Premiership Rugby Round One: Highlights and match reports

Everything you need to know from an action-packed opening weekend from the English top flight.

Updated: 19 September 2021 - 1.00pm

Less than three months since Harlequins were sensationally crowned kings of English rugby, the Gallagher Premiership is back.

The 2021/22 campaign got under way as top-flight returnees Saracens beat last season's pacesetters Bristol Bears 26-9 at Ashton Gate.

Here, provide highlights and match reports from the opening weekend.

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Friday 17 September

Bristol Bears 9-26 Saracens - Watch replay

Saracens got off to the best possible start against Bristol after a season away from the Premiership as Alex Lozowski kicked a personal best of 21 points to ensure that the visitors coasted to victory.

In a cagey opening 20 minutes, the Bears edged 9-3 ahead courtesy of two penalties by Callum Sheedy and one from the boot of Nathan Hughes, but some ill-discipline cost Pat Lam's men as the half wore on and they went into the break on level terms. 

Similar sloppiness after the interval saw the contest move gradually away from them as Lozowski's tee game proved unerringly accurate, with the No 10 for the evening supplying Alex Lewington with a gorgeous grubber kick for the match's only try just over 10 minutes from the end. 

Try as they might, the West Country side couldn't find their way through a stubborn Sarries defence, failing to score a try for the first time in the Premiership since January 2019 in the process. 

Saturday 18 September

Leicester Tigers 34-19 Exeter Chiefs - Watch replay

Leicester Tigers made a roaring start to the new season as they beat last season’s Premiership runners up Exeter Chiefs 34-19 at Welford Road.

Freddie Steward, Harry Potter and Matt Scott all crossed in the first half as the hosts led by 15 at the interval, with the Chiefs just having a Don Armand try to show for their troubles.

Exeter reduced the deficit with a penalty try but hooker Nic Dolly, making just his second Premiership start, scored two close-range tries to seal the bonus point.

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne grabbed a consolation try for the visitors late on but it was far from enough to stop the Tigers getting their first victory over Rob Baxter’s men in four years.

Northampton Saints 34-20 Gloucester

Northampton got their Premiership season off to a winning start over an injury-ravaged Gloucester in a lively game at Franklin’s Gardens.

Depleted Gloucester contributed fully to the entertainment but two yellow cards and a high penalty count against them proved costly.

Saints took advantage to score four tries from George Furbank, Nick Auterac, Tom Wood and James Grayson, with the latter adding two penalties and three conversions.

Ollie Thorley, Jordy Reid and Jonny May scored Gloucester’s tries, with Lloyd Evans kicking a penalty and a conversion.

Worcester Warriors 36-24 London Irish

History repeated itself for these two sides who met on the opening day of last season too, with Worcester again coming out on top.

That triumph was their only one for the entire 2020/21 campaign, with the others coming by way of Covid cancellations, so the Sixways crowd will certainly have enjoyed this.

It will not only be the result that pleases them but also the performance with nine tries shared between these two and both walking away with try-scoring bonus points.

Willi Heinz scored on his Warriors debut, with Sam Lewis, Melani Nanai, Matthew Kvesic and Perry Humphreys also crossing for the hosts.

Ollie Hassell-Collins had the visitors ahead at one stage, with Albert Tuisue and two late Oliver Hoskins tries not enough for the Exiles to pick up a first win in seven league games.

Sale Sharks 20-19 Bath

Kieran Wilkinson's late penalty secured a dramatic win for Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium as they held off a second-half comeback from Bath Rugby to secure an opening-weekend victory.

Tries from Akker van der Merwe and Byron McGuigan in the opening period gave Sale a commanding 17-3 lead heading into half-time.

Yet Bath fought back with 19 second-half points to force a grandstand finish at the AJ Bell only for Wilkinson's timely penalty in the final minute to win it for Sale.

Sunday 19 September

Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins

2pm on BT Sport 1HD: Live stream

Reigning champions Harlequins will be out to prove their stunning Twickenham triumph was not just a flash in the pan when they begin the defence of their crown against Newcastle in BT Sport's third and final live game of the weekend. 

Expect more of the free-flowing attacking rugby that produced a league-high 102 tries and 786 points as the London side beat favourites Exeter and Bristol on their way to a second Premiership title.

Sunday will also see Mike Brown face the unfamiliar prospect of lining up against his old teammates as he makes his Newcastle Falcons debut. 

Capped 72 times by England, the veteran full-back is Harlequins' all-time record appearance holder, having played 348 times for the London club.

The 35-year-old was denied a fairytale finish at the club after a six-week ban from stamping ruled him out of Harlequins' Premiership run in.

Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said of his new recuit: "Great under the high ball, big boot, fabulous counter-attacker and knows his way to the line."

Brown will know better than anyone that stopping fly-half Marcus Smith will be crucial as he looks to get one over on his former employers.

The 22-year-old was the competition's top pointscorer last season (286), marshalling the Quins attack with a poise and maturity that belied his tender years.

The 2021 Lions tourist will have to be precise with his kicking out of hand with Adam Radwan - arguably the quickest winger in the league - primed to launch devastating counter attacks from the back-field. 

Indeed, how Smith deals with the increased scrutiny on his performances could go a long way to deciding the defence of their crown.