerrod, 19. Freeman, 20. Clifford, 21. Mulchrone, 22. Saili, 23. Lynagh
Bristol Bears XV: 15. Protheroe; 14. Pincus, 13. Bedlow, 12. Eden, 11. Fricker, 10. Madigan, 9. Randall; 1. Thomas, 2. Malton, 3. Lahiff, 4. Muldowney, 5. Holmes, 6. Dun, 7. Heenan, 8. Batley
Replacements: 16. Capon, 17. Dawe, 18. Thomas, 19. Hawkins, 20. Kloska, 21. Stirzaker, 22. Ascherl, 23. Bates
Sirker searching for more scores
A repeat of the scintillating Premiership rugby 7s final is set to throw up a feast of key battles, and Dai Young has rewarded his youngsters with spots among his squad for this tie against last year’s beaten finalists.
Zach Kibirige and Thibaud Flament impressed in Northampton and make their Wasps debuts, while winger Callum Sirker will be on the lookout for try-scoring success after going over eight times last weekend.
Mark McCall has named a youthful Saracens side for the clash, with 12 of the starting XV hailing from the club’s academy.
Tom Whiteley takes on the captaincy having led Sarries to glory in the shorter format – and having been named Player of the Tournament, he will be hoping to continue to impress.
The entire Saracens backline is homegrown, and with seven players on the bench hoping to make their first appearance, McCall will want his team come of age in Coventry.
Wasps XV: 15. Miller, 14. Kibirige, 13. Neal, 12. Gopperth, 11. Sirker, 10. Umaga, 9. Robson; 1. Harris, 2. Taylor, 3. Brookes, 4. Cardall, 5. Matthews, 6. Flament, 7. Morris, 8. Rieder
Replacements: 16. Oghre, 17. Zhvania, 18. Owlett, 19. Gaskell, 20. Vailanu, 21. Wolstenholme, 22. Le Bourgeois, 23. Watson
Saracens XV: 15. Obatoyinbo, 14. Crossdale, 13. Watson, 12. Tompkins, 11. Segun, 10. Vunipola, 9. Whiteley; 1. Adams-Hale, 2. Woolstencroft, 3. Ibuanokpe, 4. Kpoku, 5. Day, 6. Christie, 7. Reffell, 8. Earl
Replacements: 16. Pifeleti, 17. Crean, 18. Wainwright, 19. Hunter-Hill, 20. Munday, 21. Day, 22. Willemse, 23. Gallagher
Skipper Steenson provides the steel
With six first-teamers at the Rugby World Cup and several others struggling with injury, it will be an inexperienced Exeter Chiefs side that entertains Bath Rugby at Sandy Park.
Despite this, boss Rob Baxter has signalled his intentions in the competition by naming skipper Gareth Steenson at fly-half, while Jannes Kirsten and Stan South will be eager to impress on their first Exeter outings.
Bath have embraced their commitment to deliver a squad of 50 per cent homegrown talent by 2023, naming trio Gabriel Hamer-Webb, Nahum Merigan and Max Ojomoh in the starting XV after signing long-term contracts in the summer.
In amongst the youth, Chris Cook and Alex Davies form an experienced half-back partnership for the Blue, Black and Whites on their trip to last year’s beaten Gallagher Premiership Rugby finalists.
Exeter Chiefs XV: 15. Bodilly, 14. Woodburn, 13. Wyatt, 12. Hendrickson, 11. Short, 10. Steenson, 9. Maunder; 1. Keast, 2. Innard, 3. Street, 4. Kirsten, 5. South, 6. Caulfield, 7. McRae, 8. Tuima
Replacements: 16. Poole, 17. Southworth, 18. Petch, 19. Teague, 20. Pearson, 21. Snow, 22. Skinner, 23. Karea
Bath Rugby XV: 15. de Glanville, 14. Davis, 13. Willison, 12. Ojomoh, 11. Hamer-Webb, 10. Davies, 9. Cook; 1. Vaughan, 2. Walker, 3. Nixon, 4. Douglas, 5. Davies, 6. Davies, 7. Reid, 8. Merigan
Replacements: 16. Batty, 17. Cordwell, 18. Elrick, 19. Jeanes, 20. Stooke, 21. Fox, 22. Brew, 23. Worboys
New-look Sale name seven new starters
Sale Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond has signalled his intentions for success in the competition by naming a strong team for the visit of Northampton Saints, with seven new recruits named in the starting XV.
The three du Preez brothers make their debuts as permanent Sale players and will be looking to impress, while Premiership stalwarts Simon Hammersley and Jake Cooper-Woolley get their first taste of Sharks action.
Defending champions Northampton have handed five players their full club debuts, with Chris Boyd naming a backline with an average age of just under 20.
Former England 7s wing Ryan Olowofela makes his first competitive Saints start in the back three, while Fraser Dingwall returns to the side after skippering England under-20s over the summer.
Meanwhile, fly-half James Grayson will be looking to continue where he left off last time out, having been named the competition’s Breakthrough Player of the Season.
Sale Sharks XV: 15. Hammersley, 14. Solomona, 13. James, 12. Van Rensburg, 11. Ashton, 10. R du Preez, 9. Warr; 1. Harrison, 2. Webber, 3. Cooper-Woolley, 4. Beaumont, 5. Phillips, 6. J du Preez, 7. Curry, 8. D du Preez
Replacements: 16. van der Merwe, 17. Rodd, 18. John, 19. Evans, 20. Postlethwaite, 21. Papier, 22. James, 23. McGuigan
Northampton Saints XV: 15. Freeman, 14. Sleightholme, 13. Dingwall, 12. Bird-Tulloch, 11. OIowofela, 10. Grayson, 9. Tupai; 1. Franks, 2. van Vuuren, 3. Hill, 4. Coles, 5. Bean, 6. Wood, 7. Harrison, 8. Eadie
Replacements: 16. Fish, 17. Davis, 18. Painter, 19. Onojaife, 20. Uru, 21. Taylor, 22. Mathews, 23. Strachan
Linsell’s first game made extra special
It will be a day to remember for Simon Linsell, who marks his first Gloucester appearance by captaining the Cherry and Whites at Kingsholm.
The former Hartpury RFC star is joined in the starting line-up by fellow summer signing Jamal Ford-Robinson, while the other 13 starters are all part of – or graduates from – the club’s academy.
Back among the big time, London Irish hand debuts to Ross McMillian, George Nott and Australian international Curtis Rona.
Blair Cowan captains the Exiles, and the 33-year-old will be hoping to steer his side to glory from the back row.
Gloucester Rugby XV: 15. Dunn, 14. Morris, 13. Stanton, 12. Seabrook, 11. Rees-Zammit, 10. Evans, 9. Chapman; 1. Seville, 2. Walker, 3. Ford-Robinson, 4. Craig, 5. Linsell, 6. Gray, 7. Hinkley, 8. Clement
Replacements: 16. Hunt, 17. Knight, 18. Dreyer, 19. Butler, 20. Howard, 21. Varney, 22. Barton, 23. Morgan
London Irish XV: 15. Parton, 14. Williams, 13. Rona, 12. Hepetema, 11. Hassell-Collins, 10. Myler, 9. Steele; 1. Elrington, 2. McMillian, 3. Chawatama, 4. Maddison, 5. Nott, 6. Gilsenan, 7. Cowan, 8. Tuisue
Replacements: 16. Fainga’a, 17. Hobbs-Awoyemi, 18. Cilliers, 19. van der Merwe, 20. Rogerson, 21. Brand, 22. Jackson, 23. Loader
Kitchener back at Sixways after spell away
Worcester Warriors fans will get their first glimpse of Conor Carey and Caleb Montgomery following their arrivals from Connacht and Ulster respectively, while lock Graham Kitchener is set to make his first Sixways appearance for eight years after returning from Leicester.
Wales international Ashley Beck is named in the midfield having recovered from a broken leg sustained last October, with prop Ryan Bower hoping to return from his layoff having been named on the bench.
Elsewhere, Isaac Miller and James Scott get their first Warriors starts having made six and two appearances respectively off the bench last season.
Six players will make their senior debuts from the start for the Tigers, in a side that will be captained by second-row Harry Wells.
Geordan Murphy has named the fourth-youngest Leicester squad ever for a competitive game, which includes an exciting half-back pairing of Jack Van Poortvliet and Sam Costelow.
Worcester Warriors XV: 15. van Breda, 14. Humphreys, 13. Beck, 12. Mills, 11. Hammond, 10. Lance, 9. Heaney; 1. Waller, 2. Miller, 3. Carey, 4. Scott, 5. Kitchener, 6. Hill, 7. Montgomery, 8. van Velze
Replacements: 16. Cutting, 17. Bower, 18. Mudariki, 19. Fatialofa, 20. Lewis, 21. Simpson, 22. Shillcock, 23. Hearle
Leicester Tigers XV: 15. Steward, 14. Aspland-Robinson, 13. Thomas, 12. Hardwick, 11. Forsyth, 10. Costelow, 9. Van Poortvliet; 1. Gigena, 2. Clare, 3. Cortes, 4. Martin, 5. Wells, 6. Lewis, 7. Reffell, 8. Boladau
Replacements: 16. Polota-Nau, 17. Lines, 18. Heyes, 19. Jordan, 20. Smith, 21. Law, 22. McPhillips, 23. Worth