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Hibbard ready for "brilliant" clash

Wales star and new Gloucester recruit Richard Hibbard has billed Friday night's Aviva Premiership season opener against champions Northampton as "a brilliant game to start with."

New-look Gloucester head to Franklin's Gardens on the back of a major squad and management overhaul at Kingsholm.

Summer signings Hibbard, James Hook, Greig Laidlaw, John Afoa and Jacob Rowan all make their Premiership debuts in cherry and white as Gloucester prepare for domestic business under new rugby director David Humphreys and recently-appointed head coach Laurie Fisher.

Saints, though, have a familiar look to them, with their host of England internationals all lining up in a team captained by hooker Dylan Hartley, and Wales wing juggernaut George North launching his second season of Premiership rugby.

"It's a brilliant game to start with," former Ospreys hooker Hibbard told Press Association Sport.

" I played against Northampton last year, and I know how good how they are.

"It doesn't get a better challenge than that, going in against the champions in their own back-yard for the first game of the season.

"There is going to be a constant intensity every week. There are no rest weeks or easier weeks - every game is a must-win in this league.

"I am so looking forward to it, it's hard to explain."

Key to Gloucester flourishing this term - their ninth-placed finish last season cost Humphreys' predecessor Nigel Davies his job - will be the form of Hibbard's current Wales and former Ospreys colleague James Hook.

Hook has arrived in the west country on a big-money move from French club Perpignan, and Hibbard knows he could prove a box-office hit with Gloucester supporters.

"We played against Leeds (Yorkshire Carnegie) the other day in a friendly, and James was playing like it was like the Premiership final. He was absolute class," Hibbard added.

"He is class, and you know at any point in a game that he could change it with some of his magic.

"When you have got someone who is as big a threat as James, it opens space elsewhere."

Former Ulster and Ireland fly-half Humphreys knows it will take Gloucester time to knit together, but it will be fascinating to observe them over the Premiership's opening six-week block of fixtures.

"We've got to go and play and perform," he said.

"I think the Aviva Premiership is a very tough competition, and I am well aware of the qualities of the teams in it.

"The players here are hugely ambitious, and they want success for this club."

Northampton enjoyed an unbeaten five-game Premiership run to end last season, while they have not lost the opening fixture of a league campaign since Leicester crushed them 32-0 in 2005.

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