The Exeter Chiefs claimed their maiden English title after a gripping extra-time victory over Wasps in May, becoming the first West Country champions since Bath in 1996.

The Exeter Chiefs claimed their maiden English title after a gripping extra-time victory over Wasps in May, becoming the first West Country champions since Bath in 1996. They did it the hard way, winning just two of their first seven Premiership matches. A 35-8 European trouncing by Clermont proved a watershed in October and fromthat point Exeter were unbeaten in the league.

Next season’s Premiership programme will include another USA-based match when Newcastle entertain Saracens at the 18,500-capacity Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia on 16 September.

Tis off-season there has been an ever more active player transfer market which has seen an influx of talent into the Aviva Premiership both from leagues like the Pro14 but also the and southern hemisphere, helping squads withstand losses from the lure of and contracts from the French top 14.

Last season the top three in the league, where eight teams progress to the play-offs and then onto a grand final where the champion is crowned, were 11 points clear of fourth place in the regular season league table.

Champions Exeter Chiefs are now on a 17-match unbeaten run in the Premiership,. Their strength in depth is growing and they will be less affected by Test call-ups than their major rivals. Lions tourist Jack Nowell may delay his entrance next season but otherwise the Chiefs should be fully armed and ready to fly out the blocks.

Back to back European Rugby Champions cup winners Saracens are favourites to regain this title, understandably enough with a very strong squad and spending right up to the salary cap. It is difficult to fight on both fronts though and they undoubtedly will go deep in the European competition. Last season they had to travel to Exeter for the Aviva play off semi final the week after the European semi-final, a really tough task an they just failed to win the second game. Their ante-post price makesno account of what will be a crowded late season schedule.

Wasps were beaten finalists last year and play an attractive brand of rugby. Very likely to be top four in the league again

Beyond the top three from last season come the next tier of teams:

Leicester are in the tail end of a rebuilding phase but the pipeline of young talent looks shallower than it has been and squad depth is an issue

Northampton have a strong injection from Super Rugby, including international backs Rob Horne, Piers Francis and Cobus Reinach, and the hope is that some of the narrow setbacks of last season (which included one-score defeats by Wasps and Bath both home and away) sees an improvement on seventh place in 2016-17. Tp 4 certainlylooks a possibility.

Harlequins and Bath will both be competitive and likely to hit the play-offs in 5th-8th position

The other teams are Gloucester, Sale, Newcastle, Worcester and newly promoted London Irish who will be favourites for relegation

Odds for the new season are as follows

Saracens 11/10
Wasps 5/2
Exeter 4/1
Leicester 14/1
Bath 20/1
Northampton 40/1
Harlequins 50/1
Bar 66/1

In a market dominated by the top three, we can get 9/2 Exeter retaining the title with sportingbet and 4/1 generally. This looks the stand out bet