The Premiership kicked off this weekend as most European competitions are now underway.
Defending Premiership champions Saracens got their campaign off to an excellent start following a 32-21 victory over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
The Falcons opened the game well, going 6-0 ahead via Toby Flood, but the defending champions hit back through Owen Farrell’s penalty and Jamie George’s well-taken try.
Flood added another three-pointer to reduce the arrears before Alex Lewington scored for Sarries with his first touch after coming on as a replacement.
Mark Wilson reduced the deficit in the second half but Lewington’s second moved Mark McCall’s charges clear once again. Wilson went over for his second late on but it was not to be for Newcastle as Tompkins and Farrell made sure of the win.
Although the Falcons finished last season in fourth and qualified for the semi-finals, they have often struggled against Saracens and, despite a valiant effort, the title-holders just had the edge.
Newcastle began impressively, however, putting the visitors under pressure and earning two penalties which Flood converted, but the Londoners soon asserted their authority on proceedings.
Firstly, Farrell reduced the arrears from the tee after an infringement at the set-piece before they produced a wonderful move that ended in the opening try.
Alex Lozowski was the instigator, breaking through the middle and taking play up towards the opposition 22. With the hosts on the back foot, Sarries spotted space on the right and Jamie George and David Strettle brilliantly combined to allow the hooker to cross the whitewash.
To the Tynesiders’ credit, they were resilient and prevented the champions from gaining too much front-foot ball. Their first-up defence was excellent and they were rewarded by another Flood effort off the tee to reduce the arrears to one point.
However, Dean Richards’ men were hit by a blow late in the half when Sarries produced a second incisive attack of the match. Lozowski was once again to the fore, off-loading to a charging Farrell, and the fly-half fed Lewington, who touched down on debut.
Following that score, which gave them a 17-9 advantage at the interval, the Londoners controlled the early exchanges of the second period, but the Falcons were stout in defence.
Buoyed by that effort, they started to gain the ascendency in the scrum and, after they had moved upfield following a dominant shove, Wilson spotted a hole in the opposition rearguard to go over.
Although Flood was awry with the conversion, Newcastle were back in the contest, but the visitors simply upped the intensity and appeared to have completed the victory via Lewington. The wing latched onto Farrell’s looping pass to cross the line in the corner, going over unopposed.
Richards’ charges did not yield, though, and ill-discipline from the visitors saw Sarries reduced to 13 men as Tompkins and Alex Goode were sin-binned. With their opponents short in defence, the hosts charged forward through their maul and Wilson was the beneficiary of his team-mates’ good work.
The Tynesiders had the momentum but, in typical Saracens fashion, they clinically put the game to bed through Tompkins’ score and Farrell’s penalty.
Tries: Wilson 2
Pens: Flood 3
Tries: George, Lewington 2, Tompkins
Cons: Farrell 3
Pens: Farrell 2
Yellow Cards: Tompkins, Goode.
Gloucester 27-16 Northampton Saints
Two sides buoyed by new arrivals, but it was the recruits on the pitch who beat the recruit off the pitch as a Danny Cipriani inspired Gloucester kicked off with a win against Chris Boyd’s Northampton side.
The Kiwi is 12 months worse off than his South African counterpart in the home coaching box and perhaps continuity sprinkled with some star dust won the day. Cipriani’s wide pass for his side’s second try ignited Kingsholm with thoughts of what might be this term.
It was the man outside him at 12, Billy Twelevetrees, who kicked three first-half penalties, the first coming within 90 seconds after Saints were penalised. Three points became eight when hooker James Hanson benefitted from the back of a driving maul to score the game’s first try.
Dan Biggar got his first competitive points in Saints colours when he notched a penalty after 10 minutes only for Twelvetrees to kick his second three pointer over minutes later.
Biggar’s colleague Ahsee Tuala then sparked some Southern Hemisphere flair befitting his coach’s wishes. Picking up after a poor Piers Francis pass he stopped, stuttered and barged his way through the Gloucester defence. Francis’ support line atoned for his poor delivery as he dived over following Tuala’s offload.
Biggar missed the conversion but kicked a penalty to level the contest before Twelvetrees’ boot pushed the hosts three points ahead.
Charlie Sharples scored Gloucester’s second try of the game off a first phase move following a sumptuous wide pass from debutant Cipriani. The extra two making it 21-11 at the interval.
The second 40 elapsed with both side’s cancelling each other out. Twelvetrees kicked his fourth penalty of the afternoon with 20 minutes left to push the gap out to 13 points. Northampton responded and, much like Gloucester’s first try, utilised the power of numbers as a driving maul allowed Courtney Lawes to emerge five points better off.
Twelvetrees took his personal haul for the day to 17 with his fifth penalty of the afternoon three minutes from time. Saints thought they had nicked a losing bonus point at the death but the TMO deprived them and they left empty handed.
Tries: Hanson, Sharples
Pens: Twelvetrees 5
Tries: Francis, Lawes
Pens: Biggar 2
Harlequins 51-23 Sale Sharks
Sale didn’t make a habit of winning on the road last term and old habits die hard on the opening weekend of the new Premiership season.
Three wins from 11 outings wasn’t the greatest return and, despite showing signs they had it in them to win in Twickenham, they return north empty handed.
Marland Yarde had attracted much of the pre-match chat as he returned to the club he left in acrimonious circumstances last season. He was booed as his name was read out and, despite scoring a try, he won’t have enjoyed his reunion.
The game was stopped almost as soon as it started. Tom Curry was thumped by a jumping Aaron Morris as he looked to recover a high ball and was down for nearly 10 minutes. He was eventually stretchered off the pitch with Josh Strauss an early entrant but the concern was clear.
This after Marcus Smith opened his account for the season with the game’s opening three points. His opposite number AJ MacGinty responded with his own penalty to level at 3-3.
New occupant of the 12 shirt Ben Tapuai began endearing himself to the Stoop with two first-half tries. His opener owing much to some weak Sale tackles fives metres out and he wrinkled under to score unopposed.
Trailing by seven, Sale quickly turned the tables to lead by seven when MacGinty scored down the blind side with Quins short on numbers. The initial break made by Luke James down the centre as he got some serious drive from his attached forwards.
Pantomime villain of the day Mr Yarde then silenced the fans he used to make cheer. He ran with authority from his own half, trading passes with Will Cliff, to sprint over.
One of the men charged with replacing Yarde’s shirt after his mid-season departure last term is new arrival Nathan Earle. He scored his first try in Harlequin colours when he sprinted clear down the right to dive over in the corner. Tapuai’s second score under the posts reasserted the hosts advantage heading into the break as they led 24-20.
Two Smith penalties in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half pushed their lead out to 10 points. MacGinty responded with the boot directly in front of the Quins posts but Sale’s away day blues were still evident.
Joe Marchant made the visitors’ task even tougher when he grabbed the ball on the deck after a wayward offload was made to work by the outside centre. He scored unchallenged and Smith converted once more.
Sale, now 14 points behind, began their assault on the Quins line but to no avail. They were unfortunate as the home side conceded multiple penalties with Sale five metres out but an interception released the pressure valve.
If Sale had any thoughts of a losing bonus point or even a late rally it was put to bed when, running across the defence, Danny Care found his half-back partner Smith cutting a great line to score under the posts to make it 44-23.
The home side’s sixth and final try came with a minute remaining when replacement Max Crumpton powered over in the corner after Quins had begun camping in Sale territory. Smith soaring his sixth conversion of the afternoon.
Tries: Tapuai 2, Earle, Marchant, Smith, Crumpton
Cons: Smith 6
Pens: Smith 3
Tries: MacGinty, Yarde
Cons: MacGinty 2
Pens: MacGinty 3
Worcester Warriors 20-21 Wasps
No Cipriani, no Gopperth and seemingly no problem for Wasps as they battled to victory at Worcester.
To say no problem would be to indulge Wasps unnecessarily, Worcester led for an hour of the contest before Wasps hit the front. Dai Young’s injury list at the Ricoh is extensive and Gopperth’s injury meant new fly-half Billy Searle was pushed into action far quicker than anticipated.
The 10 though was the hero of the day, kicking the winning penalty.
A lacklustre win at Sixways early last season was Wasps last victory before a run of five consecutive defeats threatened to derail their season early on. They recovered then and they recovered today to earn a vital win.
With all the debacle over fly-halves it was the one in blue who kicked two early penalties to put Worcester 6-0 up. That lead was extended after a quarter of an hour when centre Ryan Mills went over the whitewash from the back of a scrum.
The visitors did grab a foothold in the game when new boy Searle scored his first points in Wasps colours; two penalties in the final 12 minutes of the half cutting the gap to 13-6 at the break.
Last year’s semi-finalists returned from the interval with renewed vigour and when Alafoti Faosiliva was sent to the bin for 10 minutes Wasps seized their chance. Captain Joe Launchbury finally went over after the forwards had peppered the Worcester line. Searle’s boot levelled things up at 13-13 with half an hour remaining.
Minutes later Worcester regained the lead when flanker Sam Lewis picked up on the 22 and benefitted from a gap in the visitors defence. Duncan Weir kicked his second conversion to open back up the seven point cushion but it didn’t last long.
Wasps replacement Tommy Taylor barged over in the corner after a quick tap and go had put them off the front foot. Searle failed to add the two which meant Wasps trailed 20-18.
Still firmly on the front foot Wasps won a penalty following a dominant scrum and Searle kicked the three points to put Wasps into the lead for the first time in the afternoon.
The Coventry-outfit had managed the final moments well until a line out 10 metres out allowed Worcester one final assault. They secured their own ball and laid the foundations for Weir to notch a drop goal but the fairytale ending sailed wide and Wasps left victorious.
Tries: Mills, Lewis
Cons: Weir 2
Pens: Weir 2
Yellow Card: Faosiliva
Tries: Launchbury, Taylor
Pens: Searle 3
Exeter Chiefs 40-6 Leicester Tigers
Exeter relinquished their crown last term but they proved they have all the appetite to get it back with Leicester Tigers their first bonus point victims.
A Tigers side that was near enough full strength it has to be said; whether the lesson of today is how good Exeter still are or how far Leicester have to go to reach former glories is a topic of debate. Both remain true in varying degrees.
George Ford endeavoured to push and pull his team in the right directions but, as was the case last year, he is operating without the relevant cogs around him.
Ford kicked the game’s opening points – two penalties coming in the opening 25 minutes to give the visitors a 6-0 lead. Olly Woodburn and Matt Kvesic quickly turned the lead in the Chiefs favour; the back-row making a half break before allowing his winger to go under the posts. Gareth Steenson added the extras.
The Chiefs’ win was predominantly about doing what they do, but there was an indication they wanted to throw the ball about a little more. Often a battering ram; Sam Simmonds found himself in the wide channel just before the interval and the home side scored their second of the afternoon.
The second 40 at Sandy Park took on far more of a mid-season feel, the Chiefs’ process well in tune with their high phase high possession game, Leicester looking to get imaginative through Ford and Telusa Veainu.
It took until the hour mark for Exeter to extend their lead. Typically the Chiefs found themselves five metres out and they went time after time. Eventually Luke Cowan-Dickie got a little push from Henry Slade to score the third from close range and then Slade scored a try of his own. Second-row Sam Skinner running a line any outside back would be proud of before pace eluded him and with Slade in support he offloaded for the bonus point score.
The contest began to have an ominous atmosphere about it; Exeter looking to kick into overdrive and Leicester acknowledging the game had gone. Kvesic scored the home side’s fifth try when he barged over after Phil Dollman had been stopped inches short.
Five quickly became six. Perhaps the pick of the bunch. Working in the open field Slade picked the ball up 30 metres out and ran hard and straight, threw a dummy and then an offload to Ian Whitten who ran over unopposed.
Tries: Woodburn, Simmonds, Cowan-Dickie, Slade, Kvesic, Whitten
Cons: Steenson 5
Pens: Ford 2
Bristol 17 – 10 Bath
Bristol began a new life in the Premiership with a 17-10 win over rivals Bath in their season opener at Ashton Gate on Friday.
A try from Alapati Leiua and 12 points from the boot of Ian Madigan saw them beat a disappointing Bath side, who made far too many errors.
This victory delighted the 26,300 supporters in the ground as Bristol’s comeback to the top flight of English rugby kicked off in real style.
Bristol were 6-0 in front at the break despite being on the back foot for a large spell of the opening period, with Bath wasteful in possession.
Madigan set the Premiership new-boys on their way with a ninth minute penalty before Priestland hit the post with a relatively simple shot.
Bath would then enjoy a sustained period of ball and it looked like Tom Homer had been put over by Priestland on 15 minutes for an easy dot down. However, replays showed the full-back had lost the ball over the line under no pressure whatsoever, with the five points chalked off.
Still Bath came though with more ball but this time it was Jordan Crane’s impressive work at the breakdown that helped relieve the pressure.
Bristol used that as a catalyst and Luke Morahan’s break on halfway should have resulted in points. However, the wing could not get the pass out to Nic Stirzaker and was instead hauled down two metres from the whitewash. At least for Bristol two minutes later Madigan would make it 6-0.
6-0 became 9-0 on 43 minutes after Sam Underhill was pinged at the breakdown, Madigan making no mistake. And with Priestland wayward once again off the tee seven minutes later, confidence was growing in Bristol.
But Bath would not roll over and finally Homer had a chance to right the wrong of the first-half when he finished off a slick move to make it 9-7.
Bath were now on top and with Tusi Pisi sin-binned after coming offside a metre from his try-line, the visitors were pressing for a crossing.
It would not come though and they had to settle for three points from 35 metres from Priestland. However, Madigan responded to make it 12-10.
That seemed to galvanise the Bears and Morahan’s break on 72 minutes saw him find a hole and then offload to Leiua, who juggled before gathering for the crucial try. Madigan could not add the extras which meant Bath remained just one score behind at 17-10 with eight minutes remaining.
The visitors pushed hard at the death for that levelling seven points but were unsuccessful, with a crooked line-out five metres out summing up their dismal evening as Bristol celebrated a famous win.
Pens: Madigan 4
Yellow Card: Pisi