As part of our new coverage for this season of rugby, we will be bringing you our Rugby Round-Up, analysing all the Aviva Premiership results from the previous weekend as well as seeing how we did with our predictions. As Always let us know your thoughts on all the matches in the comments below or on Twitter @Ballintouch
The new season got underway with some fascinating match-ups and some equally fascinating results. Some teams picked up where they left off last time while others seemed to take a step back. Read on for analysis of all six matches and see how Jeff Ball and Simon Humphries did on their predictions.
Exeter Chiefs 43- 6 Sale Sharks
Did you notice that few month gap since we were last season? That off-season thing? Exeter Chiefs certainly hadn’t as they picked up where they left off last time around, a powerful forward display complemented with a genuine threat from their backline that made Sale Sharks look rather woeful. Will Chudley made a particularly effective debut.
Six tries, which should have been seven but for a knock-on at the line, were testament to a visiting wall of white which was full of gaping holes. For the first couple of scores Exeter kept it tight, using one man out runners to batter their way through. Exeter-esque if you will. But then they started moving the around and scored some lovely flowing moves, Matt Jess being the recipient on two occasions.
Sale just didn’t look at the races; individual errors in open play and the set piece were mercilessly punished. Cipriani made his debut from the bench but there was little else to note from a performance they will be keen to forget. The Sharks players became disheartened with about half an hour to go and the enthusiasm to copy the attacking structure their hosts were profiteering from was simply not there. Next up is Saracens, a difficult match even without a disappointing opener. Those heads need raised again before next weekend.
Predictions: Jeff – Exeter by 8. Simon – Sale by 3. Result – Exeter by 37
Gloucester 19-24 Northampton Saints
Saints got off to a good start with a sharp performance against a strong Gloucester side who took a while to warm up. Despite the presence of new boy Ken, it was his brother George Pisi who caught the eye, twice scoring from quick hands that shifted the ball out wide and around the narrow Gloucester defence.
Gloucester were relying on Freddie Burns for points from penalties. In another encouraging display from the young English fly half, he almost scored an intercept try before the defence caught up. Their only try came as the referee awarded from a penalty try as they proved unable to finish off opportunities.
This was unlike Northampton who showed how they were planning to take on this season. The last half an hour showed defensive strength mixed with an opening 50 minutes of potent attack. When Northampton are in the mood they can be devastating and are a side that usually need outscored rather than contained to beat them.
Predictions: Jeff – Gloucester by 5. Simon – Northampton by 15. Result – Northampton by 5
Worcester Warriors 23-24 Bath
In a match dominated by Andy Goode’s right boot and Olly Barkley’s left, ill discipline was the eventual winner was Worcester gave up six second half penalties that allowed Bath to edge it with the final kick of the game. Worcester had the edge over their visitors in a first half that saw three yellow cards dished out as Bath failed to get going for the first forty.
James Percival burrowed over for the match’s only try from close range but it was Barkley’s boot that managed to keep Bath in the game, his last minute penalty flying true as the referee blew the full time whistle and the Bath players rightly celebrated in a mix of joy and relief. New coach Gary Gold will only be happy with the 4 points but the failure to get going and the penalty count will need worked on. Richard Hill will hardly find solace in the losing bonus point when the game was there to be won. Worcester need to make sure they play for 80 minutes and close out the game, something they have guilty of failing to do in the past and here.
Predictions: Jeff & Simon – Bath by 12. Result – Bath by 1
London Wasps 40-42 Harlequins
Wasps and Quins kicked off the new Premiership season in spectacular style at Twickenham on Saturday. A re-energised Wasps team is always something to be wary of- something Quins were reminded of within the first minute when Vardell made a break and sent Wade down the wing for the first try. Things went from bad to worse for a shakey Harlequins side as an inspired performance from Wasps saw them rip through the Quins defence, scoring another two tries (and almost a third) with some penalties and leading 28-13 by half time.
The second half began where things left off, with a bonus point try being scored by Marco Wentzel within the first minutes. Another try followed taking Wasps to a well-deserved 40-13 lead, pretty much sealing the game. Or so everyone thought. What followed was what can only be described as a complete reversal. Tom Guest charged down a kick to score a try between the posts, leading to another 3 tries being scored for Quins within the next 7 minutes. As if it were planned all along, a visibly exhausted Wasps pack gave away a penalty at the scrum with a few minutes remaining- one that was calmly converted by Nick Evans to secure the victory for last year’s champions.
Both sides have a lot to learn from this match if they want to do well this year. There were moments from both sides of sheer brilliance, but many problems as well. Quins did well last year when they dictated games and played their style of rugby, but reverted back to form and waited for the first move from Wasps. Wasps were great for an hour then suffered for the final 20 minutes as Quins began to fight back, they need to look very hard at why this happened and how to prevent it. All in all it was a great curtain opener to what is promising to be a great season and, although Wasps were unlucky to lose, at least they came out of it with 2 bonus points.
Predictions: Jeff & Simon – Harlequins by 10. Result – Harlequins by 1
Saracens 40-3 London Irish
Second on the agenda at Twickenham was the small matter of Sarries against London Irish. Neither side managed to cross the line in the first half, leaving the score at the break 12-3 in Sarries favour based on a slew of penalties being awarded against the Exiles, and the (record breaking) reliable kick of Charlie Hodgson. What looked like the potential for a tight second half quickly turned into a display of strength by a dominant Saracens side. After all the recent hype, it was fitting that this year’s mega-bucks signing Chris Ashton was the first one across the line, and the tries kept on coming with another 1 for Ashton and two others (both of which he was instrumental in) which took Saracens to a comfortable 40-3 victory and left London Irish wondering where they had been.
A typically strong Sarries performance puts them straight back in place as one of this year’s favourites. I’m sure they’ll have areas to work on, but to win a season opener in such a decisive way means they should be confident for the weeks ahead, especially with Chris Ashton on such sparkling form and blending well with the rest of the team. Irish, on the other hand, have serious questions to answer. They weren’t great in the first half, and they bombed in the second- it’s too early in the season to make any big assumptions here, but it’s definitely a cause for concern.
Predictions: Jeff – Saracens by 8. Simon – London Irish by 6. Result – Saracens by 37
London Welsh 13-38 Leicester Tigers
History was made on Sunday with Premiership Rugby’s first visit to the Kassam stadium in Oxford, the new home of London Welsh. 7000 people showed up to watch their new local team take on the might of Leicester, and they were in for a treat. Welsh are the unknown variable in the Premiership this year and, despite losing their star player to injury pre-season, put in a spirited performance in attempting to tame the tigers. Almost predictably it became a case of minimising damage once Tom Waldrom got across the line for Leicester’s first of the day, but Welsh kept playing and managed to claw back a try and some penalties. The overwhelming might of Leicester took control into the second half, however, ensuring they stormed home to a strong victory.
Richard Cockerill (Leicester’s head coach) never seems happy, but there’s not much more he could expect from the team than what we saw on Sunday. Arguably Welsh didn’t put up the sort of challenge more hardened teams would, so maybe the true nature of the Leicester side will only truly be outed in the next few weeks.
Welsh can take many positives from this game- it was always going to be tough against Leicester and they did themselves justice. They played well throughout and, despite falling behind quite early on, showed the drive to keep going against the odds. Playing like this the team has a great chance of turning a few others over this year, it’ll be interesting how their confidence develops with another tough match against Harlequins next week and Exeter the week after before they get to some teams that finished mid to low table last year (the teams they’ll particularly be wanting to beat).
Predictions: Jeff – Leicester by 19. Simon – Leicester by 20. Result – Leicester by 25
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