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Northampton 34 Gloucester 20
By Ben Coles
This was certainly not error-free - with more misfiring lineouts, botched chances and dropped passes than either side will want to remember in the first half - but what a buzz to have supporters back at the Gardens. By the end the returning home faithful had plenty to shout about, old Northampton favourite Tom Wood scoring the bonus-point try with five minutes left to put the seal on the win.
When Northampton and Gloucester managed to get it right there was plenty to enjoy, and the majority of those highlights came after half-time.
"From an outcome perspective, happy to get five points at home from the first game. The performance? About a six out of 10, average," was the assessment from Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd. "There were decent individual performances, decent periods."
George Furbank, the Northampton full-back, in particular was razor sharp. Boyd said: "He's one of those rare people who can see space early and change his plan late. He's a top class player."
Gloucester missed four lineouts on their own ball, gave away 13 penalties and lost two forwards to yellow cards all before the interval, yet due to Northampton's lack of execution only trailed 10-5. For George Skivington, the Gloucester head coach, the ill-discipline was a disaster.
"The bit that hurts is the penalties. Saints were good today and better than us at closing it out. The cobwebs have definitely been blown out today, there were lads on both teams sucking in the air. But with those penalties early on, it's very hard to come back."
An early example of that against Gloucester at the breakdown led to James Grayson opening Northampton's account, and soon Saints were in a commanding position up 10-0. Furbank crossed for Northampton's first try of the season after some fine build-up work from Alex Mitchell, cutting a sharp line to score.
Gloucester could have had a try of their own, disallowed for a forward pass in the build-up to deny Jack Clement, and the visitors were hampered further by a yellow card to hooker Jack Singleton for a deliberate knock-on.
Saints though wasted short-range chances, a bullet of a pass catching Lewis Ludlam off guard followed by a missed five-metre lineout.
To their credit Gloucester responded with a cracking try, Billy Twelvetrees' soft hands to a looping Lloyd Evans opening up Northampton for Kyle Moyle to put Ollie Thorley over.
After his earlier effort was disallowed Clement must have thought his moment had come when he burst onto an errant Northampton pass and sprinted free, eyeing up the try line until Grayson chased him down and Northampton escaped.
The Saints were overdue a score off their rolling maul, having failed to capitalise on good field position, wasting multiple chances even though Gloucester lost another forward in Clement, who had a busy game, to the bin. Perhaps varying the approach at the lineout might work for Northampton - throwing long to Lewis Ludlow unopposed at the tail - only for a rampaging David Ribbans looping round the corner to knock on as he charged for the line.
Evans cut the deficit for Gloucester with a penalty to start the second half after Northampton failed to roll away, but the response from Northampton was excellent. Grayson and Furbank looked fearsome operating on the same wavelength, the full-back timing and angling his support run well enough to open up space for wing Tom Collins, who cut in before passing back outside to Grayson to finish off a nice attack.
And after their earlier issues Northampton were now rampant. Mitchell's fine footwork and then pass gave Nic Auterac the kind of free run to score under the posts which props dream about in their sleep, with Northampton in full command leading 24-8. Gloucester could hardly complain - the tries had been coming.
A response from the Cherry and Whites was needed and their captain Lewis Ludlow delivered, the recent England skipper winning a turnover penalty from which Gloucester kicked to the corner, before Jordy Reid crashed over from the maul.
Paul Hill mimicked Ludlow with a breakdown penalty of his own, Grayson chipping over three more points in reply to make it 27-15.
Gloucester were still just about in touch, but desperately needed something. Clement (yellow card aside) deserved more for his efforts, the No 8's latest input being to charge down Grayson's drop goal and set up a Gloucester counter-attack. Finding Jonny May was smart, but the England wing after several minutes and multiple TMO replays was ruled not to have scored in the corner.
A few minutes later and May made no mistake, scoring out wide after some lovely touches in the build-up from Twelvetrees, with Northampton's punishment worsened by losing Grayson to a yellow card for a shoulder into May's back, although only after May's protests were responded to by the officials.
It set up a promising finish - Gloucester chasing the lead and both sides after try bonus points. Northampton delivered. Furbank, excellent throughout, was put through by Tom Wood only to be tap tackled by Evans, but no bother. Wood was on hand to power over, with Northampton's season off to the perfect start, in terms of the result anyway.
Scoring sequence: 3-0 Grayson pen, 8-0 Furbank try, 10-0 Grayson con, 10-5 Thorley try, 15-5 Grayson try, 17-5 Grayson con, 22-5 Auterac try, 24-5 Grayson con, 24-8 Evans pen, 24-13 Reid try, 24-15 Evans con, 27-15 Grayson pen, 27-20 May try, 32-20 Wood try, 34-20 Furbank con
Northampton: G Furbank; M Proctor, F Dingwall, R Hutchinson (A Tuala 64), T Collins; J Grayson, A Mitchell (C Tupai 61); A Waller (N Auterac 46), J Fish (M Haywood 50, E Painter (P Hill 46), D Ribbans (A Coles 61), A Moon (A Ratuniyarawa 46), T Wood, L Ludlam (c), T Harrison (J Augustus 50)
Yellow card: Grayson (70)
Gloucester: K Moyle (A Hastings 60); J May, T Seabrook (G Kveseladze 60), B Twelvetrees, J May; L Evans, B Meehan (S Varney 50); H Elrington (J Ford-Robinson 50), J Singleton (H Walker 50), F Balmain (K Gotovtsev 50), B Morgan (R Ackermann 60), A Davidson (F Clarke 50), J Reid, L Ludlow (c), J Clement
Yellow cards: Singleton (24), Clement (40)
Referee: K Dickson
All-action Heinz gives Worcester reason for optimism as Irish pay for yellow card
Worcester Warriors 36 London Irish 24
By Gary Fitzgerald
Willi Heinz was a shining light on his Warriors debut as the team which finished bottom of the Premiership last season started this campaign in much happier and promising fashion.
He would caught the eye of Eddie Jones with the England head coach having arrived to watch a few youngsters on parade but would have gone away impressed by Heinz who has already won 13 caps.
The veteran scrum-half celebrated his summer switch from Kingsholm to Sixways with an all-action, explosive and intelligent performance to ensure the hosts made short work of their rivals in this season opener.
Heinz, 34, looks a valuable capture for a team which has plenty of exciting youth and potential and head coach Jonathan Thomas enthused: “I was very pleased with Willi. He is an experienced player with his Crusaders background and international rugby. His personality is one of helping other players grow and he wants to help everyone. He is invaluable for us and showed just what a great player he is today.”
“To start the season with a win was very important and the bonus point was the cherry on the cake but we are not getting carried away with it. We know what a long, hard season lies ahead. But it was just the way we wanted to open up the season.”
Heinz admitted: “It is pleasing to begin my new career with Warriors like that. A win, try and the side played well. I was tiring a bit in the second half with cramp but I feel good.”
Warriors built a 19-5 half-time lead and never looked back as they out-gunned and out-scored their rivals who took an early lead through exciting young wing Ollie Hassell-Collins.
Paddy Jackson supplied the perfect long pass out wide left into the path of the oncoming Hassell-Collins who gratefully accepted the gift and burst over defying one Warriors’ tackler ground the ball. The hosts eventually got a foot hold in the contest, having had to soak up plenty of Irish pressure, and took full advantage of their first real sniff of the try line.
The Warriors pack pressed their Irish rivals back across their line with a driving maul, and flanker Sam Lewis rose to claim the try. Owen Williams showed his kicking boots were honed in on the target by drilling over the conversion.
Jackson missed the chance to edge Irish ahead again with a relatively straight forward penalty which was directed just a yard or two wide of the posts. The visiting forwards had used their muscle and power to push back their rivals at a scrum but Jackson failed to take advantage.
Irish were reduced to 14 men nine minutes before the break when scrum-half Ben White was shown a yellow card by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys for a high tackle on flanker Matt Kvesic. Warriors made them pay two minutes before half-time as Heinz scythed his way through a huge gap, beat one attempted tackler and dived over in the left hand corner despite the presence of two Irish players trying to stop him.
It was a superb debut score for the England man who showed real skill and alertness to break clear and another Warriors attack finished with full-back Melani Nanai crashing his way over and Williams converting.
Irish retaliated strongly, camping on the Worcester line and eventually no 8 Albert Tuisue powered his way across for a try which raised the visitors hopes and spirits having seen the game slipping away from them. Irish enjoyed plenty of time and pressure on their opponents line but failed to break the determined and resilient blue wall. And while they failed to close the gap, it was the home side who struck again with Matt Kvesic diving on the ball to claim the try after Heinz had made another sizzling run through the Irish defence before being hauled down a yard short.
Williams kicked a penalty while replacement prop Ollie Hoskins bull dozed his way over for an Irish try. Wing Perry Humphreys produced a dazzling run from the half way line for Worcester’s fifth try. Hoskins celebrated his brace of tries near the end but the game was already lost for the visitors.
Irish Director of Rugby Declan Kidney admitted: "The yellow card was a bit baffling but that wasn't the main thing for me. We made errors which cost us dearly and will need to address this week."
Scoring sequence (Worcester first): 0-5 (Hassell-Collins try), 5-5 (Lewis try), 7-5 (Williams con), 12-5 (Heinz try), 17-5 (Nanai try), 19-5 (Williams con) half-time; 19-10 (Tuisue try), 24-10 (Kvesic), 26-10 (Williams con), 29-10 (Williams pen), 29-15 (Hoskins try), 29-17 (Jackson con), 34-17 (Humphreys try), 36-17 (Williams con), 36-22 (Hoskins try), 36-24 (Jackson con).
Worcester; M Nanai (rep: J Shillcock, 45); N Heward, O Lawrence, F Venter, P Humphreys; O Williams (rep: O Morris, 74), W Heinz (cc) (rep: W Chudley, 53); E Waller (rep: M Thomas, 42), S Baldwin (rep: N Annett, 64), C Judge (J Owlett, 58); K Hatherell (rep: M Garvey, 42), J Clegg (rep: G Kitchener, 56); T Hill (cc), S Lewis, M Kvesic..
Irish;T Parton (rep: J Stokes, 73); K Rowe, C Rona (rep: M Williams, 73), B van Rensburg, O Hassell-Collins; P Jackson, B White (rep: H O’Sullivan, 63); W Goodrick-Clarke (rep: A Dell, 56), A Creevy (rep: M Cornish, 56), M van der Merwe (rep: O Hoskins, 48); R Simmons, A Coleman (rep: G Nott, 58); M Rogerson (c), B Donnell, A Tuisue.
Yellow card: White (31)
Replacement not used: J Cooke
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Bath's fightback proves in vain as Bailey's last-gasp penalty miss lets Sale off the hook
Sale Sharks 20 Bath 19
Alex Sanderson admitted his team put him through the wringer after Sale rode their luck to beat Bath in their Premiership opener at the AJ Bell Stadium.
With young scrum-half Raffi Quirke in sensational form, Sale led 17-0 at one point only for Bath to strike back and take the lead in the last 10 minutes.
A Kieran Wilkinson penalty put the Sharks back in front and Orlando Bailey then did not have the distance with a long-range shot to win it in the final minute, much to Sanderson’s relief.
“My heart rate was horrendous after that. I’m sure they do it on purpose,” Sale’s director of rugby said. “I was thinking, ‘How has it come to this?’ It should have been a 30-point game – we knocked on two over the line. But we found a way to win. That’s also their superpower. They’re special quality, these lot. I’m proud of them.”
The first points of the match did not arrive until the 23rd minute, when Rob du Preez slotted a penalty for Sale after Bath had strayed offside.
The home fans did not have to wait too long to celebrate their first try of the campaign. Captain Jono Ross opted to kick a penalty to the corner and he won the resulting line-out to set up a rolling maul, from which Akker van der Merwe dotted down.
Quirke, wearing the No 9 shirt in Faf de Klerk’s absence, set up the second try after 35 minutes. He stepped through the Bath defence before offloading to Byron McGuigan to cross.
Bath’s first attack of note was in the 39th minute. Good handling from Beno Obano, Charlie Ewels and Tom de Glanville meant they were held up under the Sale posts. Simon Hammersley, the Sharks full-back, was adjudged to have cynically killed the ball, meaning he was sent to the sin-bin, and Danny Cipriani kicked the resulting penalty on his debut to make it 17-3 at the break.
The visitors made their extra man count at the beginning of the second half. Cipriani slotted another penalty to make it 17-6 after Sale’s defence did not roll away. Then, in the 54th minute, Bath scored their first try. A strong break by Miles Reid allowed substitute Juan Schoeman to dot the ball down beside the posts, with Bailey’s conversion bringing the score to 17-13.
After being 17-0 down, Bath brought it back to a one-point game in the 66th minute as Bailey, who had replaced Cipriani, kicked a penalty to make it 17-16.
Sale then thought they had scored a try in the corner, but Du Preez knocked on as he dived for the line and it meant a nervous last 10 minutes for the home crowd.
In the 75th minute, their fears were realised as a great break from Sam Underhill led to a penalty in front of the posts that Bailey converted. It meant the visitors led for the first time with only five minutes remaining.
But substitute Wilkinson came to the rescue for Sale as the young fly-half slotted a simple penalty, before Bailey’s last-gasp miss from almost halfway.
The late miss left Stuart Hooper, the Bath director of rugby, with mixed emotions. “Sometimes those kicks go over and sometimes they don’t,” he said. “The effort the boys put in, the way they stuck at it, I’m really proud and there’s plenty to take away.
“We gave away too many penalties in the first half – I think it was 11. We asked the lads if Sale were stressing us when they had the ball. They weren’t, so if we sorted out the penalties we’d get back in the game and we did.
“We were definitely better in the second half, but you’ve got to remember there are two teams out there. Sale came out hard in the first half. As the game went on, they were tiring and we started to find space. We could have won it at the end but that’s the way it is.”
Scoring sequence: 3-0 Du Preez pen, 8-0 Van der Merwe try, 10-0 Du Preez con, 15-0 McGuigan try, 17-0 Du Preez con, 17-3 Cipriani pen, 17-6 Cipriani pen, 17-11 Schoeman try, 17-13 Bailey con, 17-16 Bailey pen, 17-19 Bailey pen, 20-19 Wilkinson pen.
Sale: S Hammersley; B McGuigan, S James (Van Rensburg 48), M Tuilagi, M Yarde; R Du Preez (K Wilkinson 70), R Quirke (W Cliff 39); B Rodd, A van der Merwe (T Taylor 53), N Schonert (Ford 69), C Wiese, J Du Preez, C Neild, B Curry (S Dugdale 27), J Ross. Subs Harrison, Birch.
Bath: T de Glanville; S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, M Ojomoh, W Muir; D Cipriani (O Bailey 51), B Spencer (O Fox 21); B Obano (J Schoeman 51), T Dunn (J Du Toit 67), J Jonker (Rae 62), M Williams (T Ellis 51), C Ewels, M Reid (J Coetzee 61), S Underhill, J Bayliss. Sub M Clark.
Referee: Christophe Ridley (England).