It’s fair to say that the opening weekend of Premiership Rugby contained plenty of action with jaw dropping comebacks, individual brilliance and a few near misses.
This season after each Premiership round we’re going to take a little look at the individuals that stood out during the six matches and shine the spotlight on their, and their teams’, performances.
The 2016-17 term started at Kingsholm as the Leicester Tigers arrived in town ready to face a Gloucester Rugby side that had spent a lot of time over the off season really refining their processes and strategy. The summer of graft paid off handsomely in the opening half as Gloucester flew out of the blocks and new signing Matt Scott showcased exactly what he could do with a brace of tries. But, with Richard Cockerill’s half time words ringing in the Tigers’ ears (I bet that he didn’t hold back in the dressing) the Tigers scored 31 unanswered points as the hosts capitulated. The performance of the match came from Leicester’s Sam Harrison. The 26-year-old fizzed at scrum half and seamlessly switched to fly-half and it was fitting that he was on the end of the match winning driving maul. By all accounts he’s had a great pre-season and if he continues in this manner he’ll be a hugely influential player for the Tigers throughout their forthcoming domestic and European season.
At Franklin’s Gardens Bath Rugby arrived looking for their first victory at the ground since 2000 and in fairly average weather conditions they did just that. Last season wasn’t one to write home about for the West Country side but their opening performance this time around was something of note. Early on the hosts enjoyed plenty of possession and territory but didn’t put any points on the board as a result. Conversely when the opportunities arose for Bath they took them with George Ford being the standout performer of the afternoon. The fly-half kicked extremely well out of hand, handled the huge amount of traffic that was being drive down his channel and gave a lesson in game management to his opposite fly-half Harry Mallinder, who was playing in the World Rugby U20 Championships just a few months ago. Ford’s boot kept the scoreboard ticking right up to 18-0 and although a brace of tries from Nic Groom with 6 minutes to go tested Bath’s belief they held on to take the victory 18-14.
The Ricoh Arena played host to the sixth and final game of the weekend and it was here that we witnessed another impressive comeback from a Premiership side. Exeter Chiefs started the afternoon the stronger of the two sides as their set piece was in a good shape and they were clinical in taking their scoring opportunities. Conversely Wasps weren’t really at the races and it took some strong words from Dai Young at half time to remind them about the physicality and intensity of performance that he expected from them. After the break the hosts wrestled the game back from the Chiefs and didn’t look back. One man that was instrumental in almost every point scored during the match was Jimmy Gopperth. So many eyes were on Danny Cipriani on his return to Wasps but it was the Kiwi that took control of the match and oozed class throughout. After a slight injury Wasps should have Kyle Eastmond available for selection next weekend and if he’s ready to play a full eighty then that could bring Dai Young with his first back line selection headache of the season.
There are a few other notable mentions that need to be made. At Twickenham Stadium Tusi Pisi marked his Premiership debut for Bristol by making 137 metres in total and delivering 13 carries which, according to Opta, is the most metres made by a Premiership ten since April 2014. In the other part of the London Double Header Billy Vunipola continued where he left off last season with 23 carries, 6 offloads and 77 metres made as well as Schalk Burger marking his debut with a score.
Round 1 of the Aviva Premiership wasn’t totally pristine and polished but after weeks of pre-season training that’s to be expected. There are plenty of intriguing clashes ahead in Round 2 including Bristol’s opening Premiership match at Ashton Gate against Northampton Saints and a repeat of the 2016 Final between Saracens and Exeter Chiefs. There will have been some very sore bodies this weekend and rest and recovery will be just as important this week as the work at our sides put in on the field.
Aviva Premiership Round 1 Results
Gloucester Rugby 31 – 38 Leicester Tigers
Newcastle Falcons 19 – 17 Sale Sharks
Saracens 35 – 3 Worcester Warriors
Northampton Saints 14 – 18 Bath Rugby
Harlequins 21 – 19 Bristol Rugby
Wasps 25 – 20 Exeter Chiefs