Premiership: Saracens eye hat-trick of titles

Premiership rugby captains
Eleven clubs will be bidding to stop Saracens captain Brad Barritt from lifting the Premiership trophy again
Aviva Premiership 2016-17
Date: 2 September 2016 - 27 May 2017 Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC local radio, along with live text commentary and live scores on the BBC Sport website

The new Premiership rugby union campaign starts on Friday, with Saracens looking to win the title for a third consecutive season.

Last season's beaten finalists Exeter Chiefs will be hoping to go one better while the competition's most successful team, Leicester Tigers, and Northampton Saints retain ambitions of lifting the trophy again.

Kurtley Beale, Schalk Burger, Taulupe Faletau, Willie Le Roux and Louis Picamoles are among the high-profile arrivals on the pitch, while Bristol are back in the top flight following a seven-year absence.

BBC Sport picks out five clubs to watch.

Can anyone stop Sarries?

Saracens are now aiming to become the first team to win the domestic title three times in a row since Wasps achieved the feat in 2005.

With the north London club having the ultimate aim of defending the Premiership and European Champions Cup trophies to clinch a historic 'double double', director of rugby Mark McCall says his squad will not lack desire.

"We have a very young group who are enormously competitive, very motivated and very ambitious," the Ulsterman said.

"I don't think hunger is the issue for us. It is about understanding the underlying things which have given us the opportunity to be successful and reinforcing those regularly."

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New chapter for Saracens - Barritt

The Allianz Park club have added experience in the shape of South Africa flanker Burger, but McCall believes the biggest challenge his side will face will be when their international contingent - seven of whom helped England to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2016 - are unavailable for domestic action.

"We know when we have our full complement we are a match for anybody," he said.

"Our challenge has always been what happens when the international players aren't there. That is getting harder as a lot of teams are getting stronger.

"We happen to be drawn against teams in those international windows this year who don't have any internationals. It makes it tremendously difficult for us."

Exeter search for consistency

Exeter players
Exeter's players had to settle for runners-up medals at the Premiership final in May

Exeter came within one win of clinching a maiden Premiership title last season but lost in the play-off final to Saracens at Twickenham.

That defeat came just six years after promotion to the top flight, and the Chiefs have strengthened with the additions of Australia forwards Dave Dennis and Greg Holmes as well as England full-back Ollie Devoto.

"We made a definite effort not to over-focus on the fact we lost one game at the end of last year," director of rugby Rob Baxter said.

"To get to the final, most of what we did must have been pretty good."

Baxter says another top-four finish is the target at Sandy Park as they look to establish themselves as one of the country's top clubs.

"For me to say consistency is just around the corner for us is a fallacy. We have got to strive to get into big games to gain experience," the 45-year-old said.

"Saracens are involved in so many big games each year that they are bound to develop.

"That is the battle for us - establishing ourselves into that group of teams that are there every year so we can pick up experience."

Wasps continue re-emergence

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After a few years of struggle on and off the pitch, Wasps could be on the brink of becoming a domestic and European powerhouse once again.

Now firmly at home in Coventry's Ricoh Arena - the biggest stadium in the Premiership - last season's play-off semi-finalists have recruited impressively, with England duo Danny Cipriani and Kyle Eastmond among their new arrivals.

Australia full-back Beale and South Africa utility back Le Roux also agreed moves, although the former is still recovering from a long-term injury and the latter is set to join in January from Japanese side Canon Eagles.

"We feel this is our last big year of recruitment. The challenge for us will be making sure everybody beds in quickly," director of rugby Dai Young said.

"We want to bring in real quality as we believe that will be the difference between us staying where we are and moving forward."

The Welshman says the club will soon reap the benefits of being immersed in the Warwickshire area.

"We have been in massive transition for the last two or three seasons," he said.

"The pot of gold was there for us, having our own stadium and training facilities. Everything is in place now for us to kick on, but it doesn't mean it will happen overnight."

An All Black in charge at Bath

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Ford attitude is fantastic - Blackadder

Last season must have felt like a bad dream for Bath supporters.

The 2015 Premiership final runners-up had a campaign to forget, with their eventual ninth-placed finish leading to head coach Mike Ford leaving the Rec.

In his place is former New Zealand captain Todd Blackadder, who has had a successful spell coaching Crusaders in his homeland.

"I look at the squad and, with the ambition and vision the club have got, it feels like a good fit," the 44-year-old said. "I know I can deliver."

Blackadder is not perturbed by Bath's drop down the table and has watched two years' worth of games in preparation for the job ahead.

"The past for Bath can only make you stronger," he added. "The club want to build a really strong culture and I wanted to be part of it."

One of the players the ex-All Black has to get the best from is fly-half George Ford, son of the departed coach. Blackadder has already sat down with the England international to discuss their relationship.

"Obviously George has been through a lot and my job is to give him a safe environment so he can play some of the best footy of his life," he said.

"The most important thing is he instigated the conversation, which is great. It tells me that he cares. He is almost a complete player and has a fantastic future ahead of him."

Bristol back in the big time

Bristol's David Lemi
Bristol beat Doncaster 60-47 on aggregate in May to return to the top flight

After seven years in the second tier, and three Championship play-off final defeats, Bristol have finally made it back to the Premiership.

Director of rugby Andy Robinson, who has had spells in charge of England and Scotland, is keen to achieve more than just making up the numbers.

"It is about the club being able to move forward," the 52-year-old said. "To see how well Worcester did last year gives us real confidence.

"We are challenging the squad to look upwards. But rugby at the highest level is a ruthless and tough business."

Robinson, who recently signed a new three-year contract, is well aware of the rigours which await his squad in the top flight.

"Physically, you have to deal with what is thrown at you. There is no hiding place but that is the beauty of sport at this level," he said.

"We have to be able to perform for 80 minutes. If we can limit our errors we can be a successful side."

Additional interviews by BBC Radio London's Andy Rowley and BBC Points West's Damian Derrick.

For the latest rugby union news follow @bbcrugbyunion on Twitter.

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