Oval Talk

Reasons to be cheerful

Oval Talk

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Oval Talk has been waiting with bated breath for the start of what promises to be one of the most competitive Premiership seasons ever. Considering last year's Grand Final wasn't decided until Geoff Parling's injury time lineout steal that is quite a statement. So here are OT's reasons to be thankful that the newly-named Aviva Premiership is back.

The start of the season couldn't have fallen on a better weekend. With no Premier League football, the cricket marred by scandal and the Kiwis already runaway leaders of the Tri-Nations, it was a chance for club rugby to shine. With perfect conditions all weekend from Edgeley Park to Sandy Park it did just that.

Tries: Back in May OT praised the game's powerbrokers for changing the laws of the breakdown to encourage attacking play. It changed the face of the Premiership in the second half of last season and the try-scoring trend seems to have carried into this term.

On the opening weekend of last season there were meagre 15 tries scored. Compare that to the gluttonous 27 tries scored in this weekend's feast of rugby. No fan who went to the double-header at Twickenham at the weekend and was treated to over 100 points and 10 tries in 160 minutes of rugby can claim they didn't get their money's worth.

The naysayers may shout, "wait and see if that's still happening on cold rainy January mornings" but while we continue to be served up a feast of tries we'll continue to gorge on them.

Attendances: The weekend's crowds were in as big as some of the points tallies, with over 75,000 packing into Twickenham for the double-header and an overall increase in attendance of 3,029 for the weekend.

Slightly disappointingly Sandy Park was just over a thousand shy of its capacity for Exeter's Premiership debut. Perhaps the good people of the West Country still can't quite believe their side has made it to the top flight.

TV viewing figures must also be on the increase with ESPN adding to Sky's coverage. Now armchair fans can settle in for three live games most weekends. Couple that with ITV4's highlights show and the only problem now will be wrestling the remote off the missus.

Tough at the top: It would be foolish to make any predictions at such an early stage in the season but looking ahead it is easy to pick out seven teams that have a very real chance of finishing in the top four: Leicester, Northampton, Saracens, Bath, Wasps, London Irish and Quins.

On their day any of those teams are capable of beating each other; look for proof no further than London Irish, who finished sixth last season but along the way managed to beat three of the top four teams.

Northampton stated their intent to go a step further than the play-offs with a convincing victory over Leicester, although Tigers fans will be quick to point out they started last season by losing to the hapless Sale and still went on to be crowned champions.

London Irish marked their squad's clean bill of health with bonus point victory over Grand Finalists Saracens. It was business as usual for the irresistible Sailosi Tagicakibau on his try-scoring return from injury; he's now scored seven tries in his last eight appearances.

London rivals Wasps and Quins couldn't be separated as they shared the honours in a pulsating 29-all draw. Wasps will be very happy with the performance of new signing Nick Berry, who could be one to look out for this season.

The last of the title contenders Bath cantered to a bonus point win at Leeds and all with a shaky scrum and a misfiring lineout. It looks like there is plenty more to come last year's fourth-placed team.

Exeter: It's never fun being the new boy at school but Exeter proved they won't be bullied into giving away their lunch money. Their 22-10 victory over Gloucester will have Leeds, Sale and Newcastle looking over their shoulders with the battle to avoid relegation far from a foregone conclusion.

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