London double-header gets Premiership season off to flyer

September 5, 2016

The first weekend of rugby's Premiership season saw champions Saracens illuminate Twickenham in the London Double Header by thrashing Worcester 35-3.

Even without touching the heights that their game can often reach, the champions were far too good for the midlands side, with new signing Schalk Burger among the try-scorers.

Missing the injured Toby Flood, Saracens only led 6-3 at the break, but in the second half they wore down their opponents and finally burst clear, with Burger's try accompanied by scores from Jamie George, Alex Lozowski and Ben Spencer. The last try was a superb solo effort by Spencer three minutes from time to clinch a bonus point. 

It was the first of what may be many great occasions at Twickenham this season, not least England's RBS Six Nations matches against France, Italy and Scotland.

Speaking to the BBC after the match, Worcester coach Carl Hogg said: "It was an even contest in that first half but the amount of effort took its toll in the second.

"It is a disappointment. We talked [at half-time] about trying to get a foothold in the game, but they are at the top end of Europe and they squeeze teams in."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall described his side's performance as "hugely rusty" and one he expects the team to improve on as they ease their way into the season.

"But I was pretty calm at half-time and I thought we were ruthless in that 15 minutes of the second half and that set us up to get the win," he added.

The other match at Twickenham saw Harlequins secure a narrow 21-19 win in a thriller over newly-promoted Bristol, back in the big time after seven years.

Bankrolled by billionaire Steve Lansdown, Bristol may be one of the teams to watch in the years ahead, but this season will be all about re-establishing themselves in the elite and they appeared set to get off to the perfect start as they established a 14-3 lead thanks to tries by Tom Varndell and Tusi Pisi.

However, England's Marland Yarde crossed the line to reduce the deficit and Joe Marchant then scored a try as Quins moved 15-14 ahead by the break.

Bristol then renewed hopes of victory with a try by Ryan Edwards, but this went unconverted and the Londoners were able to sneak a victory with two penalties from the boot of New Zealander Nick Evans.

Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston said there was a "crazy number" of mistakes made by his side in the wet conditions, noting that "it was a day where you had to catch a ball before you passed it", while his opposite number Andy Robinson said he was proud of his player's effort, although he felt they had to learn better discipline after conceding the two crucial second-half penalties that cost them a dream win.

So it was that the season got off to an exciting start. Over the months to come there will be moments of brilliance, terrible mistakes, controversies, luck, rain, mud, sunshine and, above all, the pursuit of excellence. For England fans, it is the overture to what may be a superb international symphony, particularly if the national side can continue its outstanding form of 2016 so far.

By Sam Coates

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