The opening weekend of the Greene King IPA Championship saw the RFU launch a new ‘double-header weekend’ which would kick off the new season with a ‘festival of Championship rugby’. The end result saw plenty of tries, some great rugby and plenty of food for thought for the season ahead.
At Allianz Park, Championship new-boys Ealing Trailfinders fell to a heavy 13-44 at the hands of London Scottish. Tries from Mike Doneghan, Miles Mantella, Jordi Pasqualin and two from Joe Trayfoot ensured Ealing suffered the worst possible to start to the season. Scottish, meanwhile, will be delighted to have got off to a flying start after the loss of Director of Rugby Simon Amor to the England sevens.
In the later kick-off, London Welsh got their campaign for a return to the Premiership off to a good start by beating last season’s losing finalists Bedford Blues 23-9. Will Robinson, Nathan Morris and the ever-dangerous Joe Ajuwa cross the whitewash for the Exiles while they restricted Bedford to just three penalty goals.
Moseley and Rotherham Titans got things underway at Castle Park in the other double-header on Saturday. Rotherham’s Juan Pablo Socino made an impressive return in a Rotherham shirt, kicking 22 points as the Titans downed Moseley 24-42.
What is most noteworthy about Rotherham’s win is the fact 11 members of the squad were making their league debuts for the club and their tag as dark horses for the playoffs looks to be justified while Kevin Maggs and Moseley go back to the drawing board.
Next up in Doncaster was one of the most anticipated ties of the weekend between 2012-13 regular season runners up Nottingham and Leeds Carnegie, who finished fourth last year. Nottingham were in control throughout the match, never trailing Leeds at any point. Carnegie Head Coach James Lowes bemoaned his side’s lack of a cutting edge, an aspect they will need to improve if they want to achieve a playoff place this year.
Sunday’s double-header was down at Sandy Park, Exeter. Opening up were Plymouth Albion and Jersey.
New Plymouth Albion boss Mike Shanahan made the best possible start at his new team with Albion running out 41-27 winners, despite coming up against a determined Jersey team. Leading 21-13 with 30 minutes to go, Jersey looked on course for an opening day win, but for a stunning three-minute cameo from winger Tom Bowen. A 60-metre try out of nothing pulled Plymouth to within touching distance. Then Bowen scythed through the Jersey defence again and played in full-back Chris Elder for another try.
Plymouth will be ecstatic with a bonus point win to open up but Jersey will be distraught to have let this game slip through what looked a fairly firm grasp.
The final game of the weekend saw the Cornish Pirates defy the odds and defeat Andy Robinson’s Bristol 23-21. The conditions didn’t lend themselves to scintillating rugby but a hard-fought, attritional affair took place instead. There was barely any daylight between the sides throughout the match which set up a thrilling finish.
Trailing by seven, Bristol’s Luke Eves gave his side a chance to bag a draw after he scored in the corner. The conversion kick to equalise was from a very narrow angle, not helped by the swirling wind and rain. Adrian Jarvis’ kick faded just wide to condemn the preseason favourites to an opening day defeat.
By Rich Elkins
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images