The Year 2014 was one that fans of Aviva Premiership Rugby will never forget. An incredible first few months culminated in the first Final to go into extra time… and it was settled with the final move of the match.
Our writers look back at some of the highlights of 2014 and we’d be delighted if you joined in the debate on Twitter, posting your favourite moments and pictures from the last 12 months!
Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints were the first clubs to record Aviva Premiership Rugby victories in 2014, beating Newcastle Falcons and Harlequins respectively under the Friday night lights.
That opening weekend was wrapped up in dramatic circumstances on the Sunday, firstly as Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby shared the spoils at Welford Road with Owen Williams’ late missed conversion ensuring the spoils were shared.
Andy Goode, however, would not suffer the same fate just an hour later, striking a last-gasp penalty between the posts to earn Wasps a 19-16 victory over Exeter Chiefs.
As the month was winding down, the league’s first major move of 2014 was revealed with the announcement that Marland Yarde would swap London Irish for Harlequins in the summer.
February began with Worcester Warriors coming within a whisker of ending their losing run in the league at the expense of Leicester Tigers, only for a Toby Flood penalty to earn the reigning champions a 23-22 triumph at Sixways.
The excitement didn’t stop there as, just one day later, London Irish became the first ever side to beat Saracens at Allianz Park in the Aviva Premiership Rugby regular season with first-half tries from Matt Parr, Alex Lewington and George Skivington.
Not to be outdone by Harlequins, Bath announced a summer arrival of their own – rugby league superstar Sam Burgess – before beating Exeter and Wasps to strengthen their play-off push.
March 2014 will forever be a memorable month for Rob Baxter and his Exeter Chiefs, after they ended a 143-year wait for major silverware by lifting the LV= Cup trophy.
The Chiefs became LV= Cup Champions with a 15-8 triumph over Northampton at Sandy Park, with Chris Whitehead and captain Dean Mumm crossing the line.
One week later, a thriller at Kingsholm caught the eye as Newcastle Falcons produced a stirring fightback from 37-7 down after an hour, only to lose 40-33.
The month ended with joy for Worcester Warriors as the league’s bottom club finally picked up their first win of the season, beating Newcastle 17-12 at Kingston Park.
A month that belonged to Saracens as, aside from toppling title rivals Northampton Saints at Allianz Park, records tumbled at home and in Europe.
Firstly, that victory over Saints saw veteran lock Steve Borthwick succeed George Chuter as Aviva Premiership Rugby’s record appearance-maker.
Just two weeks later a thrashing of Clermont not only saw them reach the Heineken Cup Final, but also witnessed wing Chris Ashton score twice to break a 17-year record of ten tries in one European campaign.
Meanwhile, back in the league, a late penalty try earned Bath an 18-17 victory over rivals Gloucester and Sale Sharks ran in eight tries for an impressive 55-12 win at Exeter Chiefs.
A thrilling month of rugby began with Harlequins clinching back-to-back nail-biting wins to slip into the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals at Bath’s expense.
Northampton closed the regular season in style, running in 11 tries to beat Wasps 74-13, before a last-gasp Tom Wood try saw off Leicester Tigers in their semi-final – Saracens beat Quins 31-17 to join them in the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final.
Prior to the Twickenham showpiece, Sarries made the trip to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the Heineken Cup Final, eventually beaten 23-6 by reigning champions Toulon.
And it would be double the disappointment for Mark McCall’s side as Alex Waller’s last-gasp extra-time try clinched the Aviva Premiership Rugby title for Northampton Saints at rugby HQ in dramatic circumstances.
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With Northampton Saints still celebrating, London Welsh joined the Aviva Premiership Rugby party after securing a 48-28 aggregate win over Bristol in the Championship play-off final with victory at the Memorial Stadium.
Just 40 miles north, Gloucester’s managerial overhaul was now in full swing with director of rugby Nigel Davies – having left the club in May – formally replaced by former Ulster man David Humphreys.
Meanwhile nearly 12,000 miles away, Stuart Lancaster’s England side were in New Zealand, taking on the All Blacks in a three-match series.
Leicester Tigers-bound Freddie Burns kicked four penalties in a narrow first Test defeat, while tries for Quins duo Marland Yarde and Mike Brown were just not enough in the second, New Zealand eventually clinching a 3-0 series win.
Australian Laurie Fisher was next to join the Gloucester Rugby revolution, while another import from the southern hemisphere landed at newly-promoted London Welsh: former New Zealand scrum-half Piri Weepu.
Kingsholm legend Mike Tindall announced his retirement from the game – the final member of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning team to hang up his boots for good.
And spirits were high up in Newcastle, as Falcons announced their plans to install a new artificial pitch at Kingston Park in time for the new season.
With the season drawing ever nearer, an older face arrived at Welford Road, as Leicester announced the signing of 39-year-old All Blacks legend Brad Thorn.
The annual Premiership Rugby 7s tournament reached a dramatic finale at the Twickenham Stoop – with the World Club 7s just across the road at HQ the following weekend.
Gloucester Rugby retained the Premiership Rugby 7 title with a 12-5 victory over Newport Gwent Dragons in the Series Final, while Argentine raiders Buenos Aires claimed the crown at Twickenham.
Aviva Premiership Rugby returned with a bang and Northampton Saints picked up where they left off, thrashing Gloucester 53-6 to kick off the campaign.
The month was full of surprises with Saracens putting Harlequins to the sword 39-0 in south London and Bath going one better against Tigers, racking up a 45-0 triumph.
Newcastle Falcons kicked off the month in impressive fashion, welcoming high-flying Exeter Chiefs to Kingston Park and claiming their first Aviva Premiership Rugby win on the new surface – ending a 20-match losing run in the process.
Charlie Sharples celebrated his 150th Gloucester appearance in style, running in a hat-trick of tries as the Cherry & Whites got a new European era underway with a 55-0 thrashing of Brive.
Later that same weekend Chris Ashton continued to haunt Clermont as he and fellow Saracens winger David Strettle each crossed over twice to sink the French giants.
A flawless kicking display saw Myles Dorrian convert all ten tries as London Irish beat Rovigo 70-7, as well as running in one of them himself.
The autumn internationals dominated the month’s rugby landscape, as England slipped to defeats at the hands of New Zealand and South Africa.
But there was still time for the Red Rose to impress and the Cherry & Whites were never far from the action, Jonny May scoring twice in victory over Samoa and clubmate Ben Morgan matched that feat as England downed Australia.
Elsewhere there were hat-tricks for both Christian Wade and Ashley Johnson as Wasps recorded a mammoth 71-7 victory over London Welsh and London Irish’s new, state-of-the-art training facility at Hazelwood was officially opened.
The Christmas countdown got underway with this season’s third round of European action and it was a productive one for Aviva Premiership Rugby. Six of England’s seven European Rugby Champions Cup representatives won during Round Four.
Wasps made their long-awaited debut at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena – their new home – against London Irish in front of a bumper crowd.