Game changer: Bristol Head coach Liam Middleton felt Gopperth's (centre) performance made all the difference

THE REVAMPED Championship kicked off with a bonus point win for promotion favourites Newcastle Falcons over last season’s front-runners Bristol at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday, writes Richard Grainger.

Falcons’ Director of Rugby Dean Richards said: “We knew they would be very competitive but it is pleasing to get the five-point win to start our season.

“It is what we aimed for but at the same time if you ask any of the players about the performance today, they will admit that they have a lot more to give.”

Luke Fielden crossed twice for the visitors, with Tane Tu’ipulotu and Ally Hogg also scoring to get Newcastle’s season off to a flying start. Although Richards could see no standout player, Bristol Head Coach Liam Middleton could: “Jimmy Gopperth was the difference. Apart from him, Newcastle weren’t better than the top four in the RFU Championship last year.”

On Friday evening, Nottingham recorded their first opening day win since 2005 at Meadow Lane by inflicting a 34-29 defeat on Leeds Carnegie.

However, Leeds were in the driving seat with a 3-20 lead after 23 minutes before the Green and Whites began the fight back. Andrew Savage crossed twice for the home side after Michael Holford had bagged one for the pack. No8 Alex Shaw, who was named Man of the Match, touched down to give new Head Coach Martin Haag’s side a bonus point dream start.

Although Carnegie went off the boil, Joe Ford kept the visitors in the hunt with five penalties and two conversions to bag a losing bonus point.

Goldington Road is a ground that will feature in Moseley Head Coach Kevin Maggs’ nightmares for some time after Bedford ran in seven tries to record a 50-6 win. Moseley looked sharper in the opening fifteen minutes and would have gone ahead had Charlie Hayter not knocked the ball forward on the line, having cut through the Blues’ defence.

Moments later they had another chance when Anders Mogenson found himself one-on-one against new signing James Stephenson, who pulled off an outstanding tackle to prevent the try. Thereafter it was one-way traffic, with Bedford accumulating a 22-6 half time lead which they never looked like relinquishing.

Plymouth were just about worthy of a five-point home win in glorious conditions at Brickfields on Saturday. However it was Doncaster’s Michael Keating who stole the show with an unforgettable solo effort that even brought the home crowd to their feet. Keating beat three defenders, chipped the cover defence and re-gathered to score.

But Plymouth extended their half-time 17-14 lead and looked like running away with it when a Paul Roberts penalty and a converted try from new signing Brett Beukeboom took them to 27-14.

However, the Yorkshire men fought back with a Jamie Lennard penalty before Rhys Buckley finished off a driving maul to bring the score to 27-22 and secure a losing bonus point.

New signing James Love marked his debut for London Scottish by scoring all 26 points against Rotherham at Richmond on Sunday. The former Albion points machine was on target with seven penalties before finishing off a flowing backs’ move to give his side a 26-10 lead.

However, the Titans fought back — first with a James McKinney penalty and then replacement Ted Stagg bullocked over in the corner to pick up the losing bonus point. Scottish, who stayed in the division by the skin of their teeth at Esher’s expense, will assess their progress when they entertain the Falcons on Saturday.

Finally, newcomers Jersey failed to establish an island fortress at the first attempt going down 6-20 to the Cornish Pirates, last season’s division runners up. The visitors scored three tries to nil, much to Head Coach Ian Davies’ delight: “Jersey will get used to Championship rugby, so in some respects maybe it was good to meet them first up before they do.”

All this leaves the Championship table, after week one, looking like this

Follow Richard Grainger on Twitter @maverickwriter

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