Premiership preview: Will Saracens retain crown or can Exeter Chiefs and the chasing pack hunt them down?

PREMIERSHIP rugby returns as Bristol Bears take on Bath tonight. But who will be champs in May and who will be relegation fodder? SunSport’s JONNY FORDHAM answers the key questions.

SARACENS beat Exeter in last year’s final to win their third title in four years. And the Chiefs won the other one. Can anyone challenge those two powerhouses?

 Mark McCall is well placed to lead Saracens to Premiership glory again

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Mark McCall is well placed to lead Saracens to Premiership glory again

Once again, Mark McCall’s side should sweep the board with Chiefs the most likely challengers. Both squads are made up of England players sprinkled with hardened Premiership machines.

SO what are their rivals doing to stop this domination?

Wasps continue down the Harlem Globetrotter route. All Blacks fly-half Lima Sopoaga will need to start with a bang to fill the shoes of Danny Cipriani.

Gloucester, Cipriani’s new club, have signed so many Springboks that Kingsholm will soon be twinned with Ellis Park in Joburg.

 Saracens will rightly be favourites to win their fourth title in five seasons

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Saracens will rightly be favourites to win their fourth title in five seasons
 Controversial England star Danny Cipriani has swapped Wasps for Gloucester

PA:Press Association
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Controversial England star Danny Cipriani has swapped Wasps for Gloucester

IT ALL kicks off at Ashton Gate tonight. What can we expect from new boys Bristol?

The Bears have broken the bank to make sure they do not end up hibernating in the Championship again in May.

Injured Charles Piutau, the £1million man, will not feature.

NEWCASTLE were the surprise play-off package last year. Can they go one better and reach a final?

Falcons boss Dean Richards will find it hard to pull off last year’s heroics. But they have to prove last season was not a flash in the pan.

 Pat Lam faces a tough season as boss of newly-promoted Bristol Bears

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Pat Lam faces a tough season as boss of newly-promoted Bristol Bears

SALE also came close to the play-offs. Do the others need to fear the northern invasion?

Like the Toon, Sale are another club with a chip on their shoulder and Steve Diamond really has to deliver now.

And the fallen giants Bath, Leicester, Quins and Northampton?

These hot-beds of rugby are close to freezing over unless the good times return.

Tigers missed out on the play-offs for the first time since 2004. Bath and Saints have been in a constant state of yo-yo.

The arrival of Dan Biggar should get the Saints marching again, so too the arrival of Chris Boyd as the new gaffer.
HARLEQUINS could get dragged into a relegation battle again — but who will go down?

Worcester will kiss goodbye to top-flight rugby after not investing enough in their squad.

PREMIERSHIP rugby returns as Bristol Bears take on Bath tonight. But who will be champs in May and who will be relegation fodder? SunSport’s JONNY FORDHAM answers the key questions.