Experienced Bath pack set to expose new boys Bristol
Six debuts for Bears but star man Charles Piutau misses out
BT Sport 1, 7.45pm Friday
Back in the big time and buoyed by a sellout home crowd, Bristol are looking to mark their Premiership return with a victory over their fierce rivals.
The newly renamed Bears have recruited heavily over the summer and give debuts to six new signings. With experienced coach Pat Lam at the helm and former Ireland international Ian Madigan pulling the strings at fly-half, Bristol are expected by many to avoid a repeat of their one-season stay the last time they ran out at this level.
But although they have plenty of top-flight experience in their ranks, the step up in pressure and pace from the Championship to the Premiership is huge, and a settled Bath side look worth backing to grind out a win.
Powerhouse prop John Afoa, former Leicester Tiger Harry Thacker and Aussie veteran George Smith all make their competitive debuts in the pack, and that is an area Bath will seek to dominate and deny Madigan ball to work with.
The Bath tight five have close to 500 club appearances between them under their belts, and while there are three debutants in the backline, they included Wales and Lions international Jamie Roberts at number 12 and highly-rated winger Joe Cokanasiga, while fans' favourite Semesa Rokoduguni is on the other wing.
Bristol's backline is missing star capture Charles Piutau - the former All Black is believed to be the highest-paid player in the league but is out with a shoulder injury.
Bath opened their campaign last season with victory at Leicester followed by a home win over Saracens, and they look worth backing for another strong start.
Bath to win by one to 12 points
1pt 9-5 Coral, Ladbrokes
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