Well what a stunning weekend of rugby we were treated to in the first week back of the Aviva Premiership. There were upsets aplenty and likewise some very expected results that came out of the initial foray into climbing the league tables.
First and foremost you know I am going to talk about Gloucester pipping the champions to a close fought victory down at Castle Grim. What a game of rugby! It has been a number of years (too many) since I last managed to get myself quite as animated as I was about a game of rugby featuring Gloucester, but thanks to this game I am now minus my fingernails on both hands and sincerely looking forward to what they may produce this weekend away at Quins. The Cherry and Whites actually seemed to play with a synergy and sense of purpose that has been lacking for quite some time, and if this game was the opener of last season, then we all know that the result went a very different way. Gloucester like many of the bottom third had a very strong tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on too many occasions last year and whether or not you can chalk up this early resolve to the “Ackerman effect” will soon show. I am relatively confident that the players at Gloucester have never really been the problem with their struggles over the last few seasons and they do have some exceptional young talent rising through the academy system that will only bolster their breadth of talent and ensure that injury related absence is not going to be cause for issue as the season progresses.
The other surprise upset from the weekend was London Irish against Harlequins. You would expect the mid-table finishers from last season to make an early mark in proceedings, but no. Much like Gloucester showing the resolve to see off the best of the best, Irish held their nerve and despite sharing the spoils on the try front, the reliable boot of Tommy Bell put this story to bed by knocking a useful 19 points through the uprights and sticking another five over the wash to net a personal tally of over half the winning score. Give that boy a pay rise. One man does not make the team, but Irish will be praying for an injury free season for Bell off the back of that performance. Again, these are early days and whether you could rely on London Irish to pull off the same upset the Gloucester did against Exeter this weekend will remain to be seen. Suffice to say if they do manage it, Exeter will be taking a very long hard look in the changing room mirror.
Elsewhere proceedings were broadly as expected with Sarries coming out of the gates like a scalded cat, making their best effort to run up a cricket score against Northampton and Wasps looking to build on last years table topping season put in a great shift at Sale, although you could say they shipped a few more points than may have been expected, so keep an eye on that defensive line. Worcester had a torrid time “Oop North”, picking up players injuries to Wynand Olivier and Ben Te’o, and were soundly beaten by what looked like a pretty well drilled Falcons squad who have quite obviously been working on their line speed in pre-season. The final game of the weekend probably bought some of the most equal and closely contested rugby in the form of Leicester Vs. Bath, which was another one to have you perched on the edge of your seat. Much as Gloucester fans were sorry to see Jonny May walk out of the door for the embrace of the Tigers it was probably even more depressing for them to see him firing out of the blocks and putting a brace of tries down against the southern outfit but Bath had the final say thanks more in part to the underperformance of George Fords boot than their own dominance in the game. I am sure after seeing George Ford leave in the summer they will be devastated by his inability to hit his mark…
We should be in for another crackerjack this weekend, with the two Northerners Sale and Newcastle getting their first run at one another and Bath having to take on Saracens in what will be one of sternest tests for Bath at the Rec this season.
Gloucester will be wanting to capitalise on their good start and after seeing London Irish put Harlequins to bed, you can guarantee that the kitchen sink will be thrown at this one in an effort to grab some important points. Worcester have another horrible game to contend with when Wasps pay them a visit at Sixways and then you have the battle of Middle Earth taking part between Northampton and Leicester at Franklin’s Gardens, expect some fireworks here. Last but definitely not least, I would expect to see Exeter put their first points of the season on the board in a must win game as London Irish make the trip to the West Country, we must remember though that Exeter lost their first two games of last season and still went home with some rather large silverware at the end of it all!
So there we are, one week in and already some interesting goings on in the premiership. Long may it continue.