Danny Cipriani and Darren Sweetnam top performers from Premiership and PRO14 opening rounds

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On a day in which Ulster and Glasgow sealed dramatic late wins, there were some excellent individual displays in both the Premiership and PRO14 leagues.

From a superb attacking display from Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani to a flawless performance by Darren Sweetnam, we’ve picked out the top performers from the latest round of fixtures.

DANNY CIPRIANI (Gloucester)

The 30-year-old shone in front of England boss Eddie Jones, creating a superb try for winger Charlie Sharples and generally being at the centre of his team’s attacking exploits in their convincing 27-16 victory over Northampton.

The fly-half was in stunning form on his home debut, and looked to have an extra spring in his step as he orchestrated the game at Kingsholm.

He kicked positively all afternoon and showed serious vision to put Gloucester on the front foot, with the sharpness of his play leading to a string of penalties that Billy Twelvetrees converted.

A class act.

MARCUS SMITH (Harlequins)

Life under new boss Paul Gustard got off to a fizzing start for Harlequins with a commanding 51-23 win over Sale at the Twickenham Stoop.

Ben Tapuai may have caught the eye with this two sizzling tries, but it was fly-half Smith who shone under the bright lights, kicking 26 points.

The 19-year-old scored a try, kicked six conversions and posted three penalties in an impressive display.

His general game management was superb and he looked to give the pass at each opportunity in an effort to put the squeeze on a gallant Sale side.

NATHAN HUGHES (Wasps)

The England international proved why he is considered one of the most promising back-rows in the Premiership with a dominant performance in Wasps’ 21-20 come-from-behind win over Worcester.

The Fijian-born No8 made 85 metres, beat six defenders and completed eight successful tackles as Dai Young’s side edged out a spirited Worcester at Sixways.

After an injury plagued 12 months, this performance should be the hallmark for Hughes to kick on and gather some momentum coming into a crucial World Cup year.

TOMMY O’DONNELL (Munster)

The Ireland international was a titanic presence in Munster’s comprehensive 38-0 over the Cheetahs.

The 28-year-old was solid in the line-out, superb on the ground and showed his serious work-rate with 20 successful tackles.

DARREN SWEETNAM (Munster)

A five star performance from the Cork man.

O’Donnell will surely steal the limelight for his virtuous display at No7 but it was Sweetnam who looked a real jewel, taking possession at every opportunity in an attempt to put his side in formidable attacking positions.

The 25-year-old winger scored a try and set up two more, as well as making 134 metres and beating six defenders.

JOHN COONEY (Ulster)

The 28-year-old produced a man-of-the-match performance in Ulster’s thrilling 15-13 win over Scarlets.

Trailing by one point deep into injury time, Cooney nailed the vital kick after being tackled without the ball by Scarlets’ second row David Bulbring.

The former Leinster scrum-half was instrumental throughout the contest, showing good speed, nimble footwork and a razor-like passing ability at Kingspan Stadium.

Incredibly, the elusive Cooney made 101 passes – nearly three times as many as his opposite number Samuel Hidalgo-Clyne.

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Rob Baxter believes Exeter were not at their best in 40-6 win over Leicester

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Exeter’s Rob Baxter believed his team were not at their best in their Gallagher Premiership opener, despite a 40-6 success.

The Chiefs’ director of rugby said: “We still scored 40 points but we can do better as we left a few tries out there.

“We spurned a couple of chances but kept going and were rewarded in the end.”

Exeter still managed six tries through Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Henry Slade, Matt Kvesic, Ian Whitten and Olly Woodburn, with Gareth Steenson converting five.

Baxter was full of praise for Simmonds and Kvesic, who rivalled each other for the man of the match award.

He continued: “Matt is back to his best even before his Gloucester days. We wanted to sign him when he was at Worcester but couldn’t do so.

“He concentrated too much on the breakdown at Gloucester and forgot his attacking skills but he now looks hungry like a man who has been deprived of food.

“He and Sam gave us targets today; they were a fantastic combination and took some handling on a firm pitch.”

On the final scoreline, Baxter said: “The first half was very tough and it will be a very difficult game at Welford Road when they have had more game time.

“Our players had to work very hard but eventually it paid dividends with two or three tries coming rather easily at the end when they had little to fight for.”

It ended up as another heavy defeat for Tigers at Sandy Park, following on from 31-10 and 30-6 defeats on their last two visits.

This latest setback will raise concern in Leicester’s camp as they fielded virtually a full-strength side but could only manage two penalties from George Ford.

Director of Rugby Matt O’Connor, said: “The first 25 minutes were tasty but it took its toll upon us as they made it count.

“We couldn’t get any field position and it showed that some of our players lacked 40 or 60 minutes of game-time.

“We had a couple of niggles to key players in pre-season and couldn’t risk them but we are still disappointed that we gave away a lot of points at the back end as the game was closer than the final score would suggest.”

Next up for Leicester is a home game against Newcastle, which will have a major impact on whether Tigers recover from this mauling to have a decent season.
O’Connor added: “It’s an enormous game as they deprived us of a European spot at the end of last season.

“There’s a lot to play for but we have to make sure that we are better.”

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Pat Lam proud after Bristol Bears make stunning return to Premiership Rugby

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Bristol boss Pat Lam reflected on “a magic occasion” after his team made a dream return to the Gallagher Premiership.

Fly-half Ian Madigan’s four penalties and a late Alapati Leiua try saw Bristol home 17-10 against west country rivals Bath, with a 26,000 crowd – Bristol’s biggest home attendance – roaring them to victory.

“I am extremely proud of the guys,” head coach Lam said. “It has been a big day for the club.

“The thing about the Premiership is that we are going to be under a lot of pressure and spend time without the ball, and we had to dig deep as a team.

“We now go to Saracens next, the defending champions away. There are a few niggles, and it will be a different team next week because we have got to use our squad.

“It was a magic occasion tonight to kick off a wonderful competition.

“It’s nice to be back, and it was a good start for us, but we get back to work on Monday.”

Bath fought back from nine points adrift to lead when full-back Tom Homer scored a second-half try and Rhys Priestland kicked a conversion and penalty.

But the visitors were ultimately punished for a terrible 15th-minute blunder when an unmarked Homer remarkably failed to ground the ball after crossing Bristol’s line.

Bristol, last season’s Championship winners, were indebted to huge performances from the likes of skipper Steven Luatua and lock Chris Vui, while Madigan missed just one kick off the tee, keeping his composure amid intense pressure.

Lam heaped praise on Luatua, adding: “I’ve known Steven since he was 16. He is class.

“One of the reasons I gave him the captaincy is because each time he has captained the team, it’s his best rugby. He feels that extra responsibility.

“There are good leaders around him, and he is just going to go from strength to strength.”

Bath's Todd Blackadder and Bristol coach Pat Lam.

Bath’s Todd Blackadder and Bristol coach Pat Lam.

Reflecting on the Homer howler, Bath Rugby director Todd Blackadder said: “It’s simply making sure of those things. You don’t leave them to chance. It (try) wasn’t awarded, so it doesn’t really matter.

“The points were there for us tonight, but we just didn’t capitalise. It was one of those ones we let slip through our fingers.

“The annoying thing was the inconsistency of some of our actions. Some were brilliant, and some weren’t, and often in a dog-fight like tonight that can be the difference.

“Our ball into contact was really poor – we turned over far too much ball. When we did build a bit of pressure I felt we had them on the back foot, but we didn’t do it enough.”

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