Aviva Premiership Champions Leicester Tigers may struggle to claim a top four spot this season, according to Austin Healey speaking exclusively to GiveMeSport.
The former England and Leicester player is backing last season's table-toppers Saracens to continue their form and be the team to beat when the competition gets under way this weekend.
But he thinks that the level of competition at the top will make it hard for any team to nail down a spot in the top four places.
Last season saw Saracens top the league only to be beaten in the semi-finals by Northampton Saints who would go on to lose to Leicester in the final, giving the Tigers their 10th English title.
And Healey is predicting more of that unpredictability for the current season.
"I think last season the Premiership really moved forward again and this year the competition for those top spots is more open than at any point over the last five years," he said.
"I think Saracens will definitely be in the top four. If I was going to put a bet on who would finish top of the league, it would be them.
"I think the other three places will be occupied by any combination of Harlequins, Bath, Northampton, Gloucester and Leicester.
"If Alex Corbisiero stays fit for Saints for the whole season, with the new scrum laws, they finish first or second.
"And I can quite easily see Harlequins and Leicester both missing out."
Leicester have been a permanent fixture in the Premiership final for the last nine seasons so to suggest they may not even finish in the top four is a big call. But Healey has his reasons.
"I think the loss of their coach Matt O'Connor to Leinster will be big for them, he was the main designer of their attack play last season," he said.
"Richard Cockerill [Leicester's director of rugby] is banned for the first nine games and that will have an effect.
"Leicester are very strong, but if they lose Toby Flood as they already have, they're not quite the side they can be."
As well as competition at the top, the relegation battle will be tightly fought. Newcastle Falcons' return to the Premiership may be short lived with many predicting only a brief stay back in the top flight.
"Down at the bottom I think its one of four - Worcester, London Irish and Newcastle, and for me can add Sale to that mix," Healey said.
"In my opinion Sale had probably their most successful season ever last season, because at Christmas they were gone, they were relegated. And the way they turned it round.
"But all those performances were real attritional fights, there were no elements of control about almost all of them so I think Sale will have a difficult season again this year."
Newcastle spent only one season out of the Premiership and will look to get off to a good start when they take on Bath in the domestic season opener on Friday evening.
Bath finished in seventh place last season but Healey picked out the Somerset team as ones to watch this season.
"I'm most interested to see how Bath start off," he said.
"They've had a very good pre-season, they've got some very talented players that we havent seen much of but the coaching staff are expecting big things of.
"I think Martin Roberts will be a big signing for them and they've got ford at ten who's very good.
"And then there is Semesa Rokoduguni who has the potential to be a Tom Varndell in the scoring stakes."
Rugby expert Austin Healey was speaking to GiveMeSport ahead of BT Sport's opening fixture of the Aviva Premiership - Newcastle Falcons versus Bath Rugby on Friday September 6.
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