The bad news waited till Sunday, Emily Scarratt leaving the field early. More detail below, plus results
Wasps v Sarries
Sarries made sure it was business as usual despite Wasps’ best efforts
Claudia Macdonald made the first of what will be many dangerous breaks this season, but not even Abby Dow could finish the job on the left.
As has happened in this fixture before, Sarries countered at once. Wasps chose to pass across in defence rather than clear. A turnover led to Hannah Casey going over. Ellie Boatman score a fine try down the slope, converted by Flo Williams. Before the break she potted a penalty to give the hosts a heartening 10-5 lead. Sarah McKenna suffered a 10-minute yellow for a deliberate knock-on.
Sarries took advantage of a bad knock-on from the kick-off to send Lotte Clapp flying over in the left corner. Zoe Harrison’s fine conversion nudged her team in front.
Into the last quarter (a proper 20 minutes again!) and May Campbell posted her first try of the season. Abi Burton, coming off the bench, countered with another Wasps’ effort. Hannah Edwards converted, then added a penalty which put the hosts narrowly ahead. Could they last out?
Not while there are players like Marlie Packer around to spoil the fun. She scored yet another decisive try to ensure Sarries got off to a strong start. They know they have a task on their hands to regain the trophy.
This was a disappointing finish for Wasps, but they weren’t firing on all cylinders; field-kicks were misdirected, and a number of backs’ moves were too lateral. When the ball is merely passed along the threes, the touch-line becomes the defender’s friend. Amy Wilson Hardy was restored to the left wing for this game; you have to wonder whether she might not have done more damage in the centre, where she often appeared last year. With hindsight you can sense that Katie Alder was much missed as a guiding force in midfield.
Amy Wilson Hardy
Kanyinsola Adefemiwa Afilaka
Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs
You could call this the most intriguing fixture of the weekend; two clubs with a lot to prove. The two games last year ended 1-1, with a 2-point margin each time.
An enormous crowd turned out at Shaftesbury Park to see how far the Bears had changed their spots. There were new faces (but not Leanne Riley) and a new spirit. Fans may have been even more pleased to see Amber Reed and Sarah Bern returned to action at last.
But it was Reed’s midfield partner Phoebe Murray who caught the eye first, weaving her way past stretching arms to score the opening try. Since she became captain of the England Under 20 team she has rather gone under the radar, but is a highly skilled performer.
The battle raged as tries were scored at each end of the pitch, but the Bears finished much the stronger, easily ensuring a bonus point. The Chiefs were missing various international players to prior claims, but that was the case with several clubs. The Scots, Irish and Spanish have vital World Cup qualifiers due this month, and Canadians have been called into camp.
Glos-Pury v DMPDS
Just a comment that the RFU cannot let matters proceed for another season like this. On 79 minutes of play the hosts put up their 79th point, and there was still time for more. The contrast in speed and fitness between the two sides was quite disturbing to see.
At the end of last season the Sharks pulled off a great victory away at Bristol, giving hope that a corner had been turned; those were their first points of the campaign. It’s frightening to think what most of the current sides could achieve against them if the management and the coaching staff can’t effect major improvements quickly.
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
This was a game both sides knew they had to win to point the ship in the right direction. Jo Yapp had made a big difference at Sixways, but the results last season were only so-so. For Sale Katy Daley-Mclean knew she had a task on her hands after taking over responsibility for their second season.
She is prepared to play less often once she knows a replacement No 10 can do a decent job, and she senses that she has a more than adequate replacement in Lizzie Duffy, the England Under 20 player. And there may be more signings to come.
But for the present Sharks had to give way to Warriors by 5 points in an arm-wrestle of a game.
Quins v Lightning
The Sunday game lost its savour when Emily Scarratt was injured in the opening minutes and had to be stretchered off. We still await news of the nature of the injury. She was listed to play at No 10; when did that last happen? And will she ever volunteer to play there again?
On a glorious September afternoon Emily Scott got the ball rolling with a lovely break to finish under the posts. Lightning struck back with a strong forward drive, Lark Davies almost inevitably finishing it off. Sarah Hunter went over before half-time, but that was the end of their scoring spree.
In the second half Quins’ backs ran riot, Heather Cowell putting down a marker to be top try-scorer this season with a fine hat-trick. Ellie Kildunne marked her debut with a try which came on the end of a planned backs move of exquisite quality.
Bristol Bears 38 Exeter Chiefs 21
Gloucester-Hartpury 84 DMPDS 0
Wasps 20 Saracens 26
Sale Sharks 24 Worcester Warriors 29
Harlequins 50 Loughborough Lightning 10
Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs
Referee: Adam Wookey
ARs: Oli Carey and Adam Hughes
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
Referee: Ben Rayner
ARs: Ben Moore and Adam Carpenter
Wasps v Saracens
Referee: Harry Walbaum
ARs: Phillip Russell and Michael Maple
Gloucester-Hartpury v DMP Durham Sharks
Referee: Daniel Rowlands
ARs: Oli Carey and Emma Sly
Harlequins v Loughborough Lightning
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell
ARs: Matthaeus Rozier and Melanie Sutton
with thanks to rugbyreferee.net
It was sad to hear that Heather Fisher has decided to retire. She had a great career in both Fifteens and more recently Sevens for England and Great Britain. Bobsledding’s loss was rugby’s gain.
Curiously a few GB Sevens players were on duty. They are due in Vancouver for a so-called Fast Four Tournament on 18 September, but Mo Hunt, Jasmine Joyce, Holly Aitchison and Abi Burton all turned out for their clubs.
It was a relief to see two very close contests at Heywood Road and Twyford Avenue and another passionate encounter in Bristol. The fewer wide margins I see, the more I will enjoy the fare on offer.
All the games were given livestream treatment, but not all last year’s gremlins have been cast out. We still had our view blocked at the Alpas Stadium, where more efficient camera selection would have prevented the action disappearing from the screen. And that’s where the drama was.