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Gloucester determined to mount title challenge, says Laidlaw

Greig Laidlaw makes no secret of Gloucester's ambition to be Aviva Premiership title contenders this season.

But the Gloucester skipper also knows the step-up required after successive domestic campaigns that produced eighth and ninth-placed Premiership finishes.

Gloucester kick off the new term at home to Leicester on Friday night, and Laidlaw said: "We want to get back into the (European) Champions Cup absolutely, but we are waking up in the morning and going to training because we have the ambition to win the Aviva Premiership.

"That's the mentality we are trying to develop within the squad. We will set ourselves many goals during the season to keep track of where we are, and hopefully these things will add up.

"We are not going to shout about it from the rooftops because we've finished eighth and ninth the last two years. We understand where we are."

Gloucester's first challenge is to try to overcome a powerful Leicester side that reached Premiership and European semi-finals last season and will arrive in the west country with England centre Manu Tuilagi and South Africa's World Cup-winning wing JP Pietersen among their back division.

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said: "Overall, we were pretty happy (with last season), but you want to try to win something.

"We had two semi-finals and two losses, which is disappointing, but I am pleased with how we're progressing our game.

"We have strengthened our squad again - less numbers and more quality, we think, across the board."

Newcastle and Sale Sharks are also in action on the Premiership's opening night, with Sale parading six newcomers, including half-backs AJ MacGinty and Mike Phillips, at Kingston Park.

The Falcons, meanwhile, hand a debut to former Leicester back Vereniki Goneva, and Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards said: "Overall, within the squad, we have retained our core and everyone is working well together.

"Confidence is high. We have a much better squad than last year, and everyone is vying for selection. There is competition all over the place, and we are chomping at the bit to get into the games.

"You can say Sale have lost people like Tommy Taylor and Danny Cipriani, but they have brought in good players like Rob Webber and AJ MacGinty.

"We know they are a strong side, they will come to play rugby and to take us on physically. We have a lot of respect for what they can offer, but at the same time the belief in our own ability to challenge them."

Saturday's action features a double-header at Twickenham, where Premiership champions Saracens open up against Worcester and Harlequins tackle Bristol, with Northampton meeting Bath at Franklin's Gardens.


From Belfast Telegraph