Chasing pack struggle in Gallagher Premiership Round One

After less than a month away, Premiership rugby is back. Champions Exeter Chiefs have already taken their usual spot at the top of the league table, after putting in the most convincing win of Gallagher Premiership Round One. They beat Harlequins, who are joined at the bottom of the table by fellow ‘mid-table’ chasers Gloucester and Northampton Saints. These three, plus Bath, will all be disappointed with their starts given their top six aspirations.

Northampton’s poor form continues

Northampton’s slide to eighth place last season was alarming, given how well they were going before the season’s pause. Unfortunately for Saints fans, it looks like this was not just a result of the congested schedule at the end of the 19/20 season. They were comfortably put away by Sale Sharks, going 17-0 down in the first 20 minutes. Yes, they fought back to 17-10, but Sale wrapped up the bonus point on the hour mark, making the result safe. A yellow card for Jono Ross did open the door for Northampton to grab a second try, but the deficit was too large against the powerful Sharks side.

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Heavy defeats for Gloucester and Harlequins

At the back end of 2019/20 the mini league of Northampton, Gloucester and Harlequins were fighting for 6th place, although they were all eventually given Champions Cup places. All three of these teams have started with defeats this season, immediately denting their ambitions to improve their positions this time out.

Gloucester were beaten comfortably by a resurgent Leicester Tigers, with individual errors and ill-discipline the main areas of concern. Also, their inability to convert good territory and possession into points, when Tigers were able to score relatively freely with less territory, will concern George Skivington and his team.

On the end of Exeter’s juggernaut was Harlequins in Gallagher Premiership Round One. The men from Twickenham were the only team not to score a try over the weekend, in a fixture that they won last season. Quins have often been able to beat teams near the top of the table at home, so if their usual poor away form continues they may struggle to reach the top six again this year.

Bath stunned by Newcastle Falcons

Without doubt the result of the round came at The Rec, where newly-promoted Newcastle stunned Bath 19-12. The odds were stacked against the Falcons, as they had not played a competitive match since March, with most staff and players furloughed for long stints of this year.

Whilst Bath were missing several key players to international duty, they still had their half-back pairing of Rhys Priestland and Ben Spencer who powered them into the play-offs last season. Two tries from Gary Graham in the first half gave Falcons a lead they refused to give up, with Ben Stevenson adding a third in the second half.

Gallagher Premiership Round One in summary

Elsewhere in Gallagher Premiership Round One Wasps sneaked to victory over Bristol, with a late Tom Willis try sealing a 23-20 win. Worcester were equally grateful for fine margins, as they came from behind to beat London Irish 11-10.

Of course, we have only had one round of matches, so it’s hard to see any trends in form. But with Harlequins playing both Northampton and Gloucester in the next two gameweeks, they will need to make sure they aren’t too far behind their top six chasing rivals. Already, early fixtures are becoming highly significant in terms of the overall picture.

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