Preview: Worcester v Northampton

Date published: October 15 2015

Worcester boss Dean Ryan will hand Warriors debuts to five new signings for their Premiership opener against Northampton at Sixways on Friday.

Donncha O'Callaghan, Phil Dowson, Wynand Olivier, Tom Heathcote and Darren Barry are all set to make their bows while Marco Mama and Na'ama Leleimalefaga could also grab their first appearances for the club from the bench.

A new-look second-row sees Ireland legend O'Callaghan link-up with former Cornish Pirate Barry while Dowson is set to take on his former club in the back-row alongside skipper GJ van Velze and Sam Lewis.

Scotland international Heathcote will start at fly-half with Ryan Mills at 12 and South African Olivier at outside centre.

Chris Pennell, Cooper Vuna and Tom Biggs occupy the back three slots with the current squad's record appearance-maker Jonny Arr at scrum-half.

Val Rapava Ruskin, Niall Annett and Nick Schonert make up the front-row as Warriors battle last season's table-toppers.

There is also a place for Academy youngster Perry Humphreys on the bench who could win his first Premiership cap.

"This is our opportunity to play here and represent the Club in the top flight of rugby," said Ryan. 

"Once you get that and remember the challenges of last year, you get the excitement and we are genuinely excited about seeing Northampton here. This is exactly where we want to be.

"O'Callaghan and Olivier are here to add substance to the middle of the business while Mills, Rapava Ruskin and Charlie Mulchrone are all coming to the table wanting their opportunity but need some experience around that.

"This is a more strategic approach to see if we can get those people to up-skill themselves at this level because without it you can't survive in the Premiership."

Meanwhile, three players will make their full debuts for the Saints as they open up the 2015/16 Premiership season at Worcester.

The trio are all among the forwards – Kieran Brookes, Michael Paterson and Jamie Gibson – with replacements Paul Hill and JJ Hanrahan also in line for first Saints appearances should they feature at Sixways.

Meanwhile, Lee Dickson starts his first competitive game as club captain from scrum-half.

Form: Worcester Warriors return to Aviva Premiership Rugby following a one year absence but they have only been victorious in their opening fixture of a new Premiership Rugby season once before – in 2011 when they beat Sale at Sixways. Northampton Saints are formidable in round 1 having won their first fixture for the past nine seasons, (including one in National One) since they tripped up 0-32 at Leicester in September 2005. The Saints concluded the last Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign with back-to-back defeats, at Leicester in round 22 and at home to champions Saracens in the semi-final. The Warriors solitary victory over The Saints in their last ten fixtures was 12-3 at Sixways in round 5 of the 2011/12 season.

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Cooper Vuna, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze (c), 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin.
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Na'ama Leleimalefaga, 18 Joe Rees, 19 Darren O'Shea, 20 Marco Mama, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Alex Grove, 23 Perry Humphreys.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Tom Stephenson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson (c), 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Jon Fisher, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Christian Day, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 George Pisi.

Date: Friday, October 16
Venue: Sixways
Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Referee: Gregory Garner
Assistant referees: Andrew Pearce, Paul Dix
Television match official: Geoffrey Warren
Timekeeper: Matthew Peters
Assessor: Nigel Yates