By Laurie Fitzgerald

The new Aviva Premiership season got underway last weekend, as rugby fans across the country prepare for another epic and thrilling campaign ahead.

In terms of an introduction to the new season, there could hardly have been a better one; it may have been the first game of the season, but Harlequins and Wasps produced 80 minutes of entertainment that may not be bettered in the following 134 matches.

After enduring the season from hell last time out, Wasps looked to have shaken off the shackles that saw them almost go out of the Premiership and close to administration as their pace and precision tore apart the defending champions.    

A brace from young star Christian Wade and another from fellow speedster Tom Varndell put Dai Young‘s men in a commanding 40-13 lead with just 20 minutes remaining, only for Quins to show just why they are the kings of English rugby.

Four tries in ten minutes saw Conor O’Shea’s side pull to within a point going into the final stages, before a penalty from Nick Evans four minutes from time sealed one of the most sensational comebacks in Premiership history.

This was the first part of the annual Twickenham double-header between the four established top-flight London clubs, and although the second billing didn’t live up to its predecessor, it proved to be a great start for Saracens and new boy Chris Ashton.

The England winger scored two tries and set up another two as the 2011 champions kicked off their quest to regain the title with a convincing bonus-point win over a disappointing London Irish.

While there was plenty to build on for Sarries, it was an eye-opener for Brian Smith as the size of the task to rediscover the days of Premiership finals and Heineken Cup semis becomes more apparent.

Another side that saw pre-season optimism disintegrate on the opening day were Sale Sharks, as Brian Redpath’s return to the Manchester outfit got off to a sorry start.

The likes of Danny Cipriani and Scotland lock Richie Gray had debuts to forget as the Sharks went down 43-6 to Exeter at Sandy Park.

Exeter were last season’s surprise package and the excellent Rob Baxter has a settled squad in which he consistently gets the best out of, and the early signs suggest they could launch another push for a top-four place that they came so close to securing back in May.

As for Sale, there is plenty that Redpath and his coaching team have to work with, and this early setback shouldn’t detract from an exciting future ahead as they prepare for their first match at their new home in the City of Salford stadium this weekend.

Redpath’s old club Gloucester were also unable to get off to a winning start, as Nigel Davies saw his reign at Kingsholm begin with a 24-19 defeat at home to Northampton Saints.

Davies did a wonderful job at bringing through a fantastic core of young players at the Scarlets, and this defeat won’t detract from the wealth of potential that the Cherry and Whites have in their ranks.

As for Northampton, Jim Mallinder and his squad appear more determined than ever to end their tag as the ‘nearly men’ of English rugby and get their hands on the domestic crown after three semi-final appearances in as many seasons.

Another club with new management in place this season is Bath, with a coaching team headed by Gary Gold determined to finally bring the glory days back to the Rec, and they got off to a winning start at Worcester – just.

In a game dominated by the boot of the respective fly-halves, Warriors number ten Andy Goode must have felt his 18 points would provide an opening day for Richard Hill’s men.

But Olly Barkley was just as impressive with the boot and his late penalty meant that Bath came away from Sixways with a narrow 24-23 triumph.

There is plenty of work required from both sides in the coming months, but Gold showed at Newcastle last season that despite their relegation he is able to galvanise a club on the downturn and he has the potential to get Bath back amongst the elite.

In the final game of the weekend, London Welsh’s return to the top flight couldn’t have been much tougher as they welcomed Leicester to their new Premiership home of the Kassam stadium.

Welsh showed the kind of character and determination they will need throughout the season having been within a converted try of the Tigers at half-time, but Richard Cockerill‘s side pulled away in the second half to secure a 38-13 victory.

Leicester showed no reason why they wont be in the title shake-up once again come May as they bid to reach a ninth successive Premiership final as the new season got underway with exciting attacking rugby dominating the headlines.

Long may it continue.

So what do you think? What are your hopes for the new season for your club? Leave a comment and let us know your views.