After 43 minutes at Kingsholm, when Gloucester’s Henry Purdy crossed for a bonus point try, not many would have foreseen that Leicester Tigers would have finished the game on top. Also not predicted was Newcastle Falcons’ victory over Sale Sharks the same evening, or Bristol almost upsetting Harlequins at Twickenham. As predicted by Last Word on Rugby in June the Aviva Premiership will be hugely competitive. There are some clear learning points for all from Round One, many coming from the record Leicester Tigers comeback.
Taking points on offer
This most acutely applies to Gloucester Rugby, as highlighted by Stephen Jones in The Sunday Times (paywall) when they turned down three points when only seven ahead. In contrast Leicester took and converted a long-range penalty when ten points down, contributing to their victory. Gloucester had already secured a try bonus point, so why take any risks when trying to see out a game? This situation could be termed the “Robshaw conundrum” because as in the World Cup last year, a try from the lineout would have been seen as an inspired decision. Perhaps the real lesson is about execution of lineouts under pressure, but Gloucester really shouldn’t have allowed this to be an issue.
All of the above of course assumes that there is someone who can kick the points. All losing sides in Round One except Worcester Warriors picked up losing bonus points, so margins are extremely tight. Sale missed a last second penalty to win the game at Newcastle through substitute Dan Mugford. Northampton were unable to build momentum after hot prospect Harry Mallinder missed two first half penalties. In comparison Bath and Harlequins were guided to victory through solid points accumulation via George Ford and Nick Evans respectively. It may seem obvious but it is hard to compete without a high quality goal kicker. For example neither of London Irish’s regular kickers Chris Noakes and Shane Geraghty averaged over 70% last season. We all know what happened to them.
Finally, despite some exciting running Rugby on display the driving maul proved to be a reliable weapon yet again. The Northern Hemisphere is sometimes derided for boring forward play but it is undeniably effective. Thomas Waldrom took three minutes to score a trademark try against Wasps; surely he cannot be the league’s top scorer three years in a row? But it was Leicester who used their superior power and bench strength to score two tries from the maul, Sam Harrison the beneficiary on both occasions.
It is great to see such competitiveness in the Aviva Premiership on its return. It may well be 11 clubs chasing Saracens but if they learn from each other’s mistakes early someone could challenge the Londoners for the title. Leicester overcame a 24 point deficit for the first time in their history. Bath’s win at Franklins Gardens was their first in 16 years. Already records are falling and who knows how many more will go before the end of May.