Now that the new season has started, Rhiannon Chandler-Day is back, as ever, with her unique round up of the weekendâ€™s Aviva Premiership action â€“ and what a weekend it was!
The new season began with a bang; tries galore and some inevitable TMO tension. But while most of the top teams put down markers, supporters of London Welsh and Gloucester will already be returning to the drawing board and studying the fixture list with some concern.
The defending champions Northampton Saints started the weekend in imperious and impressive style, setting the stakes high on Friday night as they took on the Cherry and Whites at Franklin’s Gardens. George North stole the show and contributed with a hat-trick to Northampton’s eight tries against the recently revamped Gloucester. North was fleet of foot, took on fast inside balls and stomped his authority all over the pitch, playing sensationally. But this was a team effort from Northampton, emphasising their versatility and ability to grow, switching the play so effortlessly from their backs to the forwards and showing creativity and character in numbers. Quick concise offloads and organised overlaps saw a crucifying 53-6 defeat to Gloucester. Â No one said 26 new signings would be a quick fix, this West-Country squad need to be shaped and it will take time.
All eyes were on Twickenham on Saturday as 66,164 spectators packed out the stadium for the London Double Header. It was a game that saw sparkle from the likes of Nathan Hughes, Ashley Johnson and Joe Simpson for the London Wasps but only in the second half.Â Saracensâ€™ David Strettle was another hat-trick hero, as last seasonâ€™s beaten Premiership finalists made a winning return. They beat Wasps 34-28 but it could have gone either way. With two minutes to go, Wasps were leading 28-27 and were just five metres short of the Sarriesâ€™ try-line, when they gave away a penalty. Moments later, Strettle was completing his hat-trick of tries at the other end, after lengthy deliberation by the TMO. And for a third consecutive year, the London Wasps had been left red-faced!
Leicesterâ€™s Niki Goneva joined the club to score a hat-trick of tries and show the Premiership how it should be done. Against a very resilient Falcons defence, he crossed the whitewash three times in the second half and fly-half Freddie Burns stuck true to form, kicking four penalties and two conversions for the Tigers taking Leicester to a comfortable 36-17 victory over the Newcastle Falcons.
The other bonus point winners of the weekend were Exeter Chiefs who gave London Welsh a real walloping welcome back to the Premiership, running in seven tries and winning 52-0! Man of the Match Ryan Caldwell said they couldnâ€™t have asked for a better start to the season, while the London Welsh head coach Justin Burnell said: â€œWe have got to pick ourselves up and rectify those missed tackles. Weâ€™ve got to sort it out and move forward.â€
Ominously Welsh have to travel to Bath in Round Two, who came away from Sale with a 29-20 victory. But it was a hard fought match with many errors and salvaged by George Ford who kicked five penalties and converted tries by Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni to secure the win. Jennings and Easter secured tries for Sale with Danny Cipriani kicking the rest of their points.
The Harlequins team walked to Twickenham for the other half of the London Double Header with London Irish. But although they led 20-6 at half time, they failed to score at all in the second half and their ill-discipline (two players yellow-carded) almost cost them dear. Quins looked shaky and really out of sorts and none of their England players made any real mark. London Irish pushed themselves to the limits, winning the scrums and Shane Geraghty was consistent throughout, kicking all 15 of the Irish points but it just wasn’t quite enough to seal the deal and the Harlequins scraped the win by the skin of their teeth, 20-15.
Northampton Saints 53-6 Gloucester
Sale Sharks 20-29 Bath
Saracens 34-28 London Wasps
Leicester Tigers 36-17 Newcastle Falcons
London Irish 15-20 Harlequins
London Welsh 0-52 Exeter Chiefs
By Rhiannon Chandler Day
To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her rugby blog at: rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk