Saracens and Harlequins prosper at the London Double Header
Last year’s beaten playoff semi-finalists both started their seasons with victories, seeing off the challenges of London Irish and London Wasps. Saracens looked comfortable in their 42-20 victory over the Exiles, and picked up a winning bonus point in the process, thanks to a brace of tries from Jamie George, and further scores from Mako Vunipola, and England winger Chris Ashton. Recent Lions’ tourist Owen Farrell also looked in good form, managing the game well at fly-half, whilst also adding 22 points with the boot. The second game at Twickenham was much closer, with a coat of paint all that separated the two sides, as Andy Goode’s last minute conversion bounced off the uprights, and left Wasps frustrated, as they slipped to a 16-15 loss to Quins.
The Premiership also returned to the North-East, with Bath beating newly-promoted Newcastle 21-0 in a wet and windy occasion at Kingston Park. Weather conditions stifled creativity considerably, and Bath fans will have been happy to see their pack overpower their opponents, and will be optimistic about the unit’s prospects this year, after witnessing them struggle for consistency for much of last season. Northampton dispatched Exeter with surprising ease at Franklin’s Gardens, triumphing 38-11, with Alex Corbisiero, George North and Kahn Fotuali’i all getting their Saints’ careers off to a winning start, with North in particular playing a pivotal role in helping Northampton secure a winning bonus point.
The biggest surprise of the weekend came from Kingsholm, as Sale Sharks, one of the preseason favourites for relegation, held on to an early lead, and beat Gloucester, with tries from Mark Cueto and Andy Forsyth helping propel them towards a 22-16 victory. Forsyth’s former club, Leicester Tigers, wrapped up the opening weekend of the Aviva Premiership, beating Worcester 32-15 at Welford Road in a strong performance, despite the suspension of Richard Cockerill, and the decimation of their backline with injuries.
Irish provinces enjoy fruitful start to the RaboDirect PRO12
Defending champions Leinster got their 2013-14 campaign off to the perfect start, recording a comprehensive 42-19 win over the Scarlets, despite trailing the Welsh side 16-10 at halftime. A vintage performance from Kiwi fly-half Jimmy Gopperth, which saw the former Newcastle Falcon score 22 points, was pivotal in helping Leinster turn the game around. Ulster and Cardiff Blues both managed to pick up losing bonus points in their losses to Newport Gwent Dragons and Glasgow Warriors respectively, but will be disappointed by their performances on the opening weekend.
There were encouraging displays from both of the Italian sides, but neither was ultimately able to come away from the weekend with a win. Zebre fell to a 25-16 defeat away to Connacht, whilst Treviso were extremely unlucky to lose 24-19 to the Ospreys, with Dan Biggar’s boot a key component in helping the Welsh side get their campaign off the ground with a win. A bonus point win for Munster over Edinburgh capped off a good weekend for the Irish provinces, as three of their four sides picked up wins, with Munster and Leinster both taking the maximum five points.
The All Blacks and Springboks march on in the TRC
After a week’s break, The Rugby Championship was back in resounding fashion, as New Zealand hosted Argentina in Hamilton, whilst South Africa travelled to Brisbane to take on Australia. Although New Zealand never looked in danger of losing during their 28-13 victory, they were unable to pick up a winning bonus point against Argentina, who looked buoyed by their performance in Mendoza two weeks ago, and the return of their talismanic captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. Tries from Aaron Smith (two) and Julian Savea were enough to secure victory for the All Blacks, but the competitiveness that the Pumas showed away from home can only be a good thing for the health of The Rugby Championship.
South Africa put their lacklustre performance in Mendoza behind them, as they cruised to a 38-12 victory against Australia, scoring four tries to the Wallaby’s none, and taking top spot in the championship. The Springboks led by just 10 points at the interval, and although the game was very much still up for grabs for either side, only one team came out of the dressing rooms for the second half. The Boks overpowered Australia throughout the second half, outmuscling them in the forwards, whilst their backs played with a cohesion, and clinical nature, that Australia had no hope of replicating. The competition continues to march towards ‘winner takes all’ scenarios at both the top and bottom of the table, with neither being potentially resolved until the very last round.
Try of the Week went to Aaron Smith for his first score against Argentina. Smith was in the right place at the right time, as he collected a fantastic no look offload from Kieran Read, and helped swing momentum in the favour of the All Blacks.
Putting the weight of a nation on one man’s shoulders can be a daunting prospect, but that is exactly what Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe has to endure every time he represents the Pumas, and such, is your Hero of the Week. His return to the Argentina side was vital in helping them put in arguably their most competitive performance away from home against New Zealand, and the team was unrecognisable from the side which was humiliated in South Africa three weeks before.
No Villain of the Week this week. The scrum trials have been in effect for far too short of a time to yet be criticised, good rugby and sportsmanship was on display throughout the British Isles, and although London Wasps’ fans may take issue with the goalpost painters at Twickenham, there really was no cause for negativity during this opening weekend of domestic rugby.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images