The 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership rugby season is one of the most anticipated in years, with big changes at many clubs for success. As a result, many unknowns; especially in the middle of the table, could occur. At this point in time, it is hard to separate seven or eight teams and it is difficult to know who will break into the top four, or who might qualify for Europe.
The season kicked off last Friday night, and the weekend’s action did not disappoint. So, what have the six games told us about to the season to come?
Before the next round is upon us, Last Word on Rugby look at last weekend’s games and what they tell us about each sides’ prospects for the beginning of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Opening Match of the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season
Bristol vs Bath
Ashton Gate hosted Bristol Bears return to the top flight and the 26,000 strong crowd witnessed the Bears weathering ‘wave after wave of Bath’s attacking play’ to eventually come up with a huge opening day win. The importance of an early win cannot be overestimated, especially as Bristol head to Saracens this week.
On Friday Bristol proved they are not the whipping boys some predicted. Although, to stay-up in the top tier of the Gallagher Premiership, the Bears will need to keep momentum going this weekend [even if it might be an probable defeat against current champions, Saracens].
Bath, however, disappointed on Friday night. Todd Blackadder has assembled a squad that ‘on paper’ should challenge for the top four. Yet they looked sloppy and made costly errors. However, they still created chances to score and their set-piece looked quite dominant.
Next up for Bath is another west country derby, against Gloucester back at The Rec. A fixture where fans should expect to see a sharper and more polished Bath side, looking to kick on and get their first win on the board.
Gloucester vs Northampton
One of the most closely fought games from round one, saw Gloucester overcome Northampton with the help of their new star-signing Danny Cipriani. The troubled England rep showing his class, to set-up a magnificent try for Charlie Sharples.
Loved being out there with the team. Lots to improve on. But a great way to start the season. 🍒 pic.twitter.com/CRHsybEGcQ
— Danny Cipriani (@DannyCipriani87) September 1, 2018
It was an impressive first outing for Gloucester but there is still a long way to go if they are to challenge near the top of the table. This weekend, they travel to Bath, where the cherry and whites can send a real statement of intent – if they can get a win.
Northampton will be disappointed to come away from Kingsholm empty handed but, they showed enough last weekend to prove that they are a much-improved outfit from last season. Under the stewardship of Chris Boyd, expect to see Northampton make a run at the top six and may even crack the top four.
In Round Two, they welcome a buoyant Harlequins side up to Franklins Gardens on Friday night. This will be a great test of Boyd’s sides systems, and a win for the Saints could really kick-start their season.
Worcester vs Wasps
With Wasps’ injury and unavailable player issues; especially at fly half, the Worcester faithful would have fancied their chances at Sixways last week. And they nearly came away with the spoils. Sadly, Worcester had no luck, going down 20-21 (an ‘oh so close’ result for their fans).
However, things do not get any easier for the Warriors, as they head to the AJ Bell to face Sale this weekend. Worcester showed signs that they can compete with best in the league last weekend, yet it is results that will ultimately be what teams are judged on in the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season.
Unfortunately, it will not be a surprise if they are battling relegation this year, if tight games seem to [always] go against them.
Wasps found themselves having to field the inexperienced Billy Searle at fly half (due to injury and bad timing). Eventually, Dai Youngs’ men were able to overcome Worcester, in a confidence building outcome.
Now with Lima Sopoaga set to debut this week, observers will know a lot more about how Wasps will fare this season, after he slots in. This weekend, they welcome the ever-strong Exeter Chiefs onto their patch. This will be a big test for the Coventry-based side but, a win would demonstrate how they are a real force to be reckoned with.
Harlequins vs Sale
After a torrid pre-season, many questioned Harlequins’ chances this season …even with the arrival of Paul Gustard. However, putting 50 points on Sale at the Stoop may have silenced some of the doubters. It remains to be seen whether Gustard’s men can continue to ride this early momentum when they head up to Northampton on Friday night. But to some, it appears that Quins may have bounced back from last year’s disappointments.
On the other hand, a convincing defeat on day one was not the plan for the Sale Sharks. Though when put into the context of missing key players such as Faf de Clerk and Chris Ashton, it is no disaster ….just a minor blip.
This weekend Sale are back at home, where they rarely lose [over the years]. So they will be confident of bouncing back against Worcester, and kick-starting their season with a win.
Exeter vs Leicester
An away trip to last year’s table toppers was always going to be tough fixture for Leicester, though a 35-point defeat could be devastating. Exeter; who were not at their absolute free flowing best, showed glimpses of what they can do. With a tough trip to the Ricoh to face Wasps this weekend, the Chiefs will have to be at their best to win. Based on this first games’ result, Rob Baxter’s side will no doubt be challenging at the top-of-the-table, come the end of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Leicester on the other hand, look a million miles away from the side their fans demand. The high standards expected, have seen an early casualty of the 2018/19 season. As a result of their Round One result, this week the departure of head coach Matt O’Connor was a shock for observers.
Leicester Tigers have today announced the departure of head coach Matt O’Connor with immediate effect.
Georgan Murphy will assume control of team affairs immediately alongside coaches Mark Bakewell, Boris Stankovich and Brett Deacon pic.twitter.com/q3ZteZDa1Z
— RugbyLAD (@RugbyLAD7) September 3, 2018
The Tigers now face a massive uphill battle when they face Newcastle at Welford Road this weekend. But perhaps, with their backs against the wall – with a new leader [again] controlling the team selection and direction – possibly, they will come out fighting in front of their home fans.
Newcastle vs Saracens
Travelling to Kingston Park is always a difficult away trip, but Saracens performed extremely well to down Dean Richards’ men. Newcastle’s defence was very porous at times, and let in some soft tries. However, they looked potent in attack and showed signs that they can be successful this year.
Though, with other teams improving, they will find it difficult to reach the heights of last season. Newcastle will look at Leicester’s problems and ‘smell blood’ but a trip to Welford Road is never going to be easy.
Saracens performed like a traditional Saracens team does. They were almost impregnable in defence, and clinical going forward. Not quite at their best [so early in the campaign] but they look strong. And like Exeter, you would expect to see them competing strongly at the business end of the season.
This week Saracens welcome Bristol to their home ground, and they will expect to come out of that match with the full, five competition points.
Answered, and Unanswered Questions from Opening Weekend
Round One answered some of the many questions which fans and commentators had asked. But it posed just as many.
Followers are no closer to understanding how the middle group of teams will sort themselves out. Harlequins and Gloucester made strong starts, yet each needs to keep this early momentum going. Northampton, Newcastle, Bath and Sale did not get the start they desired however, they showed signs of promise. And will want an instant response.
However, Leicester look all at sea and need to show some serious character if they are to turn the tide. This weekend is even harder to predict than last weekend – in essence – so expect to see possibly more upsets and more tight affairs, as this new Gallagher Premiership season continues to unfold and develop.
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