Promoted Saracens handed testing trip to Bristol Bears in Premiership opener

Saracens are back in the Premiership after winning the Championship last season

Saracens mark their return to the Gallagher Premiership with a tricky trip to Bristol Bears as the top flight introduces bye weeks to accommodate its expansion by an additional team.

Mark McCall’s side travel to Ashton Gate on 17 September to face the Bears, who reached the semi-finals last season only to come up against an inspired Harlequins.

Saracens were relegated at the end of 2019/20 for repeated salary cap breaches but secured an immediate return to a new-look 13-club Premiership by winning the Greene King IPA Championship.

“As a club, we are obviously looking forward to the new season and what lies ahead. Playing at Ashton Gate first up will be a great challenge but one our group will relish,” director of rugby Mark McCall said.

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The match is set to see England players Max Malins and Ben Earl face a Bristol outfit where they spent last season on loan while Saracens campaigned in the second tier.

“A capacity crowd at Ashton Gate, under the lights on a Friday night, always creates one of the best atmospheres in the country so we’re excited about getting underway,” Bristol boss Pat Lam said.

Champions Harlequins launch the defence of their title at Newcastle on 19 September when they will come up against Mike Brown, the former England full-back who swapped the Stoop for Kingston Park this summer.

Quins seized the Premiership crown with a thrilling style of rugby that swept them all the way to a 40-38 victory over Exeter in the Twickenham final last month.

“It’s great to have sight of how our first season as defending champions will kick-off. Newcastle away is a tough match and we’re looking forward to testing ourselves early with a trip north,” Harlequins director of rugby performance Billy Millard said.

Wasps are without a fixture on the opening weekend following the league’s expansion to 13 teams for the first time in its history, thereby increasing the number of rounds to 26.

Each club will have two bye weeks during the season, which climaxes at Twickenham on 18 June. Existing maximum game play limits and guaranteed rest periods for players are maintained despite the expansion.

At the end of the new season, the Premiership will expand to 14 clubs with no relegation until 2023-24.

Premiership Round One

Friday 17 September: Bristol Bears v Saracens – 7.45pm (live on BT Sport).

Saturday 18 September: Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs – 3pm (live on BT Sport); Northampton Saints v Gloucester Rugby – 3pm; Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby – 3pm; Worcester Warriors v London Irish – 3pm.

Sunday 19 September: Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins – 3pm (live on BT Sport).

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