Relegation rivals Worcester Warriors almost joined them in wrapping up four opening weekend points, only for Wasps to steal a narrow one-point victory at Sixways, whilst Harlequins dispelled plenty of notions of a troubling season, as they put over 50 points on Sale Sharks at the Stoop.
We have rounded up our pick of the performers from the opening round of fixtures below.
Potentially a surprise inclusion at 15 over Mike Brown, who was shunted to the wing, but Morris repaid the faith shown in him from Paul Gustard with a polished performance in the season opener. He linked up well with former Saracens and England U20 teammate Nathan Earle and the full-back’s inclusion added another comfortable ball-handler and playmaker to the Quins back line.
A fine debut Premiership performance for the former Wallaby, who was a constant threat for Bristol on Friday night. His work rate was excellent, popping up in the midfield and identifying mismatches multiple times, and he showcased speed that will give opposition sides plenty of sleepless nights this season.
The former fly-half looked increasingly comfortable in the midfield last season and he reinforced his international credentials as a centre with a fine showing at Kingston Park. A couple of big breaks in the first half led to scores for Jamie George and Alex Lewington and he continued that form into the second half, repeatedly finding space in the Newcastle defensive line.
- Ben Tapuai, Harlequins
A brace of tries at the Stoop is not a bad way to go about ingratiating yourself to your new supporters. The Australian’s footwork before contact was particularly impressive and saw him make a number of defenders miss, most notably so in the phases when Quins were camped down near Sale’s try line and they were trying to unlock the defence.
A midseason recruit in 2017/18, Cordero had his hands full acclimatising to a new environment at the end of last season, something which he looks to have done successfully this summer. He was in electric form against Leicester on Saturday, consistently scything his way through their defence with his footwork and pace.
- Marcus Smith, Harlequins
It’s tough on Danny Cipriani to miss him out, as he put in a man of the match-winning performance on his Gloucester debut, but unfortunately for him, Smith stole the show later that afternoon. The 19-year-old fly-half showed no signs of a sophomore slump as he masterfully guided the Harlequins back line against Sale Sharks, also accounting for 26 points in the process.
Hougaard looked lively against Wasps and it’s clear that his recent comments about being in great shape, having enjoyed his first proper offseason in years, were not unjustified. He kept Wasps honest around the fringes and put in his side into excellent attacking positions with an efficient kicking game from hand.
A really strong all-round performance from Ruskin that impressed as much at the set-piece as it did in the loose with ball in hand. His scrummaging helped lay a foundation for Gloucester and his carries in the loose kept his side moving forward and enabled the back line to shine.
- Jamie George, Saracens
Quickly shook off the disappointment of missing his first lineout throw and provided a solid foundation from that point until his subbing in the 51st minute. George was his usual busy self away from the set-piece, too, including a highlight reel gather from a low David Strettle offload in the wide channels, that ultimately saw the hooker crash over for Saracens’ opening try. A late return to the field also see the hooker make a big break, which set up the try that sealed the game.
- Will Stuart, Wasps
A player that has been waiting in the wings for too long, Stuart impressed in his first start of the season, particularly with his power in the carry. Callum Black gave him a stern test in the scrum, a contest which swung both ways over the course of the game, but he kept Wasps moving forward, adding a threat in the loose that Wasps lacked at tighthead last season.
- Joe Launchbury, Wasps
A traditionally tireless and self-sacrificing outing from Launchbury, who looks in midseason form already. Worked his socks off in several key defensive stands by Wasps, who looked on the ropes early on against Worcester, and kept his side in it until they were in a position to strike back and steal a narrow win.
- Chris Vui, Bristol Bears
Vui was one of Bristol’s main sources of front-foot ball and the Samoan lock showed that what the club may lack in grunt and size in the engine room, they more than make up for in dynamic ball-carrying ability. Although not mentioned alongside the Piutaus, Luatuas and Madigans, Vui is another player who will be vital to Bristol’s chances of avoiding the drop this season.
- Steven Luatua, Bristol Bears
There were few opportunities for Luatua to show off his impressive carrying but he did put on a clinic with his tackling, both with his technique and the power of his hits, as well as playing a significant role at the lineout and as captain. He repeatedly stopped Bath’s power-carriers in their tracks.
With the transition of Julian Salvi from player to defence coach at the club, is this a new era for the Exeter back-row? Not usually among the preferred trio of back-rowers last season, Kvesic got his 2018/19 season off to a flier on Saturday, carrying with menace, securing quick ball for his side and, of course, proving a thorn in Leicester’s side at plenty of defensive rucks.
Alongside Kvesic, the performance of Simmonds certainly does make this feel like a new era for the Exeter back-row, following the departure and retirement of Thomas Waldrom and Salvi respectively. Simmonds picked up from where he left off last season, adding a mobility and dynamism in the back-row that Leicester had no answer for.
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