The English young guns of the Guinness Premiership stuttered this weekend in the Anglo-Welsh Cup as the Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, the Scarlets and the Dragons gained the upper hand in round 1. However, the disappointment of a weekend of near misses for the English sides was tempered by the dynamic and encouraging performance of the next generation of English rugby players against the seasoned pros of the Welsh sides.
The match of the weekend came at the Liberty stadium as the defending champions the Ospreys played host to Harlequins. The 24-23 victory for the Ospreys was only confirmed in the dying moments of the game, despite the valiant efforts of the likes of Tom Williams, Mark Lambert and Charlie Amesbury. The next generation of Harlequins will take heart from such a performance against an Ospreys side packed with seasoned internationals.
This generation gap was also apparent in the match between Saracens and the Scarlets, with the likes of Alex Goode, Noah Cato and Owen Farrell – the 17 year old son of Andy Farrell – all featuring for the Saracens. The Scarlets used all their experience with southern hemisphere recruits Kees Meeuws and David Lyons touching down, and Stephen Jones booting the Scarlets to what was, in the end, a decent 26-17 win.
Sale’s nail biting 18-17 loss to a last minute try against the Cardiff Blues was made even worse for Phillipe Saint-Andre by the news of Oriol Ripol’s broken arm in the closing stages of the match. The largely second string Sale string pushed the creaking Blues team to the edge in the early stages, however, as the match wore on, the Blues’ superior fitness and experience came to the fore.
The final Anglo-Welsh clash of the round came on a dreary Friday night in the North-East, as player-coach Colin Charvis came off the bench to put in a man-of-match performance for the Dragons against Newcastle. The Falcons missed the mastery of Wilkinson, as the Dragons ground out an important 25-14 win.
The Welsh regions weren’t the only teams to profit from the weekend’s rugby, with wins for Worcester, Leicester, Gloucester and Northampton against fellow Guinness Premiership sides. Gloucester ensured that Wasps miserable start to the season continued with a narrow 24-19. The lack of a certain young English fly-half in the Wasps ranks allowed another young fly-half, Ryan Lamb, to take the limelight and earn back some of the plaudits after a series of flaky early season displays. However, it was fullback Willie Walker who shone as he scored 16 of his side’s 24 points.
Worcester showed how abrasive they can be as they ground out an impressive 22-5 victory against London Irish. The Exiles looked all at sea as their much changed side failed to cope with a Worcester side largely unchanged from their Premiership exploits the week before. Miles Benjamin, the England U20 grabbed a brace of tries in a performance which showed intent from the Warriors – a team to watch for the remainder of the competition.
Northampton’s first season back in the Premiership has so far been a success, and their strong squad ensured a comfortable win against a Bristol team already struggling in the Premiership. An ill-tempered game which saw 5 sin binnings, also saw 7 tries as both sides went all out, however, it was Northampton who came out on top with a 30-17 victory.
The final game of the round saw last year’s defeated finalists Leicester come from behind to record a 15-19 victory against Bath. Leicester’s South African fly-half Derick Hougaard marked his debut with a haul of 14 points, with a 70th minute drop goal to seal the victory.
The first round threw up some enthralling performances…just the right way to whet the appetite before the Heineken Cup kicks off!