The long-awaited restart of the coronavirus-affected 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership season gets going this Friday in London, with other matches to follow across the weekend at Worcester, Exeter, Bath, Bristol and Northampton. 

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With 2019 champions Saracens already automatically relegated to the Championship for the 2020/21 season as punishment for repeated breaches of the top-flight salary cap, the emphasis over the remaining nine rounds of matches will be on the race for the play-offs and whether current leaders Exeter can be reeled in by the chasing pack. 

A total of 57 matches – 54 regular-season games and three in the play-offs – will be played between now and October 24. Here is your guide to the first half-dozen fixtures:

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Friday, August 14

Harlequins v Sale Sharks (Twickenham Stoop, 7:45pm)

Referee: Luke Pearce (98th Premiership game). Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson & Paul Dix. TMO: Rowan Kitt. Citing Officer: David Guyan.

Harlequins have won just twice in the last seven rounds of Gallagher Premiership Rugby: both at Twickenham Stoop, against Saracens on January 26 and Exeter on February 29.  The Londoners have lost just twice at the venue in Premiership Rugby this season, to Worcester in round four and London Irish in round ten.

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Sale Sharks’ only defeat in their last six Gallagher Premiership Rugby fixtures was 22-36 at Saracens on February 15. Sale have won three times on the road in the competition this campaign, at London Irish in round two, Exeter in round nine and Gloucester in round twelve.  

Harlequins’ only victory in their last four encounters with Sale was 51-23 on the last occasion that the two locked horns at The Stoop in September 2018. The Sharks have won only once at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since 2008: 16-12 in November 2014.

England wing Chris Ashton makes his debut against the club he left to join Harlequins. Full-back Mike Brown has recovered from a knee injury to make his first appearance since November. Centre Joe Marchant returns from his spell in Super Rugby.

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Centre Manu Tuilagi makes his bow for Sale alongside fellow debutant Sam Hill. Faf de Klerk is present at scrum-half after overcoming the knee problem that has prevented him from playing since January. De Klerk’s fellow World Cup winner, Lood de Jager, makes his full debut at lock.

Saturday, August 15

Worcester Warriors v Gloucester Rugby (Sixways, 12:30pm)

Referee: Christophe Ridley (23rd Premiership game). Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson & Wayne Falla. TMO: Keith Lewis. Citing Officer: John Byett

Worcester Warriors have lost their last six Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches since beating London Irish at Sixways on December 28. The Warriors have lost four in succession in all competitions at home but have not lost five in succession at the venue since early 2016.  

Gloucester have lost their last five Gallagher Premiership fixtures but have not lost six in succession in the competition since 2012. Gloucester have lost their last nine away games in all tournaments since their 18-16 victory at Sale on the opening weekend of this season.

The last six fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day, while Gloucester have not been victorious at Sixways in the Premiership since May 2010.

Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers (Sandy Park, 2pm)

Referee: Tom Foley (77th Premiership game). Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald & Jonathan Healy. TMO: Stuart Terheege. Citing Officer: Buster White.

Exeter Chiefs have lost just once in the last four rounds of the Gallagher Premiership: 30-34 at Harlequins in round twelve. The Chiefs have been defeated just twice at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby this season, by Bristol in round four and Sale in round nine. 

Leicester Tigers’ last six matches in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day while Tigers’ only away victory in the Premiership since October 2018 was at Newcastle in April 2019.

Exeter have won their last four encounters with Leicester in the Premiership. Tigers’ most recent victory at Sandy Park was 24-20 in September 2014.

Bath Rugby v London Irish (Recreation Ground, 3pm)

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (74th Premiership game). Assistant Referees: Robert Warburton & Phil Watters. TMO: David Grashoff. Citing Officer: Brian Campsall.

Bath have lost their last two Gallagher Premiership matches since beating Harlequins at the Recreation Ground on February 22. Bath have lost twice at home in the Premiership this season, to Saracens in round five and Bristol in round twelve.  

London Irish have lost their last two Gallagher Premiership encounters since beating Gloucester at Madejski Stadium on February 22. The Exiles have won three times on the road this season in the Premiership, at Wasps in round one, at Northampton in round nine and at Harlequins in round ten.

Bath’s only defeat to London Irish in any competition in the last decade was 22-29 at Reading in September 2012, while London Irish’s last success at the Recreation Ground came with a 16-0 victory in the Premiership in November 2009.

Bristol Bears v Saracens (Ashton Gate, 4:30pm)

Referee: Matthew Carley (93rd Premiership game). Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Jack Makepeace. TMO: Claire Hodnett. Citing Officer: Duncan Bell.

Bristol Bears have won their last five Gallagher Premiership fixtures, their best ever winning run in the history of the competition. Bristol have lost just one of their last 14 home games in all competitions: 21-26 to Wasps in round seven.

Saracens’ only defeat in the last four rounds was 10-60 at Wasps on February 21. Saracens’ 27-21 victory at Northampton in their most recent away game ended a three-game losing run on the road in Premiership Rugby. Bristol’s only victory over Saracens in the Premiership since 2008 was 23-21 at Ashton Gate in April 2019.

Sunday, August 16

Northampton Saints v Wasps (Franklin’s Gardens, 3pm)

Referee: Karl Dickson (26th Premiership game). Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Hamish Smales. TMO: Graham Hughes. Citing Officer: Danae Zamboulis.

Northampton Saints’ four-game losing run in the Premiership ended with their 16-10 victory at Worcester Warriors in round 13. The Saints have lost their last three encounters at Franklin’s Gardens but have not lost four in succession in Premiership Rugby at the famous old venue since 2006/07.  

Wasps’ only defeat in the last five rounds of the Premiership was 9-18 at Leicester on February 15 – that was Wasps’ only away defeat in any competition since early December.  

Northampton have won two of their last three Premiership fixtures against Wasps immediately following a run of six successive defeats stretching back to 2015. Wasps’ only victory at Franklin’s Gardens in the last five years was 36-17 in November 2018. 

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