By Alan Dymock
SEPTEMBER 2011: Leicester Tigers hosted newly promoted Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road on opening day. They had lost the Premiership final to Saracens the season before, but they had topped the league and were still a force to be reckoned with. The win was supposed to be routine.
Exeter bloodied their noses that day, knocking over the Tigers and grinding out a 30-28 win in their first game in the league.
Upsets happen on the opening day, and many believe that is the beauty of the rugby: on any given day a team can rise up and smash an opponent.
Last season in the Premiership on the opening day there were a few shocking results, though no well-backed favourites were beaten. Instead it was the scorelines that made fans sit up and take notice as Exeter first bludgeoned Sale Sharks by 43-6 at home before London Wasps and Harlequins conspired to put on a show at Twickenham as they laid out 10 tries between them on the way to a 42-40 win for Quins.
Shocks happen in the RaboDirect Pro12 too. In their first game in the league on September 4, 2010, Treviso caught the Scarlets cold, scoring through Tommaso Benvenuti and Tobias Botes to counter a George North brace, but kicking well enough to win 34-28. Two years later and Treviso were at it again at home, this time beating the Ospreys 12-6 after Ian Evans had received a red card and Kris Burton had clipped over four penalties.
The Newport Gwent Dragons have also staged a few upsets of their own, first in 2006 toughing out a 24-23 win at Hughendon against Glasgow Warriors – perhaps not a massive scalp but a manner of victory that worried a few – and then the season after the ’09 Lions tour to South Africa they skelped a relatively strong Ulster team 23-6.
How about the Scarlets smashing Heineken Cup champions Leinster 45-20 last season?
According to the noises coming from some experts, playoff places in both leagues this season will be occupied by the same old people. True or not, though, this does not mean the big sides are safe on day one. Potential banana skins lie in wait for Bath when they visit Newcastle on Friday, Saracens when they visit London Irish on Saturday and, in particular, for Leicester Tigers when they host Worcester Warriors on Sunday. Coach Richard Cockerill is banned from interfering with match-day affairs until October 18, after Tigers’ Heineken Cup pool match against Treviso while Worcester have a few new faces on the pitch and a brand new coaching team headed up by Dean Ryan.
If ever there was an opening game to be nervous about, this is it. Of course Tigers have the quality and should blast through, but there may be a slight doubt in the back of Cockerill’s mind.
In the Pro 12 there may be a nagging worry for the Ospreys who travel to Treviso and some would be surprised if the Dragons do it again against Ulster. There is potential there, with another new set-up at the Welsh region.
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