THE Gallagher Premiership returns this weekend with every game having something on it, an exciting prospect that the Guinness PRO14 sadly won't match in Wales.

Only Saracens have nothing to play for in the Premiership; the English champions' sole focus is on retaining their European crown before being punished for salary cap breaches with a season in the second tier.

From leaders Exeter down to eighth-placed London Irish, the play-offs is the aim. Every club apart from Sarries could qualify for next season's Champions Cup by making the top eight.

It is going to be a manic period over the border with nine rounds of regular season rugby played between tomorrow evening and October 4, a schedule that requires midweek matches.

Things won't be quite so exciting when the sport returns in Wales next weekend with the Scarlets hosting Cardiff Blues and the Dragons heading to the Ospreys.

The logistics of the PRO14 have led to the decision to finish the season with two rounds of derby action and then the play-offs.

The only thing on the line in regional rugby is bragging rights.

The Scarlets' chances of catching Munster for a semi-final place are slim – although Swansea pipping Nottingham Forest to the Championship play-offs provides hope – and that means it's all about the Welsh pecking order.

With 10 points up for grabs its Scarlets 37, Blues 29, Dragons 22, Ospreys 15.

It would certainly be nice for Dean Ryan's first season at Rodney Parade to end without the familiar tag of being Wales' worst and it might be that prospect that prevents these games feeling completely like friendlies.

South Wales Argus:

If the Dragons lose at the Ospreys, and the home side will be favourites, then that would put some pressure on for the meeting with the Scarlets.

Slip up in Newport and it opens the door for the Ospreys the following day when Cardiff Blues are calling Rodney Parade home.

A small dollop of pressure and intensity would be welcome for Ryan and his coaching team as they plot towards the European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Bristol at Ashton Gate on Friday, September 18.

But the Welsh teams are in a completely different place to English clubs.

Sale boss Steve Diamond, whose Sharks are second in the table, told The Times this week: "Not one player has come to me and said "I am worried about next season". They are saying, "Come on, when are we going again?"

"Of course, the middle of next year will be tough for everyone, but equally everyone will be in the same boat, we are all going to have players who are knackered.

"The sides that look after their players best are the sides that will have the most success over the next 12 months."

The PRO14 won't like to hear it, but their derby matches don't really matter to the directors of rugby that are playing the long game.

Leinster, Edinburgh, Ulster and Munster have a trophy to play for but the others are looking further down the line.

For the Dragons and Scarlets, that's the last eight of Europe, which is at least within sight of the kick-off for 2020/21 in October.

For the Blues and Ospreys (plus Connacht, Glasgow, the Italians and South Africans) it's a nightmare scenario for strength and conditioning coaches.

It would be negligent to put players out on the field who aren't ready for action but they want them to be peaking in two months' time.

South Wales Argus:

It will be interesting to see the approach from Blues and Ospreys bosses John Mulvihill and Toby Booth – do they hold some big hitters out with the start of next season in mind? Do they get their money's worth out of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Cory Hill and Josh Adams before losing them for large chunks of a Test-heavy season?

It would be surprising if some of their squad haven't already been told to aim for October rather than August in their personalised training regimes.

Meanwhile, for the Dragons and Scarlets it might be a case of using the whole squad over the two weekends, giving everybody a shot to earn a place against Bristol and Toulon.

Warren Gatland promises every player that headed to Washington and Argentina in the summer of 2018 that they would be capped.

Ryan could do similar with his Dragons squad, giving a run out to his glut of back row forwards, letting Jack Dixon and Adam Warren show that it's not all about Jamie Roberts and Nick Tompkins and allowing all of his speedsters to stretch their legs.

But while the Premiership will jump straight into important encounters, the PRO14 will have a pre-season feel with many feeling their 2019/20 really finished in March.