1. Lucky number 11
When was the last time we saw three hat-tricks in one weekend of the Premiership? I’m not sure the internet has those sort of stats without hours of research, but it must be some time ago. The fact that the three guys were all left wingers is even more unlikely. George North was the first to register three tries on Friday night as Saints walloped Gloucester, one pirouette and sidestep on his way to the line particularly impressive. Dave Strettle followed suit for Saracens, a hat-trick born of endeavour as he chased everything, and Vereniki Goneva completed the triumvirate later that afternoon essentially by being in the right place at the right time three times. Three hattricks from three wingers at last season’s top three clubs – and you’d get pretty short odds on them topping the try-scoring charts come the end of this season, too.
2. A tale of three 10s
The battle for England’s no.10 jersey looks like it’ll be the main subplot to this Aviva Premiership season. The opening weekend saw plenty of contenders in action, but three in particular impressed. George Ford put in a man-of-the-match display up at Sale, scoring 19 points for Bath and generally controlling the game in a manner that Bath lacked last season when it mattered most. Many a side will fall at the AJ Bell this season – that Bath dug in and won was largely down to Ford’s mature display. Freddie Burns also had a solid run out in his first competitive appearance for the Tigers.
There were glimpses of the maverick in him – the dart to the line for Goneva’s second try, for example – and while it didn’t always come off, it’s nice to see him confident enough to try. What was more impressive, however, was his willingness to put his body on the line for his new side – he made several big tackles, and even won a couple of breakdown turnovers. It was an unselfish performance. Stephen Myler conducted a masterfully powerful performance from the Saints with aplomb. He might not catch the eye as much as the other two, but he brings the more obvious talents around him into the game superbly well. With Owen Farrell in the driving seat and Danny Cipriani never too far away from everyone’s thoughts, it should be a hell of a battle over the course of the season.
3. Time is a precious commodity
Or more specifically, time together as a squad. Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs scored 100 points between them this weekend, and are two of the sides with the most settled squads in the league. Conversely, the teams they trounced – Gloucester and London Welsh – were the two that experienced the most upheaval in terms of players out and players in over the summer. Anyone who has played rugby at any level will tell you it takes time to settle into a new way of doing things and playing with new people around you – never was that more clear than this weekend. No doubt both Welsh and Gloucester will get better as their new recruits spend more time playing together, but for now they’ve got an incredible amount of work to do to ensure the same mistakes aren’t made next weekend.
4. So close again for Wasps
This time last year, Wasps came away from the London Double Header licking their wounds after they missed out on victory over Harlequins by the width of a goalpost. It was to become a theme of their season – close, but no cigar. So when David Strettle struck in the final minute of this year’s game to deny them victory once gain, Wasps fans would be forgiven for thinking “Here we go again…”. It shouldn’t be so. They showed enough against Saracens – who very nearly won a domestic and European double last season, remember – to suggest they should take victories from some of those near misses last season. Ashley Johnson was imperious, ditto Nathan Hughes, while James Haskell was as industrious as ever. The most encouraging thing, however, was seeing Christian Wade out there again. He certainly doesn’t seem to have lost any of his zip, and a combination with Elliot Daly inside him could come to be truly lethal.
5. This really will be the closest season ever
It’s a cliché that is always wheeled out at this time of year, but the opening weekend of the season would suggest it’s going to be truer than ever. Only Gloucester and London Welsh performed badly this weekend, and they’ll be vastly improved in a few weeks’ time when their new faces have gelled more. Elsewhere, last season’s top three recorded bonus point wins, Bath and Sale played out a hugely competitive game, London Irish pushed Harlequins all the way and the Falcons showed enough in a gutsy loss at Welford Road to suggest that they will not roll over easily. It all points to what should be another wildly competitive season.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images