It is the curtain raising fixture of the 18/19 Gallagher Premiership season. Premiership newcomers Bristol Bears welcome Bath to Ashton Gate for a mouth-watering Friday night rugby clash. Bristol Bears begin their new season under their new name that came into effect on June 1st 2018.  Bristol ran rampant in the Greene King IPA Championship winning the title at relative ease beating and sometimes annihilating their opposition only registering one defeat securing promotion to the top tier of British club rugby. They begin their journey in the top flight against a tough Bath side filled with experience. Bath finished last season mid-table and they will be hoping for more this season. Both squads will want to hit the ground running with a victory this upcoming Friday.

It is clear that Friday night’s opening game symbolises the next chapter within the grand vision of the Bristol club. Pat Lam took control of the club in the summer of 2017 after previously having great success with Irish Club Connacht leading them to their first ever major title in 2016. The Auckland born coach led the club to promotion in 2018 seemingly unfazed, although it cannot be denied that this upcoming season won’t be easy. The squad has had many arrivals and departures this summer and it will be a difficult task for Lam to settle the squad and the first few fixtures could be very challenging for the Bears. Bath could possibly take advantage and claim victory while their opponents are going through this transition period.

As mentioned previously, the premiership new boys have experienced a busy summer with many player’s both entering and exiting the club shaking up the landscape of the squad. The club continued their trend of bringing in quality players after previously signing Irish playmaker out-half Ian Madigan in the season prior from Bordeaux Bégles. He proved to be an essential asset in their hunt for promotion. He is now joined by most notably players like world-class Charles Piutau (Ulster), tough scrummager John Afoa (Gloucester Rugby) and veteran Australian flanker George Smith (Queensland Reds). Over twenty plus players joined the club this summer, with as many departing.  Losing young welsh prospects Jordi and Rhodri Williams and experience in players like Dan Tuohy. It remains to be seen what effect this changes will have on the squad’s performance this season.

Turning our attention to Bath Rugby they are no stranger to top flight English Rugby as they have been a solid feature of the premiership for many years.  Todd Blackadder is the director of rugby at the club. Bath will be hoping to get the upper-hand on their west-country rivals. As mentioned Bath finished mid-table last year and they will be wanting to break their average form and achieve both domestically and in Europe this season. Bath have a squad full of International stars like Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Taulupe Faletau. There is no doubt that Bath have one of the most-talent squads in the premierships and it will be interesting to see if they can reach their full potential this season. They will be without star Francoise Low due to his involvement in the Rugby Championship.

Bath have recruited a few new players for the upcoming season. Their most well-known signing is probably is the experienced welsh hard man Jamie Roberts. It could be suggested that he is passed his prime, but he most definitely will become a leader in the dressing room. There were also a few departures with Matt Banahan leaving for Gloucester after many years at the club.

It will be an interesting season for both clubs. Bristol Bears will be hoping to impress in their first season back in the top flight with their newly built squad full of talent. In the grand scheme of things I believe their primary goal will be to beat relegation comfortably and build a squad that will challenge for trophies in future seasons. On the other hand, Bath will be hoping to finish on the top-half of the table pushing for play-off positions.

This will be a tight affair, but I think Bristol might surprise Bath and use the big occasion to claim a massive debut victory. We will have to wait and see!

Written by Ciaron Noble – 25/08/18