FULL-BACK Chris Pennell says he’s excited about Worcester Warriors’ prospects in the Greene King IPA Championship.

The Worcester born-and-bred star admits he felt like a new player when he linked up with Dean Ryan’s squad in the summer after a spell on international duty with England in New Zealand.

Pennell firmly believes Warriors have assembled a new-look squad capable of coping with the expectations that come with being touted among the front-runners for promotion.

He is relishing Warriors’ mouth-watering opener with Andy Robinson’s Bristol, who are also being tipped for a play-off spot.

“In all the years I have been at the club, the atmosphere in the camp is the best I have felt and there is an outstanding group of blokes with talent — it’s really exciting for the club,” said Pennell.

“I joined up with the squad for pre-season a little bit later than normal because I was away on international duty with England.

“There were so many new faces that I felt like I was a new player but I felt very excited because there is an excellent mix of younger players and experienced heads.

“There will be bit of extra pressure this season because we are expected to be challenging for the title but that is a nice thing for the players.

“It is a big opportunity to show that we can play and it will be a different kind of pressure to what we experienced last season when we were battling towards the bottom of the Premiership.

“I think it’s quite nice to be in a different place to last season and I am sure the players will embrace the challenge.”

Pennell insists it’s important that Warriors focus on their own strengths and not concentrate too much on Bristol’s threats.

“Looking at the squads, people think the title could be between us and Bristol and, perhaps facing them in the opening match, is not ideal. But it’s a chance for us to show what we are capable of. I think we have a group of players who are capable of putting on a good performance against Bristol.”

He added: “Bristol have made some high-profile signings with the likes of Ryan Jones and they have also got a lot of new faces.

“David Lemi is now at Bristol and we know the type of player he is and what he is capable of. It’s important that we remain focused on our own game and concentrate on our strengths and what we can do.”

Pennell’s outstanding form last term was rewarded with a Premiership player-of-the-season nomination and a call-up to the England squad.

But he cannot wait to play at new grounds and against new opponents.

The Sixways full-back says the injured Jonathan Thomas will be an early miss for Warriors but he is still confident of a successful season.