Saints sparkle in season opener
Northampton began their title defence in gloriously emphatic fashion, obliterating a disjointed Gloucester side, 53-6, at Franklin’s Gardens. Although the upheaval at Gloucester this offseason was a big contributing factor to the West Country side’s humiliating loss, Northampton were able to put over 50 points on a side riddled with internationals, despite never hitting top gear.
George North looked in supreme form as he collected a memorable hat-trick, whilst James Wilson and Luther Burrell, who grabbed a brace, also impressed amongst the backs. The real story played out upfront however, as the Saints pack did a demolition job on their opposite numbers. Alex Corbisiero seemingly chewed up and spat out John Afoa at scrum time, whilst Courtney Lawes, Calum Clark and Samu Manoa were all fierce in both defence and with ball in hand.
North’s performance on Friday night clearly set the tone for the opening weekend as David Strettle followed up with a hat-trick of his own in Saracens’ 34-28 win over Wasps, before Vereniki Goneva bagged the third triple of the weekend, helping Leicester to a comfortable 36-17 win over Newcastle at Welford Road. Bath signalled their intent for the upcoming season with a 29-20 victory away to Sale, whilst Harlequins wrapped up Saturday’s rugby, beating London Irish 20-15 in the second game of the London Double Header. Sunday saw Exeter spoiling London Welsh’s ‘welcome back to the Premiership’ party, as they thumped the new boys 52-0 at the Kassam Stadium.
Aviva Premiership Star Man: Ollie Lindsay-Hague
Stirring comeback earns Ulster three points
Sky could not have asked for a better game to debut their Guinness PRO12 coverage this season, as Ulster fought back from a 12-point deficit to secure a 32-32 draw in the dying minutes of their game against Scarlets. The new signings made instant impact for both teams, with Harry Robinson, Rory Pittman (both Scarlets), Franco van der Merwe and Louis Ludik (both Ulster) all crossing the try line. Two tries from scrum-half Gareth Davies looked to be enough to secure the win for the Scarlets, but with the home side down to 14 men courtesy of a second yellow card for Liam Williams, Ulster were able to breach the Scarlets’ defence one last time through Andrew Trimble, and Ian Humphreys was on target with his game-tying conversion.
Though Trimble and Humphreys rescued two extra points for Ulster, it was a weekend to forget for the provinces, as Munster fell to a 14-13 loss at home to Edinburgh, whilst Glasgow were able to dish out some measure of revenge for their PRO12 final loss last season, beating Leinster 22-20 at Scotstoun. Other results saw Connacht beat Newport Gwent Dragons 16-11 at the Sportsground, the Ospreys show up a Treviso side that lost a number of key players from last season, 44-13 on Friday night, and a new look Cardiff side do a further Italian demolition job over Zebre, 41-26.
Guinness PRO12 Star Man: Stuart Hogg
Brive stun Toulouse
It’s not unusual to see full-slate of home wins in the Top 14, but Brive’s 26-19 over Toulouse this weekend comes as quite the surprise. Having trailed for much of the match, Toulouse finally drew level with Brive thanks to an Edwin Maka try in the 64th minute and looked to be in good shape to kick on and steal the game at the death. That was not to be the case however, as Brive’s Benito Masilevu scored an exquisite try with just seven minutes left to play, earning the home side a memorable victory.
Common sense reigned elsewhere in the Top 14, as Stade Francais beat Bayonne, 34-29, and Toulon were made to work by Bordeaux Begles, but ultimately triumphed, 18-13. Clermont were another home side to pick up a victory this weekend, but their 32-6 drubbing of Racing Metro was more emphatic than many predicted and will certainly have hurt the Parisian side.
Top 14 Star Man: Aurelien Rougerie
All Blacks triumph whilst late Australian heroics snatch victory from Boks
New Zealand were made to initially work hard by Argentina, but the visiting Pumas were ultimately comfortably beaten by a score of 28-9 in Napier. The win keeps New Zealand undefeated in the tournament ahead of a tough test against South Africa next weekend, whilst the try bonus point they secured could yet prove decisive in the race for the trophy. Plenty of All Blacks and Pumas deserve praise from the game, but none more so than Brodie Retallick. The gigantic lock was in fine form, contributing to all facets of New Zealand’s game plan, including a fantastic show of athleticism to collect a loose ball from the ground, spring to his feet and help set up Julian Savea for his first try of the game.
South Africa had the opportunity to join New Zealand as the only other unbeaten side in the competition at the halfway mark, but a late Rob Horne try earned Australia the narrowest of victories, as they beat the Springboks, 24-23, in Perth. A controversial yellow card to Bryan Habana late in the game will be a talking point for days to come, but South Africa contributed to their own downfall, making a number of unforced errors after establishing a nine-point lead over the Wallabies. The Boks will have to postpone licking their wounds and bounce back quickly, or the All Blacks could take advantage on Saturday when they meet in Wellington.
The Rugby Championship Star Man: Brodie Retallick
Try of the Week goes to George North for his second score against Gloucester (skip to 0.11 in video below). Collecting the ball with a defender in his face, North spun out of the tackle in Rokocoko-esque fashion, before stepping a final defender and crossing the try line in plenty of space.
Unfortunately the refereeing in The Rugby Championship this weekend has to take the Villain of the Week award. Both Pascal Gauzere and George Clancy had poor games on Saturday, making multiple decisions that left players and fans alike scratching their heads.
David Strettle is the thoroughly deserving winner of the new season’s first Hero of the Week. Not only did his opening try help Saracens get off to a fast start against Wasps at Twickenham, but he also scored two second half tries, including a high-pressure finish in the dying minutes, bringing his side back into the contest and securing a dramatic victory.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)