Whilst the 2023 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Finals took centre stage last weekend, Premiership Rugby returned with an exciting opening round of action. The 10-team league hosted five thrilling matches, with Exeter Chiefs starting off their campaign the strongest.
The men from Devon ran out a resounding 65-10 win over Saracens, as the reigning Premiership Champions struggled to get a foothold in the match. There were plenty of discussion points from each match, as the Premiership stars took centre stage for the start of the 2023/24 season.
2023/24 PREMIERSHIP RUGBY RECAP: ROUND ONE
BRISTOL BEARS 25 – 14 LEICESTER TIGERS
Bristol Bears winger Gabriel Ibitoye took the spotlight, as he scored two tries in a Player of the Match performance against Leicester Tigers. Both sides had their ranks thinned due to the international duties at the Rugby World Cup, with Bristol able to adapt best for a victory to ignite their season. Ibitoye scored two first half tries, with Tigers slow to react for a 25-0 deficit at the break.
Bristol hooker Harry Thacker added a try of his own, with the sharpshooting duo of AJ MacGinty and James Williams contributing a brace of conversions and penalties, respectively. Leicester tried to forge a second-half comeback, yet had taken too much of a hammering in the first 40 minutes to claw back in-front. Dan Kelly and Hanro Liebenberg crossed for the Tigers, with Charlie Atkinson and Jamie Shillcock each adding a conversion.
EXETER CHIEFS 65 – 10 SARACENS
Exeter Chiefs inflicted an 11-try thrashing on Saracens, to hand the reigning Premiership Champions their record league defeat. The Chiefs ran out a new-look side following the Summer’s mass player exodus, which saw eleven players leave Sandy Park. Exeter scored seven first half tries, as repeated discipline issues landed two Saracens men in the sin bin. The 55-point loss beat Saracens’ record defeat, which stood at a 60-10 loss to Wasps in 2020.
Exeter’s tries came from a phenomenal hat-trick from flying fullback Josh Hodge, after Immanuel Feyi-Waboso charged in to score after just 73 seconds. Exeter’s relentless try-scoring also saw promising young forwards Greg Fisilau and Rus Tuima add tries, with the New Zealand duo of Ethan Roots and Tom Hendricksen also crossing over to score. Chiefs stalwart Henry Slade added a try of his own, with South African back-row Ross Vinctent adding the last try in a replacement appearance.
GLOUCESTER RUGBY 29 – 28 HARLEQUINS
Gloucester prop Jamal Ford-Robinson was the Cherry and White’s saviour, as he scored an 84th minute winner to edge a 29-28 victory over Harlequins. Gloucester thought they had just lost the match, after Luke Northmore broke away to score for Quins in the final moments. However, a TMO review chalked this off, with Harlequins halfback Jarrod Evans sin-binned for a head collision in the build up to the try.
Gloucester re-gathered themselves, and sent the following penalty to the corner, for Ford-Robinson’s pushover try. A thrilling end to the contest which also featured Arthur Clark, Lewis Ludlow and George McGuigan on the Gloucester score-sheet. Harlequins found tries through Will Evans, Alex Dombrandt and Luke Northmore, with Will Edwards and Evans adding extras from the tee. A nail-biting encounter with an awesome finale, this match certainly set Gloucester’s tone for the Premiership season.
BATH RUGBY 34 – 26 NEWCASTLE FALCONS
Former England scrum half Ben Spencer took the plaudits for Bath, as he ran in a hat-trick against Newcastle Falcons for the opening day win. There was a notable debut off the bench, as Scotland talisman Finn Russell made his hotly anticipated debut for Bath, after his nation failed to progress out of Pool B at the Rugby World Cup. Additional Bath tries from tries from Alfie Barbeary, Cameron Redpath and Will Muir kept the Somerset side in front for the duration.
The Falcons stayed in the hunt for the best part of the match, with tries from Matias Orlando, Ben Stevenson and Jamie Blamire. Brett Connon’s well struck penalties further narrowed down the deficit, yet Bath could not be caught by the ever-chasing Falcons. Bath look like certain candidates for an outsider’s run for the Premiership title, having reinforced their squad with debutants Russell, Barbeary and South African prop Thomas du Toit.
SALE SHARKS 20 – 15 NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
Sale held out for the win over Northampton Saints, despite dropping down to 14 men with Rob du Preez sent to the sin bin. It was Saints who struck first for an early away lead, as Tommy Freeman dived over to set the tempo. Sale responded with a fine finish through Tom Roebuck, who was one of the break-out stars of the 2022/23 Premiership Season, which Sale ended as runners-up. A second Sharks score took the lead off the Saints, as Tom O’Flaherty dotted down just five minutes after Roebuck’s try.
A well-struck Fin Smith penalty reduced the deficit for Saints, before Sale’s replacement hooker Ethan Caine crossed over on the stroke of half-time. A scintillating second half followed, with Northampton’s Australian winger charging 70 metres downfield to score with 10 minutes left on the clock. However, Sale were able to hold out, as the Sharks swim back towards the surface of the Premiership, with a long campaign ahead of them.