Club rugby in the British Isles came crashing back into our lives with the biggest of bangs this weekend, with shock results, super skills and a try-fest like no other.
67 reasons to be cheerful
Rugby fans in the British Isles who have been missing their domestic rugby fix over the summer were treated to a try-fest as the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro 12 swung back into action.
There were 33 tries in the six Pro 12 matches and that was trumped – just – by the Premiership clubs with 34. Just twice in the history of the Premiership has there been a more high-scoring start to the season, when 35 tries were scored on the opening weekends in 1998 and 2007.
Three Aviva Premiership players made it a start to dream of, as George North, David Strettle and Niki Goneva all scored hat-tricks. North’s second try in Northampton’s win over Gloucester was particularly special, as he spun on a sixpence to remind everyone there is more to his game than pace and power.
And while Welsh fans would rather North was playing for one of their regions than an English club, they should be buoyed by the fact that the Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and Dragons scored 16 tries between them this weekend.
The standard has been set.
What price could you have got on both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors starting the season with a win, considering they were playing Munster away and champions Leinster at home, respectively?
Edinburgh threw down the gauntlet on Friday evening with a 14-13 victory at Thomond Park, making it the first time since rugby turned professional that Munster have lost three on the trot in Limerick.
Tom Heathcote, starting as a late replacement for Greig Tonks, kicked three penalties and Jack Cuthbert scored Edinburgh’s try.
The following day, Glasgow avenged last season’s Pro 12 final defeat by Leinster as they beat them 22-20 at Scotstoun. They made hard work of it, letting a 19-0 lead slip and only recovering from 20-19 down when Stuart Hogg kicked a penalty at the death. The Scotland star quipped on Twitter: “Great to sneak the win yesterday. Wasn’t pretty at times, probably due to me playing 10.”
Smash and grub
Ashley “Smashley” Johnson is well known for his dynamic, charging runs in attack and his big, big, big hits in defence, but the Wasps back row revealed a new skill in his armoury this weekend. He ran onto a pass on half-way, then slotted a delightful grubber kick through the Saracens’ defence for Christian Wade to pounce on and score. The try put Wasps 28-20 up, but they managed to lose to a late Strettle try.
Johnson’s former team-mate, Tom Palmer, pulled the South African’s leg about the kick on Twitter and Johnson replied: “Trying that for three years now. Next a drop-goal!”
We await with trepidation, Ashley.
Wallabies bounce back
Trailing 23-17 to South Africa in the 78th minute of their Rugby Championship match, it looked like Australia were destined to lose in Perth. But then Rob Horne conjured a try for the Wallabies and managed to cut inside from the left wing by a few precious metres to make the conversion a tad easier for Bernard Foley. It was still a tough kick for the No 10 in wet conditions, and with the match riding on it, but Foley nailed the kick and Australia had their first win of the Championship.
“I was yelling at him not to score in the corner,” said the fly-half. “He makes it hard for me.”
Eight-ful way to start
Gloucester knew their many summer signings might take a while to gel into a coherent team, especially as the coaching staff was new too, but never in their worst nightmares did they imagine they would head home from Franklin’s Gardens having conceded eight tries and scored none.
The 53-6 defeat can be partly attributed to teething troubles, and there is no doubt that the Saints put on an absolutely magnificent display, but Gloucester were still well below par in this, their heaviest Premiership defeat.
Director of Rugby David Humphreys said: “I think we showed the difference between the team that finished first and the team that finished ninth last year. There was always the potential for this to happen. We hoped it wouldn’t and we prepared for it not to happen but on the night Northampton were very good and we have a huge amount of work to do.”
As worrying as anything for Gloucester fans was the silly yellow card Henry Trinder conceded. Gloucester topped one table last season – the one for the most cards in the Premiership, with three reds and 20 yellows – and if they slip back into the habit of having someone binned every week, they will be their own worst enemies.
In the same, sorrowful boat were London Welsh, who lost 52-0 to Exeter Chiefs on their return to the Premiership. Welsh have made even more new signings than Gloucester this summer, but head coach Justin Burnell refused to blame that for this demoralising home loss, saying: “When people are making individual errors, that is absolutely nothing to do with the amount of signings.”
Perhaps just as worrying for the Exiles was the fact that only 2,776 fans came through the turnstiles at the Kassam Stadium, for what should have been a big day of celebration for the newly promoted club. A good number of those fans were from Exeter too, so Welsh have to wonder how they can thrive in the top tier if they cannot put more bums on seats.
Argentina were robbed of what appeared to be a perfectly good try against New Zealand on Saturday, when French referee Pascal Gauzere brought Leonardo Senatore back for a knock-on which only he saw.
The Puma had charged down a kick from Ma’a Nonu, collected it and was in for the try, when Gauzere intervened. The referee did not consult the TMO and his inexplicable decision left Argentina 18-6 down instead of 18-11 or 18-13 as the game headed towards its final quarter. From there, the All Blacks kicked on to win 28-9.