Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson believes the fixture list for the forthcoming Gallagher Premiership season has taken on greater significance due to the truncated nature of the campaign.
Leicester will begin the defence of their title against Exeter at Sandy Park as the domestic season begins on September 9 with a Friday night West Country derby between Bristol and Bath at Ashton Gate, while Sale host Northampton.
The Premiership final takes place on May 27 – three weeks earlier than this year – in order to assist England boss Eddie Jones with 2023 World Cup preparations.
Tigers were crowned champions for the first time since 2013 when Freddie Burns’ late drop goal gave them victory over Saracens at Twickenham two months ago.
Saracens have a bye in the opening round on September 9-11 but then kick off their domestic campaign by travelling to Harlequins, with Matson insisting the way the fixtures have fallen will have a greater baring than usual on how the season pans out.
“Looking at your fixtures, it becomes a bit of a luck of the draw – more so than any other recent years due to the shorter season and when we lose our players to internationals,” he told the PA news agency.
“If you’re playing a team that’s not impacted at all and because the competition is so tight, that definitely has an importance and there will some of those unexpected results through those periods for sure.”
League games are scheduled on two of the three World Rugby-sanctioned autumn Test weekends in November, while Premiership action also clashes with all but one of five Guinness Six Nations weekends between early February and mid-March.
Given these factors, Matson feels the battle for the top four will be as competitive as ever.
“I think the teams that have been successful consistently have managed their roster well and have managed to give their players a rest when they can give them a rest. That’ll be huge this year,” he added.
“More so because of the truncated season, having the healthiest roster is going to be critical. It is still the best competition in the world. I’m looking at our schedule and saying, ‘Damn, every team is a good one’.
“So I’ve no expectations of being the top four – being in the top four this year is going to be the same as last year, very competitive, probably more so.
“I think you can plan for that, but it definitely takes its toll if you’ve got to do that week in, week out. We want our players playing for England, as well as other nations, so I think we’ll deal with that when it comes.”
Premiership Rugby confirmed that, in addition to live BT Sport coverage, the Twickenham showpiece will be broadcast live on ITV’s main channel for the first time.
There is a fortnight between the Premiership play-offs and final due to Heineken Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup finals being played in Dublin on May 19 and 20.
Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick said: “We are very excited for the new Gallagher Premiership season and the challenges that come with being a part of one of rugby’s most competitive leagues.
“Kicking off our campaign away from home against a quality outfit like Exeter will be a great opportunity to test ourselves from the opening round against a side of their calibre.”
And Bath boss Johann van Graan added: “We are relishing the opportunity to open the season with a local derby. Before then, there is a lot of hard work to be done by everyone at the club, and we will continue to build towards that first round.”
:: Opening Premiership fixtures: September 9 – Bristol v Bath, Sale v Northampton; September 10 – Exeter v Leicester, London Irish v Worcester, Newcastle v Harlequins; September 11 – Gloucester v Wasps.
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