STATS: Some insane nerd stats and infographics around this year's Aviva Premiership
Who will come out on top? Which clubs have put in the pre-season hours? Who is still recovering from their summer efforts? And when will your team face their toughest test?
To help answer those questions and more, here is the ultimate guide to the season, giving you an expert insight into the highs-and-lows you can expect over the next nine months.
By looking at the head-to-head results over the years, we are trying to predict where each club is likely to face their toughest run-in this season, alongside the dates fans might see their team hit a purple patch of form.
A club-by-club guide can be seen here:
* Saracens should finish strongly with their last three matches all among their 10 easiest.
* Wasps should hit the ground running as they have three relatively easy games to begin with, but three of the following four are among their toughest. Will the momentum generated by an easy start carry them through to Christmas?
* Exeter Chiefs have three easy games in their last four, so could finish well.
* Leicester Tigers go the longest before hitting one of their five toughest games, but then have a horrible December where they face Wasps, Saracens and Harlequins back-to-back.
* Bath have a rough start – three of their five toughest games come in their first five fixtures, but they also get three of their easiest in the first seven rounds.
* Northampton Saints must wait the joint-longest for one of their 5 easiest games and have 3 tough games in their last 4 (Saracens at home, then Leicester and Wasps away).
* Harlequins also get three of their five easiest games in the opening seven rounds – and only one tough fixture – so should start well
* Gloucester have a tough start – their first three games all rank among their toughest 10.
* Sale Sharks have an interesting September: their first five games are all either one of their toughest or easiest.
* Newcastle will have faced three of their five toughest challenges in the first eight rounds and are also the only club to play four of their five easiest games in the first half of the season.
* Worcester have a rough start, with six of their 10 toughest games in their first nine fixtures and the joint-longest wait for one of their five easiest.
* London Irish only have one of their five easiest games in the first half of the season and the other four alternate at the start of the second, which could enable them to pull away from the bottom of the table as the “business end” of the season approaches.
First Game of the Season
History shows that the first game of the season favours some clubs more than others. By looking how each club has performed in all their opening Premiership fixtures, Canterbury have found that being a favourite for the league doesn’t mean you’re most likely to win your first game…
* Saracens, Leicester Tigers and Bath have all won 65% of their opening day fixtures in the professional era, with Saracens the most dominant in points scoring terms.
* In complete contrast to this, Worcester Warriors have only won 2 opening day fixtures on 11 different outings, so will be hoping to prove history wrong away to Newcastle Falcons on Friday.
* Bath have won 9 of their last 10 opening day fixtures, but a trip to Leicester Tigers on opening day – where they’ve only won 1 and drawn 2 of their 20 previous meetings – means that it’d be impressive for them to extend this.
* Notably, title contenders Wasps have the second worst opening day win percentage out of all the clubs in the Premiership, providing hope for Sale Sharks when they clubs meet at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
Fast and Slow Starters
Although winning the opening fixture is important, getting off to a good start across your opening few games is crucial. Canterbury found that history provides hope for some fans, while others might want to remain in hiding for the first few games of the season:
* Adding weight to the Wasps versus Sale Sharks fixture, history says that Wasps are 33% less likely to win their first three games compared to the rest of the season, while Sale Sharks enjoy a boost of over 20% in their opening three fixtures
* Gloucester appear to prepare well for the start of the season, with the club 12% more likely to win their first three games compared to the rest of the season.
* There seems to be less hope for Worcester Warrior fans whose club are 33% less likely to win in their opening three fixtures than during the rest of the season.
We all know that playing on home soil in front of a partisan crowd provides a huge boost to the home clubs. But is this true for every side in rugby’s top flight? While every team does enjoy a slight home advantage, which clubs really make it count, and who struggles under the pressure of an expectant crowd?
* Worcester Warriors, Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester all enjoy a significant home advantage compared to their overall performance throughout the season, with each club over 40% more likely to win at home.
* Meanwhile Exeter Chiefs have a surprisingly low home advantage for a team that many clubs have to travel a long distance to reach, with the West Country club just 17% more likely to win when playing at home (the lowest home advantage in the league)
Fixtures to plot in your diary
For fans around the country hoping to watch the games with the most action, Canterbury have put together a week-by-week guide which highlights what is likely to be the highest scoring match of each round. These are the fixtures to plot in your diary, whether you’re a club fan or are just a rugby neutral who likes to see tries being scored!
* Sale Sharks are a good team to follow in the early part of the season – in four of the first six weeks of the season, their match has the highest-scoring head-to-head record in the professional era.
* Leicester Tigers are likely to be the most entertaining over the festive period: three of the four rounds in December and January have a Tigers match with the highest-scoring head-to-head record.
* The team for neutrals to keep an eye on during the run-in is Exeter Chiefs – the last four rounds of fixtures all have the Chiefs’ game as the match with the highest-scoring head-to-head record.
Major comings and goings in theEnglish Premiership ahead of the opening round of matches beginning on Friday:
In: Ruan Ackermann (Lions)
Out: Paul Doran-Jones (Wasps), James Hook (Ospreys), Sione Kalamafoni (Leicester Tigers), Matt Kvesic (Exeter Chiefs), Greig Laidlaw (ASM Clermont Auvergne), Jonny May (Leicester Tigers)
In: George Ford (Bath Rugby), Sione Kalamafoni (Gloucester Rugby), Nick Malouf (Australia Sevens), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Dominic Ryan (Leinster).
Out: Freddie Burns (Bath Rugby), Jon-Paul Pietersen (Toulon), Marcos Ayerza (retired)
In: Petrus Du Plessis (Saracens), Saia Fainga’a (Brumbies), Luke McLean (Beneton Treviso), Ben Meehan (Melbourne Rebels), Napolioni Nalaga (Lyon), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors)
Out: Tom Court (retired)
In: Francois de Klerk (Lions), James O’Connor (Toulon), Jono Ross (Stade Francais), Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors)
Out: James Mitchell (Connacht), Peter Stringer (Worcester Warriors), Mike Phillips (retired), Magnus Lund (released)
In: Dominic Day (Rebels), Will Skelton (Waratahs), Christopher Tolofua (Toulouse), Liam Williams (Scarlets)
Out: Chris Ashton (Toulon), Petrus Du Plessis (London Irish), Jim Hamilton, Kelly Brown (both retired)
In: Paul Doran Jones (Gloucester Rugby), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), Gabiriele Lovobalavu (Bayonne), Marcus Watson (Newcastle Falcons)
Out: Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Nick De Luca (retired), Carlo Festuccia (retired)
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