After the RFU’s announcement on Friday 3rd July that professional clubs in England could move to Stage 2 training, Premiership Rugby is set to finally return on Friday 14th August when Harlequins face Sale Sharks, after senior figures confirmed the beginning of a revised schedule to ensure all fixtures from the final nine rounds are completed. At the resumption of the season, the 159 day gap between games will be the longest in Premiership history.
Thus far, fixtures for rounds 14-17 have been confirmed and the Premiership final pencilled in for October 24th, with Exeter Chiefs resuming their campaign at home against a Leicester Tigers side beleaguered by off-field disputes on Saturday 15th August. They will then face Sale Sharks away on Friday 21st, before a four-day turnaround that will see them face South-West rivals Bristol on Tuesday 25th. Their final confirmed fixture up to this point will be against Worcester Warriors on Sunday 30th August.
The gruelling schedule will see Chiefs play four games in sixteen days, testing the depth of their squad, along with others, as Premiership bosses aim to find a conclusion to the season. With the season continuing beyond its normal date of conclusion and a reduction in the salary cap coming into play for the start of the 2021-22 season, player contracts have been up in the air.
As such, when the league resumes, a whole host of new faces will be turning out for their respective sides. With Exeter sitting 5 points clear at the top of the league, new star signing Jonny Gray will add significant talent to the engine-room. What’s more, the signing of talented young players Aaron Hinkley, Corey Baldwin and Josh Hodge will add youthful exuberance to an experienced Chiefs side.
Hodge particularly, is a highly coveted signing for Exeter, with the young winger/fullback regarded as one of the most promising English talents currently in the game. His performances against EURFC and others in BUCS Super Rugby for Northumbria earned him senior appearances for previous club Newcastle Falcons, as well as a number of caps for England U20s.
Several players have also departed Exeter and whilst the departures of players such as Nic White and Matt Kvesic are disappointing, their departures will provide greater opportunity for Exeter University students Sam Maunder and Richard Capstick to pick up first-team minutes.
There will be an element of the unknown concerning the resumption of the league, with concerns over player welfare and injury risk caused by playing so many games in such a short period of time. Whilst a daunting prospect, it will provide an opportunity for all sides to test the depth of their squads, with rotation likely needed to ensure minimal injury risk to the players.
More information of the remaining fixtures, as well as television coverage will be announced over the coming weeks, with games expected to resume behind closed doors.
It is though, another positive step in the return of professional sport and rugby will be hoping to increase its television viewership through live coverage on BT Sport with the same level of success that has seen Premier League football receive record viewing figures since the season resumed.