The 2016/17 season certainly started off with a bang as the Premiership returned with an action packed weekend of matches. There were thrills, shocks and disappointments across the three days, but who impressed the most in the opening exhibition of Aviva Premiership?
Friday 19.45 Gloucester Rugby 31 v Leicester Tigers 38
One of the most improbable comebacks the Premiership has ever seen was witnessed by the Kingsholm faithful. The only problem was it was Leicester overturning a 24-point deficit to bring in a victory away from home and the Shed could only watch on with disbelief as their team blew a 31-7 lead at home to allow the visitors to triumph.
David Humphreys called it ‘unacceptable’ but that was to the press, and no doubt the ‘changing room thesaurus’ was called upon to describe it in a few alternative ways to his troops after the game. They will need to pick themselves up quickly in time for this weekend’s local derby up the road at Sixways.
Friday 20.00 Newcastle Falcons 19 v Sale Sharks 17
The Battle of the North – this was a good game played with great intent but with a few first week nerves and mistakes. The loss of Danny Cipriani has obviously hurt Sale but they acquitted themselves well in the main with their discipline letting them down to concede 19 penalties. They were always chasing the game however and could not pull off a similar trick to the one that Leicester had only 15 minutes before-hand ending up on the losing end to Dean Richards’ men who won for the first time in the opening round of the season for nine years.
Saturday 14.00 Saracens 35 v Worcester Warriors 3
Everyone conceded that this was not Saracens at their best and frustration showed throughout the team with Billy Vinupola making basic handling errors and Chris Ashton hoofing balls at the Assistant Referee but in the end, even a below par Premiership Champion side had enough to overwhelm Worcester. The men from Sixways looked as though it was damage limitation from the start and never really looked like threatening the league favourites. They will need to improve dramatically to compete with the other teams likely to be fighting in the second half of the table – Saracens on the other hand, have several more gears to go through.
Saturday 15.30 Northampton Saints 14 v Bath Rugby 18
George Ford controlled things beautifully at Franklin’s Gardens despite a host of injuries – including one to debutant Talupe Faletau – and sealed his sides victory in torrential rain. Faletau’s early injury denied him making an impact in his first game for the men from the Rec but the pack overall came in for praise from new supremo Todd Blackadder saying “I thought our forward pack worked so hard and I said to the tight five at half time:
‘We’re winning this game because of the hard work you’ve put in.” Northampton rallied to mount a small comeback but ultimately it was too little too late and the disappointment was written all over Jim Mallinder’s face.
Saturday 16.30 Harlequins 21 v Bristol Rugby 19
It has been a long wait for the Bristol supporters but what a way to enter back into the fray of the Premiership than as part of the double-header at Twickenham. Any suggestion of Andy Robinson’s men being there to make up the numbers was quickly rebuked when the West Country men ran out to a 11-point lead and had much the better of the first half. Quins did rally to go in just ahead at the break but they knew they were in a battle and would have to up their game in the second 40 to win the game. John Kingston – who has taken over from outgoing coach Conor O’Shea – lauded his team and particular the performance of England Under-20 World Cup Winner Joe Marchant. However, Bristol will have gone away from HQ having turned many a neutral’s head, knowing that the Premiership new-boys will be no push over either at home or away this season.
Sunday 15.00 Wasps 25 v Exeter Chiefs 20
Leicester’s Friday night heroics apart, as a rugby spectacle, this was perhaps the best game of the round. Last season’s semi-finalists repeating that tie with Wasps overturning the result. However, you get the feeling that these two teams will be meeting again at the pointy end of the season as both teams showed the skill and class that marks them out as contenders this season. Dai Young stated his delight with the new pairing of Danny Cipriani & Jimmy Gopperth at 10 & 12 and the Welshman was quoted as saying:
“I’m pretty please really; he [Cipriani] and Jimmy worked well together, I thought that would give us another dimension.” Rob Baxter urged his side to kick on from this narrow defeat and said:
“The bigger picture is that we have got a losing bonus point against a top-four team from last year away from home – that is par, it’s OK.”
Player of the Round: Sam Harrison – Leicester Tigers