Rugby fans across the country had been waiting for the Premiership Rugby restart to come and for many the wait was well worth it. The sight of our league’s signature names rampaging on turf was a joy to behold. There is also the added intrigue of the changing of players mid way through the season with some huge new names to hit our screens for the first time, Semi Radradra and Lood de Jager being two of Rugby Union’s biggest names who have switched leagues in favour of a taste of the Premiership.
However, as with the start of a normal season, some teams and players hit the ground running where others are still in need of a week or two extra preparation on the training pitch. This weekend we saw all teams try their best to pick up where they left off, but some teams certainly seem to have benefited from the longest break in Premiership Rugby history. Whereas others may have had too long of a break and shakeups in the playing staff as well as coaching changes.
With this is mind, let’s review how each team fared on their return to the pitch and which individual players really shone on the first weekend back of the Premiership Rugby restart.
Premiership Rugby restart: club-by-club analysis
No team this weekend could have wished for a better start than the boys in blue down at The Rec. They had a blistering start effectively deciding the match in the first half. The Bath forwards were able to take a stranglehold on the match after debutant Ben Spencer set the tone with a breakaway finish. The Bath line out performed particularly pleasingly; this will surely be a platform they keep focusing on in the weeks ahead as we saw other teams lineouts struggle consistently this weekend.
Player Focus Ben Spencer – Stepping into the role of being the starting scrum half and away from the Saracens shadow, a really impressive performance from the debutant.
Bristol had the unenviable task of going up against the wounded opponent of Saracens; they are a team that won’t lack motivation to try and spring surprises and affect the top of the table. However, Pat Lam’s side negotiated the challenge well. Although it was an unspectacular start for the Bears, the ability to blood their new signings in a win against the Saracens is not a bad result.
Player Focus Dan Thomas and Luke Morahan were the pick of the Bristol players somewhat overshadowing the debuts of Radradra and Sinckler.
The result of their match against Leicester would suggest that it is business as usual for the Chiefs. But after the first 40 minutes you would have thought otherwise. In what was a very error strewn first half it was Leicester who were able to capitalise on the few scoring chances that came. Rob Baxter must have woken the Exeter men up at the half-time team talk as they emerged in the second half to claim the sort of victory we have all become accustom to over the years.
Player Focus Jannes Kirsten was excellent across the board in his role of number 7, he had the third most metres gained (45) joint top tackler (11) as well as being a useful line out option and was able to make a turnover.
A team that many had tipped to struggle after the break after going through numerous backroom changes, the team on the pitch did nothing but shake off those doubters. The assured and clinical performance against a lacklustre Worcester team was one to give the Shedheads watching from home something to be optimistic about after the Premiership Rugby restart.
Player Focus Jake Polledri, what a game he had. Over 100 metres gained and five defenders beaten for the number eight. A notable mention for Ollie Thorley who continues to strengthen his growing reputation.
The Harlequins put together a sloppy performance but were able to get the better of an equally rusty Sale performance. The forwards were industrious and put the game to Sale in a classic arm wrestle of a match. The ability to keep Sale’s centres (Tuilagi and Hill) quiet will give Phil Gustard a warm feeling inside going forwards.
Player Focus Joe Marchant needs recognition for this performance. His time in Auckland has obviously been a huge benefit and between himself and fellow centre James Lang, kept the star studded Sale team very quiet.
The Tigers are another team who have gone through a rocky period during lockdown. With a huge change in players and Steve Borthwick getting to grips with the team we shouldn’t be too critical.
They were arguably the better team against Exeter for the first half and were just beaten by a better team in the second. There are positives to hold on to, but if results don’t start changing it may have to wait until next season for those positives to become common place.
Player Focus Harry Wells was Leicester’s leading turnover winner managing to turn the ball over twice against the Chiefs who are notoriously difficult to do so against.
The Exiles were unfortunate in their return to the season in that all of their momentum was stolen by an efficient Bath side. If there hadn’t had been that early intercept try conceded the wind may have stayed in the sails of the Irish, and it may have been a more notable performance. With the game lost in the first half, the recovery to put a physical second half in showed real character and will show the rest of the league that they won’t roll over so easily next time.
Player Focus Curtis Rona – It was his pass that was intercepted for the first try conceded. However his strength and physicality in the second half helped the Irish to finish respectively in a match that was already lost.
The Saints were off their usual pace in this match up against Wasps. Their forwards weren’t able to counter the excellent rucking from the Wasps back row and that is where the game was lost. There were moments of brilliance from the Saints backs but it was all too often in vein due to being unable to protect the ball. There may have been some impact by two late changes to the starting team so they will hope to see a better performance on their next outing.
Player Focus Alex Mitchell was filling in for the now departed boots of Cobus Reinach. He had a good game dictating the tempo and starting what good attacking play the team was able to pull together. It gives hope that the men in Black, Green & Gold won’t miss their talisman too much for the rest of the season.
Sale has probably had the best ‘off-season’ in terms of player acquisitions. A team that was steadily building strong form before the break adding the gold dust in the names of Tuilagi and de Jager would have given the Sharks hope for a top four finish.
However, they were easily muffled by their opponents this weekend. Perhaps another week on the training ground will develop the keys to unleash their new weapons in the weeks ahead. Future opponents should take them very seriously.
Player Focus Tom Curry was an absolute menace to the Harlequins forwards and hit the ground running in excellent form. He ran around the pitch like he had been chomping at the bit to get out since the last whistle blew in round 13.
A strange period of time for the Saracens where they are finishing a campaign that is already done and dusted from their point of view. Preparing for the future and the season in the Championship ahead of them, using this time to blood some youngsters alongside their star studded England contingent. They came up against a stubborn Bristol team and were bettered. However, most other teams will struggle to mute the Saracens. Even when relegated, you cannot write off the team in 12th just yet.
Player Focus Billy Vunipola is a world class talent and he was by far the best player in a Saracens shirt on the day. He made the most metres, most carries and most defenders beaten.
Wasps were a team that were quietly hitting form before the break started and would have worried that they would have lost that form without continuing to play. However, all fears will be gone after a powerful display against the running rugby they were against at Franklins Gardens. The back row were a menace throughout the game and the defence was excellent throughout. The Wasps faithful will be pleased with the performance and the result this weekend and rightly so.
Player Focus Jack Willis and Thomas Young were all over the breakdown and were the difference makers in the game. If they can keep that form up for the foreseeable future, their opponents in the future won’t have an easy game.
The Warriors had a difficult Premiership Rugby restart challenge, coming up against a rampant Gloucester team. They weren’t able to answer the power of the Cherry and Whites and not helped by playing with 14 men for majority of the match. They will be pleased with being able to get an early score but after that the team were clearly second best.
A team packed full of potential and genuine excitement around the development of younger players like Ollie Lawrence. The rest of this season though may be a tough learning curve for them all though.
Player Focus Ted Hill. It isn’t a coincidence that Hill keeps cropping up in the England back row debate. The fact that he puts in such consistent performances on the flank at the age of 21 and is able to be a top performer is a real testament to his potential and quality.
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