Bristol will host Leicester to kick off the new Gallagher Premiership season on Friday, October 13 before champions Saracens start the defence of their title with a trip to Exeter.

After Wasps, Worcester and London Irish all entered administration while Championship winners Jersey Reds did not meet the minimum standards criteria for promotion, the new top-flight campaign will feature just 10 teams.

The revamped schedule for the 2023-24 campaign gives all clubs one home fixture in the opening two weeks of the season.

After Saturday’s 1.30pm kick-off at Exeter’s Sandy Park, Bath host Newcastle at 3pm while Harlequins will travel to Gloucester.

To complete the opening weekend’s action, Sale – beaten by Saracens in the Premiership final at Twickenham – will welcome Northampton on October 15, which will also be broadcast live on TNT Sports.

The Premiership final is set to take place on June 8 at Twickenham.

There will be a ‘Derby Weekend’ in round six from November 17 to 19, which will see Sale play Newcastle and Bath host Bristol on the Friday night.

The action on the Saturday sees Northampton travel to Leicester with Saracens at London rivals Harlequins. Both matches will be shown live ahead of Exeter playing Gloucester on the Sunday afternoon.

Clubs will also have one home fixture over the Christmas period, which it is hoped will allow families to enjoy games together.

December 30 will see Harlequins’ ‘Big Game’ series back in the festive schedule when they take on Gloucester at Twickenham.

Following a break of league action during the Guinness Six Nations, Saracens play Harlequins at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in March before Northampton face Quins back at Twickenham during round 16 in April.

As well as the live schedule on TNT Sports, which has been announced through until January 2024, there will be highlights of all 90 regular-season games on ITV along with seven full free-to-air fixtures and the Premiership final.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor said: “Today is always an exciting day in the sporting calendar and I know that our dedicated Gallagher Premiership Rugby fans, players and clubs are counting down until the big kick-off.

“It’s great to welcome our new-look broadcast partner TNT Sports in their debut season under their new brand and we look forward to delivering unmissable world-class sporting entertainment together.”

::Opening Premiership fixtures: October 13 – Bristol v Leicester (7.45pm, TNT Sports); October 14 – Exeter v Saracens (1.30pm, TNT Sports), Bath v Newcastle (3pm), Gloucester v Harlequins (3pm); October 15 – Sale v Northampton (1.30pm, TNT Sports)

English challengers Leicester and Sale Sharks have landed a fearsome pool draw in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

The pair, who cannot play each other in the group stage, face games against Champions Cup holders La Rochelle, runners-up Leinster, South African heavyweights DHL Stormers and Parisians Stade Francais.

They will play two matches at home and two away in December and January. The top four teams in each group will comprise the round of 16 later next term.

Premiership champions Saracens and Bristol, who replaced London Irish after the Exiles went into administration, will tackle Bordeaux-Begles, Vodacom Bulls, Lyon and Connacht in Pool 1.

Bath, Champions Cup qualifiers following a dramatic last day of the Premiership season, are in Pool 2 alongside Harlequins.

They will take on newly-crowned French champions Toulouse, Racing 92, Ulster and the solitary Welsh representative Cardiff.

Past tournament winners Exeter and Northampton are in Pool 3, where they will face fixtures against United Rugby Championship title holders Munster, Glasgow, Bayonne and Toulon.

Premiership challengers Gloucester have been handed a tough European Challenge Cup draw, being grouped in Pool 3 alongside Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets, Edinburgh, Castres and a yet-to-be-announced invited club.

Newcastle are in Pool 2 with Ospreys, Benetton, Montpellier, Perpignan and Emirates Lions, while Pool 1 comprises another invited club alongside Dragons, Pau, Oyonnax, Zebre Parma and Cell Sharks.

The top four in each group progress to the Challenge Cup round of 16, where they will be joined by the four fifth-placed Champions Cup teams.

The Challenge Cup and Champions Cup finals take place at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 24 and 25.

Sale Sharks reached their first Gallagher Premiership final for 17 years as they ended Leicester’s hopes of back-to-back titles with a 21-13 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Alex Sanderson’s team will meet his former club Saracens at Twickenham on May 27 in pursuit of a Premiership crown that Sale last claimed when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.

After finishing 10 points above Leicester during the regular league season, Sale were pushed all the way by Tigers in an absorbing encounter.

Former Leicester fly-half George Ford played a key role in Leicester’s downfall, kicking three penalties and a conversion, while wings Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed claimed tries.

Sale overcame the sight of their captain Ben Curry being carried off injured, and they withstood a resilient Leicester effort that saw a try for wing Harry Potter, plus eight points from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth.

But Leicester will also curse themselves for twice ruining promising late attacking platforms through wayward kicks to touch that prevented attacking lineouts.

Sale showed five changes from their final regular season game against Newcastle, with Gus Warr, Simon McIntyre, Nick Schonert, Akker van der Merwe and Tom Curry all returning for the sold-out clash.

Leicester welcomed back the likes of Freddie Steward and Anthony Watson, but they suffered an injury blow when fly-half Handre Pollard was ruled out, being replaced by 39-year-old Gopperth.

The New Zealander missed a gilt-edged chance to put Leicester ahead when he drifted a close-range penalty wide, but he made amends three minutes later as Tigers moved in front.

Sale’s indiscipline surfaced early on, and Gopperth found his range again, this time from 48 metres to make it 6-0.

The game had a relentless pace to it, and it went up a gear when Sale found their rhythm, probing for gaps through adventurous running from Reed and full-back Joe Carpenter, while England centre Manu Tuilagi also made his presence felt.

Sale were a threat when they were able to put width on their possession, and Roebuck finished off a flowing move before Ford added a touchline conversion as Leicester fell behind.

The Sharks then suffered a major blow when Curry departed the action after suffering a suspected knee injury as Leicester attacked on Sale’s 22. He was replaced by Dan du Preez.

Curry received a standing ovation as he left the action, but he was soon able to watch from the sidelines, with Sharks exerting sustained pressure inside Tigers’ 22.

And Tigers’ cause was not helped when their England prop Dan Cole received a yellow card from Wayne Barnes following a high challenge on Van der Merwe.

Leicester then lost scrum-half Ben Youngs for a head injury assessment after he halted Sale centre Rob du Preez’s charge for the corner, and Tigers’ defence held firm, with Sale taking a 7-6 lead into half-time.

Youngs did not reappear for the second period – fellow England international Jack van Poortvliet took over from him – while Sanderson made early use of the replacements’ bench, sending on props Bevan Rodd and Coenie Oosthuizen.

A successful Ford penalty from just inside’s Leicester’s half opened up a four-point gap, yet the Tigers went back in front seven minutes later when centre Dan Kelly’s long pass sent Potter scampering over, with Gopperth converting.

A Ford penalty then tied the contest at 13-13 with 22 minutes left, and then he turned provider, creating space in midfield, and although his pass to Reed hit the ground, the wing finished brilliantly.

Reed was quickly at it again, breaking clear from inside his own half before firing the ball to replacement scrum-half Raffi Quirke, but the pass was rightly adjudged forward by Barnes.

Ford, who was a dominant figure during the closing quarter, then kicked a long-range penalty that left Tigers eight points behind as their title grip was prised away.

Alex Sanderson has described Sunday’s play-off clash against Leicester as “a game of grand magnitude” as Sale Sharks target a first Gallagher Premiership final appearance since 2006.

Sale beat Leicester 45-20 at Twickenham 17 years ago, helped on their way by 23 points from fly-half Charlie Hodgson, while captain Jason Robinson became the first player to win Grand Finals in both rugby codes.

The Sharks have featured in just one play-off occasion since that season, though, shipping 40 points against Exeter in 2021.

Standing in Sale’s way at a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium this weekend and a return to English rugby headquarters are the reigning Premiership champions.

When the clubs last met in Greater Manchester Sale ran out 40-5 winners, while Sharks finished second behind Saracens across the regular domestic season.

“Thankfully, this isn’t our first rodeo of recent times with this group,” Sale rugby director Sanderson said.

“We have learnt from two years ago how to manage these kind of moments better.

“It is a game of grand magnitude which we are looking to enjoy and embrace, not to be overwhelmed by. That is the challenge.

“Our excitement exists within this bubble. You don’t want to talk about the further reach because it can become overwhelming, as it did two years ago.

“You have to stick to process while being aware of the buzz around. It has been really, really busy around the ground and there is lots going on this weekend.

“We feel the support more than we ever have done. We have just got to come back to what has been working well for us, which is communicating well and training hard.”

It is difficult to under-estimate the drive that Sale have taken from their play-off loss against Exeter two years ago.

Had they beaten the Chiefs – also in Devon – during the final round of regular-season action a week earlier, then it could have secured a home semi-final.

Sanderson added: “We have been working towards it and building for this for two years, certainly since a year last Christmas when we realised we had a lot of work to do as an organisation.

“Since then, we have looked at how we can give ourselves these kind of opportunities.

“Now we are here, it feels like we have earned it. It’s less of a fairy-tale and there is less emotion around this occurrence than there was two years ago.

“We have referred back to the players, in particular seven or eight of them who have won the big trophies in the past, and how they have managed these weeks, how we can manage these moments better.

“It is a general understanding of how we deal with it, make sure it doesn’t change us, but be aware that it is there.”

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