The new Aviva Premiership campaign is launched on Friday in Gloucester and on Tyneside, with a mood of excitement, intrigue and optimism surrounding the elite English league.
The afterglow of an epic Lions tour of New Zealand should provide positive knock-on effects for the domestic scene and the clubs will seek to extend the feelgood factor.
Here, Sportsmail outlines why rugby followers can look forward to plenty of enthralling action in the months ahead…
Defending champions Exeter Chiefs will kick off the Aviva Premiership at Gloucester
1. Competitive edge
Certainty is the enemy of all professional sport and there is precious little of it in the Premiership. Exeter shook up the old order by winning the title last season and there are at least four potential champions this time around — Saracens, Wasps, Exeter and Leicester, while other challengers may emerge. This is a league where prized scalps are claimed on a weekly basis. Walkovers are extremely rare. There will be an almighty scrap for play-off places, Champions Cup qualification and survival. There will be tight finishes, tension and drama all the way.
2. Strong recruitment
The top English clubs have greater spending power than ever due to the raising of the salary cap and two marquee players allowance. There has been some canny transfer activity, which will add pedigree and class to the league. Bath have brought in England openside Sam Underhill and it will be fascinating to gauge his progress against rivals for Test selection. Likewise with Piers Francis — the fly-half who has joined Northampton from Auckland Blues. Sale have been particularly busy, signing James O’Connor, Faf de Klerk, Jono Ross and Josh Strauss; all quality. Saracens now have giant Wallaby lock Will Skelton full-time, as well as Welsh flier Liam Williams, while Canadian D.T.H van der Merwe is the latest dazzling finisher to join Newcastle.
Saracens have strengthened with Welshman Liam Williams as they look for Exeter revenge
3. English pedigree
While there will be some stellar imports on show again, the Premiership is founded on a core of home-grown talent, underpinned by the RFU’s successful English-Qualified Player system, which provides financial incentives. The upshot has been a production line of international contenders and Eddie Jones has capitalised by leading England to a