Gloucester set the Premiership pace
September 6, 2009
Northampton's Shane Geraghty looks for support during his side's victory over Worcester at Franklin's Gardens © Getty Images
Bath Rugby England Gloucester Rugby Harlequins Leicester Tigers London Irish Newcastle Falcons Northampton Saints Sale Sharks Saracens Wasps Worcester Warriors Yorkshire Carnegie
The new Guinness Premiership season kicked off this weekend with a series of intense clashes and yet more controversy.
Harlequins' hopes of hitting the headlines for all the right reasons after a summer dogged by the fallout from the 'Bloodgate' scandal were dealt a blow in the first minute of their clash with London Wasps at Twickenham. Click here for the full report from our Game of the Week.
Gloucester brought the curtain down on the opening round with a 24-5 victory over West Country rivals Bath on Sunday.
Wing James Simpson-Daniel's try double, and an assured display by Wales international fly-half Nicky Robinson on his Premiership debut punished a tepid Bath performance. Robinson impressively eased his way into the season, scoring 14 points that included a late interception try when he gathered Bath centre Tom Cheeseman's speculative pass.
Former Bradford Bulls rugby league centre Shontayne Hape claimed a consolation touchdown for the visitors, but their cause was not helped by some hapless goalkicking. Ryan Davis missed three penalties, and when he was eventually replaced as chief marksman, wing Matt Carraro drifted a conversion attempt well wide.
Bath, minus the influential presence of injured backs Olly Barkley and Butch James, lacked a creative spark and their attacking game was laboured and strewn with errors. Gloucester were far from the finished article, with Andy Hazell sin-binned in the first half, but the performances of Robinson and man of the match Dave Atwood offered hope for a strong showing this season.
Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath hailed his fly-half's contribution, saying, "Nicky has got a reputation for being a calm and tactically aware player. He has been unlucky with Wales. I thought he controlled the game well. On a percentage basis, I thought he was outstanding."
Earlier in the day, Northampton notching a 20-17 victory over Worcester at Franklin's Gardens.
The performance from Northampton in the first half was worryingly disjointed but they rallied after the interval to ensure a winning start to the season. The Warriors took a surprise lead when Greg King and Miles Benjamin combined well for the opening try of the game. Willie Walker converted from the touchline and three minutes later extended Worcester's lead to 10 points with a simple penalty.
Worse was to follow for Northampton when with 10 minutes to go before half-time the home pack were embarrassingly pushed back in a scrum 20 metres out from their own line. Ryan Powell picked up and following a couple of further drives Kai Horstmann crashed off for the try which Walker converted.
Northampton finally got on the score-sheet just past the half hour when Phil Dowson drove over from close range. The video referee confirmed the try which Myler converted, but with the last kick of the half the outside-half missed with a penalty attempt from inside his own half to leave Worcester 17-7 ahead at the break.
Two penalties from the boot of Shane Geraghty reduced the arrears and a yellow card for Walker with seven minutes to go increased the pressure on the visitors. The loss proved crucial for Worcester, and with two minutes remaining Paul Diggin pounced with the match-winning try which Geraghty converted from wide out.
Northampton's Jim Mallinder praised man of the match Shane Geraghty, saying, "He made quite an impression, he had a good game and when he moved into number 10 was very composed and kicked the vital goals.
"We like to play open rugby we will continue to play open rugby. We wanted to play the game at pace today as Worcester wanted to slow down the game once they had a healthy lead."
Elsewhere on Sunday, Premiership new boys Leeds Carnegie drew 9-9 with Newcastle at Headingley.
Jimmy Gopperth missed four penalty attempts on his Falcons debut as Leeds claimed a share of the spoils on their return to the top flight. The highly-rated New Zealander, 26, converted only three of seven penalty kicks in a bitterly disappointing encounter which saw precious little freeflowing rugby.
All of Leeds' points came from the boot of fly-half Ceiron Thomas, who landed three penalties of his own but still managed to miss two, and despite a late rally the Yorkshire side could not conjure a precious victory.
Gopperth, despite his failings with the boot, showed enough glimpses of quality to suggest he is capable of making a positive impact on the Premiership this season.
Newcastle director of rugby Steve Bates said, "Jimmy's kicking record is pretty good but he was nervous about today. I think everybody was a bit apprehensive about what we were going to do. But Jimmy will develop as the team develops and will get more confident as he gets used to the Premiership."
On Saturday, Saracens got their season off to the perfect start with an 18-14 win over last season's runners-up London Irish in the first game of Saturday's London Double Header at Twickenham.
Glen Jackson scored a try, conversion and two penalties for a 13-point haul and also laid on Saracens' second try, to Andy Saull. Summer signing George Stowers scored a try for the Exiles, but an inaccurate kicking display by fly-half Ryan Lamb cost them the points.
The reliable boot of Jackson edged Saracens in to the lead early on, with Lamb unable to match his accuracy minutes later following some strong running by wing Sailosi Tagicakibau. The former Gloucester pivot made no mistake with his second effort but Jackson then pounced for the first try of the game, opportunistically darting through the Exiles' defence following a quick tap penalty. He swung in a touchline conversion to extend the lead further and added to his personal haul with another three points soon after.
The Exiles, pre-season favourites in many eyes, were 15 points behind before the break. A nifty run from winger Chris Wyles presented Jackson with plenty of time to pick his spot, the Kiwi sending an inch-perfect cross-kick in to the waiting arms of openside Saull.
Lamb missed two chances to claw three points back after the restart and a mass brawl cost Irish the services of Delon Armitage after 50 minutes, the fullback joined in the bin by Sarries hooker Schalk Brits. Five minutes later Saracens No.8 Ernst Joubert followed, guilty of killing the ball.
Replacement flanker Stowers burrowed over but Lamb was off target with the conversion. Armitage landed a penalty to secure the losing bonus point, but it was too little too late.
"We won because of the character of the group," said Saracens captain Steve Borthwick. "The willingness of the guys to put themselves out for each other was what won us the game."
Meanwhile on Friday, Sale Sharks upset the reigning Guinness Premiership champions Leicester Tigers 15-12 in the opening game of the new season at Edgeley Park.
Four penalties from the boot of centre Lee Thomas and one from fly-half Charlie Hodgson were enough for the home side, while Jeremy Staunton scored all of the Tigers' points on his full debut.
Hodgson missed a penalty from 40 metres early on before his opposite number Staunton put Leicester ahead with a three-pointer of his own. The lead was short-lived as Welshman Thomas assumed kicking duties and landed the first of his three first-half penalties.
Thomas added his second penalty shortly before the half-hour mark after Leicester's Louis Deacon was sin-binned for persistent infringement. Tigers skipper Geordan Murphy sparked a searing break that threatened to yield the opening try, but his side were unable to add anything further than another Staunton penalty.
Staunton drew the sides level shortly after the break, but Thomas was equal to the challenge and soon sent the Sharks clear again. Another Staunton penalty reduced the arrears, but when he missed another from the touchline, the points were secured by the home side.
Sale director of rugby Kingsley Jones said, "With a minute to go, I was wondering why I do this job - and then a minute later I knew why. The feeling of getting the win, and the effort the players put in, was something I was really proud of."