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Aviva Premiership: London double header before Leicester begin title defence

By Ben Hampshire.   Last Updated: 07/09/13 1:43pm

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Following a turbulent season last term, London Irish start afresh on Saturday afternoon with a clash against Saracens in the first of a 'London Double Header' at Twickenham.

The Exiles spent the majority of the previous campaign entrenched in the relegation zone before clambering their way into ninth in the closing stages and a summer exodus which saw Alex Corbisiero, Jamie Gibson, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Mark Garvey all fly the Madejski Satdium nest has left coach Brian Smith low on stock.

Ireland international Tomas O'Leary will captain the Exiles from scrum-half while Topsy Ojo starts at full-back with England flyer Marland Yarde on the right wing. All Black Bryn Evans joins Nic Rouse in the second row as Ofisa Treviranus partners Kieran Low in the flanks.

Billy Vunipola makes his Sarries debut in the flanks while British and Irish Lion Matt Stevens is named in the front row. Fellow Lions Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt are amongst the backs as Mark McCall's men seek vengeance after the Exiles ended their four-game winning streak when the pair last met in February.

London Irish have won just one of their last eight matches at Twickenham Stadium while Saracens also lost their most recent visit to the national headquarters as they bowed out in the Heineken Cup semi-final to eventual winners Toulon.

London Wasps ended the previous campaign with eight successive defeats and coach Dai Young will be hoping to buck the trend when they take on Harlequins in the second Twickenham encounter.

Fly-half Andy Goode will make his bow as one of five Wasps debutants with props Matt Mullan and Jake Cooper-Woolley, flanker Guy Thompson and No. 8 Ed Jackson all featuring in Young's starting XV.

Chris Robshaw is in action for the first time since May when he was unable to prevent Harlequins from being defeat in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Leicester Tigers. The England captain is joined in the pack by academy graduate George Merrick who starts in the second row alongside George Robson while Nick Easter also features in the engine room.

New signing Paul Sackey is named on the right wing opposite Ugo Monye, while veteran Mike Brown retains the number 15 jersery as 'Quins aim to start the season on a high.

Fixtures

Saturday
London Irish v Saracens (14:00)
Gloucester v Sale Sharks (15:00)
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs (15:00)
London Wasps v Harlequins (16:30)
Sunday
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors (14:00)

Conor O'Shea's side have lost just one of their last seven outings at the national stadium while Wasps boast just one victory in their previous five visits.

Slow starters

Gloucester will be looking to shake off their reputation as the Premiership 'slow starters' on Saturday when they take on Sale Sharks at Kingsholm.

Nigel Davies' men have lost their opening fixtures for the last three seasons but will expect the summer recruitment of England international Matt Kvesic to produce different fortunes this weekend.

The 21-year-old flanker makes his Gloucester debut alongside England team-mate Ben Morgan who retains the No. 8 jersey. Rising stars Billy Twelvetrees and Freddie Burns both make starts in the backs as Gloucester look to launch their season in style.

Sharks coach Steve Diamond awards debuts to five summer signings as full-back Tom Arscott, winger Phil McKenzie, centre Andy Forsyth and second rowers Jonathan Mills and Michael Paterson all make their bows.

Despite losing their first round match to Northampton Saints last time around, Kingsholm became a fortress for Gloucester, who won all but one of their remaining home fixtures throughout the previous campaign; while the Sharks have not won away from home since February.

Last season's runners-up Northampton Saints open their new campaign with a home clash against Exeter Chiefs, who finished just two places below them in 2012/13, on Saturday.

Defending Champions

The Saints are chasing a seventh successive opening day victory and have triumphed in their last four outings against the Chiefs in all competitions.

Jim Mallinder benefits from a fully fit squad with star signings George North and Alex Corbisiero set to don the green, black and gold jersey for the first time. No. 8 Sam Dickinson will also make his Saints debut after his first season was scarred by injury.

Exeter however are unable to boast a fresh-faced look with summer arrivals Romana Graham, Don Armand and Greg Bateman all ruled out through injury, as are Luke Arscott, Jack Nowell, James Hanks and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

The injuries mean Welsh winger Tom James is the only debutant in Rob Baxter's starting XV as his side look to maintain their unbeaten record on the opening day of the season.

Defending champions Leicester Tigers will take centre stage in Sunday's showcase clash as they welcome Worcester Warriors to Welford Road.

Richard Cockerill's men lost just one of eight matches in last season's run-in as they sealed a third Aviva Premiership title in five years. The Tigers are seeking a ninth successive victory over the Warriors but do so without new club captain Toby Flood, who is sidelined by injury.

In the absence of the fly-half, Louis Deacon will lead Leicester in his 250th appearance for the club, while half-backs David Mele and Ryan Lamb debut. British and Irish Lions stars Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling and Tom Croft all feature on their return to club rugby while Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi are named amongst the replacements.

The Warriors have lost all 11 of their trips to Leicester since 1895 and Dean Ryan will hope the addition of five new faces can help them earn a maiden victory.

Flanker Jonathan Thomas assumes the Worcester captaincy as fly-half Ignacio Mieres, scrum-half Jeremy Su'a, second row Mike Williams and prop Jeremy Becasseau all make their club debuts against the reigning champions.

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