Despite the many issues the sport of rugby union in England is wrestling with – the plan to impose a ‘unified’ global season, new rules for the new season, a still-developing set of concussion (head injury) protocols, the rows over the salary cap and the latest Premiership plan to ‘kill off’ the Championship [the league below the Premiership] by establishing a full-season Premiership ‘A’ league competition among them – the 2017/2018 Premiership season kicked off over the weekend in close to glorious style.
That statement applies directly to the results and statistics, which include the facts that more points and more tries were scored over the past three days than in any previous opening Premiership round.
Then came the results – Friday night’s victories by Gloucester over the champions Exeter Chiefs and Newcastle Falcons over Worcester Warriors, Saturday’s dittos by Saracens over Northampton Saints, Wasps over Sale Sharks and London Irish over Harlequins, and then yesterday’s Bath over Leicester Tigers (the first time they have won at Welford Road in the Premiership since 2003).
Right now it appears that the generally positive impression given by the British & Irish Lions and England summer tours to New Zealand and Argentina respectively, the summer contractual comings and goings and the indeed the rumours and evidence coming to light during the course of the pre-season period is being confirmed if not reinforced.
Even the likes of London Irish – initial favourites to drop straight back down to the Championship – have done good business in the transfer market and brought in some heavy-duty ballast. Just like Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester, whose acquisition of high-rated South African Johan Ackermann as head coach already looks like a master-stroke, the Irish have now assembled a squad strong enough to give a good account of themselves anywhere, home or away.
It’s a long, hard (22 match) league season but at this rate it’s going to be ‘live’ all the way to the wire. On any given day, every club will have the chance to beat its opponent – you can tell that from the reactions of the losing coaches over the weekend in their media interviews: almost without exception, they gave grudging accounts of what the winning team had done well and what theirs had done inadequately but then went on to declare determinedly that the all ‘things they had to work on’ would be resolved by next weekend.
When coaches openly accept the possibility of defeat – as well as victory – in every match it is a sure sign of the competitiveness of the competition.
Roll on Round 2!