Jim Mallinder warns Northampton of promoted Worcester
Northampton boss Jim Mallinder expects a serious test from promoted Worcester in his side's Aviva Premiership opener.
The World Cup may still be commanding most of the sport's attention, but the new domestic season begins with three English top-flight fixtures on Friday.
Northampton, the 2014 champions who were edged out in the semi-finals last term after topping the table, are among the first sides in action as they travel to Sixways to face the buoyant Warriors.
Worcester secured their return to the Premiership as they edged out Bristol by just one point on aggregate in a dramatic two-legged play-off in May.
The success vindicated their philosophy of building a team around a core of promising young players rather than recruiting experienced quick-fix journeymen, and Mallinder expects them to maintain the momentum.
The Saints director of rugby told the club's website: "I think it is a good and a bad thing playing a team that have just come up.
"It won't be until we start we know really what they are all about, so I think the main focus for us is concentrating on ourselves, what we do and what we do well.
"I think they have done it absolutely right. They have grown the team. They have brought in some experienced players but are relying a lot on youth, some local people coming through, keeping them together, building a team.
"It is going to be difficult. They are together, they are a strong group and we will have to play at our very best."
Saints will hand full debuts to three forwards in Kieran Brookes, Michael Paterson and Jamie Gibson while the Warriors will have even more of a new look with Donncha O'Callaghan, Phil Dowson, Wynand Olivier, Tom Heathcote and Darren Barry all set for Sixways bows.
Director of rugby Dean Ryan said: "This is our opportunity to play here and represent the club in the top flight of rugby. We are genuinely excited about seeing Northampton here. This is exactly where we want to be."
Elsewhere, Harlequins will host Wasps while Gloucester travel to Newcastle.
Wasps and Harlequins are among the sides being tipped to challenge for the title along with the likes of Northampton, champions Saracens, last year's beaten finalists Bath and Leicester.
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said: "Quins versus Wasps games are always nail-biting, nervy encounters, which tend to go down to the wire. Both teams like to play attractive, ball in hand, attacking rugby.
"For the neutral supporter, they are normally great games to watch. For Wasps and Quins fans, it's probably a little bit more nerve-racking, but it's a really good game for the opening night of the season."