Best of the Weekend: Dramatic return for the Aviva Premiership
The new season kicked off with a bang this weekend, with drama in the opening game of the Aviva Premiership, and one or two surprises in the Pro12 as well. Nik Simon shares his highlights.
Harlequins show their steel in 82-point thriller
Harlequins showed grit worthy of champions as they rallied from a 27-point deficit to beat London Wasps in the Premiership opener at Twickenham.
Speedsters Christian Wade and Tom Varndell put Wasps 20 points up within 15 minutes. Both wingers scored after almost identical plays set them away down the touchline, beating George Lowe on the outside with sheer pace. Wade should have finished both, but for a questionable act of generosity to set up his fellow wingman. A few people might have had a word with him about that, don’t you think?
Tom Williams responded for Quins with a breakaway try off a Danny Care tap-and-go, only to be cancelled out by a shimmy from Wade to put him through for his second. Nice forwards tries from Marco Wentzel and Tim Payne extended Wasps’ lead, and at 40-13 up, Wasps looked to be home and dry.
A charge down try from Tom Guest triggered the stunning Harlequins fightback, orchestrated by Nick Evans on his 100th Premiership appearance.
Mike Brown dived over in the corner for his first, before Evans landed a perfectly-weighted cross-field kick to set Brown up for his second try in quick succession.
Evans was on hand to score Harlequins’ fifth, shrugging off the tackle off Tom Varndell to set Harlequins a one-score target at 40-39.
Pressure in the scrum earned Harlequins a 78th minute penalty, and Evans showed no sign of nerves, as he coolly slotted the points to earn Quins a memorable 42-40 victory. The season was back with a bang.
No sign of third season blues as Chiefs blitz Sale
Exeter Chiefs began the season in fine style, as high expectations of a new-look Sale Sharks side were shortlived.
The Chiefs ran in six tries, despite the best efforts of new signings Richie Gray and 31st minute injury replacement Danny Cipriani.
Four second-half Exeter tries within 17-minutes killed off any hopes of a Sale victory, including two from winger Matt Jess, and a bulldozing finish from Exeter favourite, 39-year-old Chris Budgen.
Biarittz show some French fancy
Biarittz continued their unbeaten start to the Top 14 season, with a 22-17 win over reigning French champions Toulouse.
Veteran France centre Damian Traille grabbed Biarittz’s only try of the game, set up by a fine break, fix and pass by Aled Brew. Jean-Pascal Barraque and Lionel Beauxis exchanged points from the boot, before Vincent Clerc scuttled in at the corner to rescue a bonus point for Toulouse in the 77th minute.
The result will be particularly pleasing for Biarittz, as they were without star turns Imanol Harinordoquy and Dimitri Yachvili. Head coach Jack Isaac said: “There’s a lot more to come.”
Visser hat-trick not enough, as Munster see off Edinburgh
A fine hat-trick from The Rugby Blog columnist Tim Visser was not enough for Edinburgh, as Munster ran out 18-23 victors at Murrayfield.
Visser scored two tries in the first half to Musnter’s one, but wayward efforts from the boot of Greig Laidlaw left the half-time scores level at 10-a-piece.
Munster dominated going forward in the tight, and a powerful second half break by former Northampton Saints centre James Downey set up Luke O’Dea for what proved to be the crucial score.
Visser completed his hat-trick with six minutes remaining but Munster’s old heads made sure there was no way back for Edinburgh.
Try of the weekend goes to Tim Visser for his second against Munster. A Ross Rennie turnover under the Edinburgh posts fed Stuart McInally, who combined with Visser for a pitch-length score.
Charlie Hodgson is the hero of the weekend, as he became the first player to surpass the 2000 Premiership points barrier. Hodgson hit 20 points as the Saracens overcame London Irish 40-3 in a match that didn’t quite match the standards set by the first of the Double Header.
Villain of the weekend goes to the new TMO, for pulling back a potentially decisive London Wasps try because of a forward pass on the half-way line. When Wasps touched down, the linesman flagged up a potential forward pass several phases back, and referee Greg Garner was the first to use the new TMO powers. Several replays later and the pass was deemed forward and the try disallowed.
It became the key talking point at half-time, but at full-time when it turned out to be decisive, many people weren’t quite convinced about the new rules. What do you think? Are you in favour of the new TMO powers?
What were your highlights from the weekend?
By Nik Simon