Round one of the Aviva Premiership had it all – 377 points, 50 tries, all packed into one enthralling opening weekend.
Gloucester produced an excellent performance to upset reigning champions Exeter Chiefs on the opening night of the new season, winning 28-21 at Kingsholm.
Saracens launched their campaign in some style in last weekend’s Twickenham Double Header, with a thumping 55-24 win over a sorry Northampton Saints side.
And then there was perhaps the greatest shock in Premiership rugby (in recent memory at least) where London Irish beat Harlequins 39-29 in the second game at HQ.
It was a most thrilling opening weekend indeed and if that didn’t whet your appetite for the new season then nothing will.
The Leicester Tigers – Bath game on Sunday was also an absolute thriller. Somehow Bath managed to hold out despite receiving three yellow cards in the last 10 minutes.
The Tigers onslaught brought about a try by the impressive Harry Thacker with three minutes remaining, however despite Matt Banahan receiving Bath’s third yellow card the Tigers couldn’t find a way through Bath’s depleted defence.
How do you follow such an impressive opening act?
Well, how about the Premiership’s fiercest rivalry – Northampton vs Leicester.
It shall be quite some game with both teams losing their opening matches. Perhaps more so for Saints as they got thrashed by a dominant Saracens side, where at half-time they were trailing 41-3.
Not only that, it is their opening home game of the season and a win against their bitter rivals will surely help Saints put their season back on track after this early set-back.
Saints have only lost once at Franklin’s Gardens since early December in all competitions – incidentally that was against the Tigers in March, losing 36-31.
Pride is at stake more than anything – the pressure will really mount on Jim Mallinder, the Saints director of rugby if his side do not produce the goods this weekend.
After a thrilling victory over the Tigers, things don’t get any easier for Bath as they host Saracens at The Rec on Saturday. After an imperious showing at Twickenham, Saracens will be full of confidence especially as they will have been bolstered by the news that Billy Vunipola could be fit for Saturday’s match.
Mako Vunipola is set to return to the starting XV, with Australian Will Skelton also set to feature.
However, Saracens have lost their last two away trips, losing to Wasps in round 22 last season and then to Exeter Chiefs in the semi-finals.
Saracens have not lost three in a row on the road in the Premiership since March 2010. Bath though will try and make sure that’s the case – although a repeat performance of their ill-discipline from last week is unlikely to go unpunished against the European champions.
Gloucester play Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop, where a win for the Cherry and Whites will result in their best start to a Premiership campaign in almost a decade.
Johan Ackermann’s reign got off to the perfect start last week but will face a determined Harlequins side who will want to bounce back quickly after the shock loss to London Irish. The odds are very much against Gloucester who have not beaten Harlequins at the Stoop in the Premiership since September 2006.
The other fixtures this weekend see Worcester Warriors take on Wasps at Sixways, Sale Sharks entertaining Newcastle Falcons at the AJ Bell stadium and newly-promoted London Irish visiting Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
Surely London Irish can’t pull off another upset? The Chiefs will want to prove why they should be considered title contenders and will look to make Sandy Park the fortress it was last season.
It should be another incredible round of Premiership rugby. Titles are not won after two games but they certainly lay down a marker for the rest of the season.
Louis de Montfort, Pundit Arena
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