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Venter trumpets the positives as new season gets ready to kick off.


IT might have a new name and sponsor this season, but English rugby bosses still believe their domestic competition is stronger than the Magners League.

The Guinness brand was officially replaced by the new Aviva Premiership last week at a Twickenham tournament launch.

And there were some bold predictions this will be the greatest ever campaign.

Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter declared rugby "has never been in a better position to become a spectacle" and his position was backed by colleagues around the Premiership.

The excitement and anticipation could not be further removed from the cloud of scandal which hung over last year's launch, when both Bloodgate and Bath's drugs scandal were still fresh in the memory.

And when the season kicked off, the action was turgid as the law interpretations at the breakdown stifled any semblance of attacking rugby.

But those clouds have parted. Rugby dealt quickly and successfully with the off-field issues and eventually corrected those on the field.

In March, Premier Rugby and the Rugby Football Union agreed to tinker with the breakdown laws in favour of the attacking side.

And it is for that reason that the Premiership season will open next weekend with expectations as bright as the logo of their new title sponsor.

"I don't think rugby has ever been as well positioned to become a spectacle as it is at the moment, ever," said Venter.

"I think everything English rugby has achieved over the last six months - what referees chief Ed Morrison and his team have put together - has been brilliant.

"We will see a great product from all teams. All the sides are so talented. Look at how Bath play the game. Look at Sale with Charlie Hodgson or Harlequins with Nick Evans.

"It is going to be a wonderful spectacle. They have found the key to making rugby a great game to watch."

The boss of defending champions Leicester, Richard Cockerill, highlighted the importance of the domestic tournament as the Tigers look to defend their title. He said: "The Leicester board expects us to win the Premiership.

"That is the same every year.

"There are probably six or seven teams that could win the Premiership. There is no magic formula. We have good people and good players and we will work very hard.

"The final last season came down to the last lineout. It is that close. We have no divine right to be champions. We just have to work very hard."

His sentiments were echoed by London Irish boss Toby Booth.

"Our priority will first and foremost be the Premiership," added Booth.

"It always is because there has only been one team to win the Heineken Cup before they have won the Premiership.

"The Premiership is where you cut your teeth."

Off the field, the new television deal with ESPN and the arrival of Aviva as title sponsors will mean the clubs receive an increase in central funding of between pounds 750,000 and pounds 900,000.

Most of the clubs will receive around pounds 2.4m plus the additional funds through the agreement with the RFU on England squad players and English qualified players.


SECOND TO NONE: George Chuter of Leicester Tigers celebrates winning the Guinness Premiership final PICTURE: DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 29, 2010
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