Premiership Rugby is set to return with a Friday night bang next month, Chris Ashton’s new club Harlequins reputedly ready to host high-flying Sale at The Stoop as the sport in England finally gets back to on-field action since it was shelved last March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Not since Bristol’s Ashton Gate win over Quins on March 8 has a top-flight match game been staged in the Gallagher Premiership but a 23-week gap will be bridged when the show gets back on the road again on August 14.

With Premiership Rugby due to confirm the rearranged fixtures schedule this Friday at 4pm, RugbyPass has learned that the round 14 meeting of Harlequins and Sale, which was originally due to take place on March 22, will kick-start rugby’s return.

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Exeter and England’s Henry Slade guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

It was March 2 when former England winger Ashton abruptly left Sale after what was described as a “difference of opinion” with director of rugby Steve Diamond. After agreeing to terminate his contract early, Ashton was then quickly signed by Paul Gustard’s Quins but he has yet to play for the London club.

Top-flight rugby was halted when the virus resulted in the postponement of the March 15 Premiership Cup final between the same two clubs which was due to take place in Manchester. An initial five-week layoff was announced but that will now stretch to five months by the time rugby is eventually given the green light to resume. 

The south-west London league meeting of Quins and Sale will be the first of the 54 regulation season matches that remain to be played and it is believed broadcasters BT Sport will likely show 31 of those games live.

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Bristol vs Saracens, Bath vs London Irish, Exeter vs Leicester, Northampton vs Wasps and Worcester vs Gloucester are expected to be the restart weekend’s other fixtures, and the second weekend back is believed to be starting with a Friday night visit by leaders Exeter to second place Sale. 

It is also thought that midweek fixtures are planned for the following Tuesday, August 25, as the Premiership looks to quickly regain lost momentum.

In an interview with RugbyPass which will be published this Sunday, Bristol CEO Mark Tainton spoke excitedly about the anticipated return to matches which is now only five weeks away after all teams this week progressed to stage two of the return to training protocols. 

“Our players are excited already,” he said. “The fixtures are hopefully going to come out tomorrow (Friday) so we will know exactly where we are and what we are doing, what days we are playing rugby on. Then we can build into it, put our plans together for a definite return.” 

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Bristol reported a clean bill of health regarding coronavirus but the return elsewhere wasn’t without setback. Premiership officials revealed on Wednesday that ten of the 804 players and club staff tested for Covid-19 on Monday – six players and four staff – returned positive results for the virus. 

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