Gloucester ready to take the fight to champions Exeter
Chiefs set for a scrap in Kingsholm opener
Gloucester v Exeter
BT Sport 1, 7.45pm Friday
Exeter ended last season lifting the Premiership trophy at Twickenham but they had started with a wobble - losing their opening two fixtures, and four of their first seven - and opponents Gloucester will be out to unsettle the reigning champions in this season-opener.
Kingsholm played host to the first TV match of 2016-17, when the Cherry & Whites raced into a 24-point lead before being hauled in and overturned by a last-gasp Leicester try.
Gloucester won only seven matches last season - although five of those were at home - and they are four-point underdogs for this clash.
That seems a fair reflection but the hosts will want to put up a decent fight and may target the opening exchanges as their time to make their mark.
Pre-season results should always be treated with caution, but Gloucester ended their warm-up with a 40-21 success over Pro12 champions the Scarlets, and incoming coach Johan Ackerman was most impressed with the way the players dug deep when down to 14 men and did not take a backward step.
That suggests they are ready to scrap and the forward battle looks set to be intense between two physical packs.
For Exeter it comes down to how quickly they can pick up where they left off, and there is plenty of continuity in their side with nine of the starting 15 from last May's final in the matchday squad.
Gareth Steenson returns at fly-half after Henry Slade started in the number ten shirt for pre-season outings against Dragons and Cardiff, and his steady hand can steer the Chiefs to a hard-fought win.
Newcastle are missing summer signings Toby Flood and DTH van der Merwe for their match against Worcester but are seven-point favourites at Kingston Park.
Exeter to win by one to 12 points
1pt 8-5 general