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Review of the Year – Part Three

We’re looking back on another thrilling year in Aviva Premiership Rugby – here we look back at September to December 2015.

See Parts One and Two of the Review of the Year here.

SEPTEMBER

In 2009 it was announced that England would play host to the World Cup and September saw six years of anticipation come to a head as Stuart Lancaster’s men kicked things off against Fiji at Twickenham.

George Ford got things going for the Red Rose with a penalty after three minutes while a converted penalty try shortly after put England in control.

Mike Brown put England further ahead before Nemani Nadolo got Fiji on the board but another score for Brown and one for Billy Vunipola got the hosts off to the perfect start.

The World Cup also got off to a dream start for Ireland as they ran in seven tries for a 50-7 victory in their opening clash with Canada.

But not everything went to plan in the opening round of fixtures with Japan producing a stunning performance to upset South Africa in a 34-32 triumph.

Japan were trailing 12-10 at the interval in Brighton but they refused to give up and a late score from Karne Hesketh blew Pool B wide open as the two-time World Cup winners fell to defeat in arguably the biggest upset in the history of the sport.

Wales got their campaign off to a winning start with a confident display against Uruguay thanks to a Cory Allen hat-trick which perfectly set up the clash with England.

Once again a packed Twickenham held its breath in anticipation and Saracens man Owen Farrell drew the first blood with a penalty after 12 minutes.

Farrell would go five from five off the tee and add a drop goal and a conversion to his tally after Gloucester Rugby’s Jonny May had dotted down.

But it was fly-half Dan Biggar who would have the last laugh for Wales as he turned over seven penalties and a conversion from Gareth Davies’ score to claim a vital 28-25 win.

That defeat spelt danger for England as Australia added to their 28-13 win over Fiji with a 65-3 drubbing of Uruguay to take the edge in Pool A with Wales also progressing.

Scotland meanwhile had to wait until September 26 before they made their bow but they got things going with a 45-10 win over Japan and were back at it four days later with a 39-16 win over the USA.

And eventual champions New Zealand started as they meant to go on as they won 26-16 against Argentina at Wembley and added a 58-14 victory over Namibia four days later.

 
OCTOBER

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup taking centre stage in England, it was an unfamiliar late start for the Aviva Premiership as the competition kick-started the new season on Friday October 16 with three mouth-watering fixtures.

With England having unceremoniously exited the World Cup at the pool stages, stunned by Australia in their pool decider, it was an earlier than planned return for a number of Stuart Lancaster’s squad.

The semi-finals of Rugby World Cup became an all-southern hemisphere affair for the first time in the competition’s history, New Zealand eventually lifting the trophy for the second successive time with a 34-17 victory over Australia. A number of Rugby World Cup stars like Victor Matfield, Ben Franks and Jean de Villiers grabbing their next assignment in Aviva Premiership Rugby.

The first Aviva Premiership Rugby action saw Harlequins start their new campaign with a hard-fought 26-21 win over Wasps, with England trio Mike Brown, Joe Marler and Nick Easter all starting on the replacements bench at the Stoop, coming on to the pitch to a big welcome.

Worcester Warriors caused the shock of the Round One fixtures defeating Northampton Saints 13-12, while Newcastle slumped to a 39-27 loss at home to Gloucester.

There were also wins for Bath Rugby, Saracens and Leicester Tigers as Aviva Premiership Rugby exploded into life for the 2015-2016 season.

October was also an exciting month for new arrivals, with the likes of former Australian skipper James Horwill adding to the already bursting superstars playing week-in-week-out in the competition.

Round Two started with Saracens earning the narrowest of 17-15 wins at Gloucester thanks to a nerveless display off the kicking tee from England fly-half Owen Farrell.

Sale Sharks saw off Worcester Warriors 27-13, Northampton hammered Newcastle 42-16, Wasps recorded their first win of the new season as they squeezed past Bath Rugby 16-9, Exeter beat London Irish and Leicester Tigers defeated Harlequins 22-19.

October’s final weekend of Aviva Premiership fixtures also produced some blockbusters, with Saracens continuing their 100 percent start to the new season by beating winless London Irish 24-14.

Bath suffered a shock 38-28 loss at home to Harlequins, with England skipper Chris Robshaw making his return to Aviva Premiership action after his ill-fated experience at the World Cup. Robshaw was outstanding throughout and was singled out by his boss Conor O’Shea after the final whistle for his performance.

Gloucester Rugby sneaked a 24-22 home win against Worcester Warriors, while the fast-improving Exeter Chiefs hammered Newcastle 41-3 on their travels.

Sale returned to form with a win against troubled Northampton Saints, while Leicester Tigers ground a home victory against Dai Youngs’ Wasps.  

 
NOVEMBER

Most of Aviva Premiership Rugby’s World Cup stars had returned rested and rejuvenated by the start of November, and the month was bookended by a series of fascinating results.

First to the AJ Bell where perennial challengers Northampton Saints were undone by a brilliant try from 21-year-old Sam James – who could well go on to pull on an England jersey before his career is out.

James’ audacious chip over Stephen Myler before racing over in the corner is a worthy try of the season contender, and better yet it helped Sale to a 20-13 victory over Saints.

On the same day Telusa Veainu also made Aviva Premiership Rugby sit up and notice as the Tongan flyer crossed on debut for Leicester Tigers – and he hasn’t stopped terrorising defences since.

It came in a 24-16 defeat of Wasps, but that perhaps was the jolt that Dai Young’s men needed as they became the toast of the European Rugby Champions Cup in November.

Wasps first went to Ireland and beat Leinster to the tune of 33-6, which is the heaviest-ever home loss inflicted on the Dubliners.

Joe Simpson, Christian Wade, and New Zealand sensation Charles Piutau all crossed for Wasps, but the result was arguably not even their most impressive result of the month.

In Round Two, Wasps thumped Toulon – European champions for the last three years – 32-6, this time clinching a bonus point with Nathan Hughes (2), Ruaridh Jackson and Frank Halai doing the damage.

In a fiendishly difficult pool Bath Rugby also won their first European match, following the postponement of their game against Toulon, in a George Ford-inspired victory over Leinster.

Aviva Premiership Rugby success came from virtually all quarters. Saracens, finalists in 2014, drummed up 32 points against four-time European champions Toulouse before Billy Vunipola wrapped up a bonus-point win away at Ulster.

Leicester too, threw their hats in the ring – England-qualified flanker Brendon O’Connor was the name on everyone’s lips on debut in a superb 33-20 triumph over Stade Français and a comfortable victory over Treviso followed.

Saints, another to have been dealt a tricky pool, strung wins together over Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets, and Exeter Chiefs bounced back following defeat to Ospreys with a resounding win over Bordeaux.

And in the Challenge Cup Gloucester Rugby’s started their defence smoothly with two wins out of two against Zebre and La Rochelle, while a high-octane Harlequins tallied up 73 points in their first two games.

The first two rounds of European action saw rugby pay its tribute to those killed in the Paris attacks with our clubs and its supporters standing shoulder to shoulder with our French counterparts.

The month ended back in Aviva Premiership Rugby action and the tie of the round was undoubtedly Chiefs’ helter-skelter victory over Harlequins.

The weather was wild but the rugby was just as slick, Gareth Steenson collecting 21 points before Tim Visser brought Harlequins back within one point – only for Tim Swiel to send a last-gasp penalty attempt wide and Exeter to hang on 26-25.

It was no less dramatic at Sale after Newcastle Falcons picked up their first points of the league season in a 15-15 draw after Danny Cipriani suffered the same fate as Swiel.
 
DECEMBER

As 2015 draws to a close the fixtures have come thick and fast with Saracens still very much the team to beat in Aviva Premiership Rugby.

They continued their fine start to the season with a big win at Newcastle Falcons, followed up by back-to-back Champions Cup successes over Oyonnax.

They needed the win over Newcastle to stay top of the league though, having been leapfrogged earlier in the weekend by the Exeter Chiefs.

Taking on a Wasps team full of confidence after their European exploits, the Chiefs were grateful to Thomas Waldrom, who was at his try-scoring best as he picked up a hat-trick in a 41-27 win at the Ricoh Arena.

Exeter followed that up with an even more impressive bonus-point win over French heavyweights Clermont in Europe, and despite losing the return fixture, are very much in contention in their pool.

Wasps are also holding their own against a French giant, three-times champions Toulon, and split their Aviva Premiership Rugby double header with Bath Rugby.

Both teams remain very much in the hunt for the last eight, although neither has been as dominant as Leicester Tigers, who became the first team to beat Munster twice in a European season.

That made it four from four in Europe, and added to their domestic success at Worcester Warriors, made for another promising month from the Tigers.

Northampton Saints have had it tougher, although a win at Bath Rugby boosted their Aviva Premiership Rugby standing. In Europe though, they struggled away to Racing 92, for whom Dan Carter made his debut, although a draw back at Franklin’s Gardens keeps them in contention.

With Jamie Roberts arriving in December after taking part in the Varsity match, Harlequins had plenty to look forward to before Christmas.

They continued their fine form with a comfortable win over London Irish, and have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup after ten points from their two ties with Calvisano.

Elsewhere in the Challenge Cup, Gloucester are in similar position, downing Worcester twice, while Sale Sharks got back in contention with home and away wins over Castres.

There were also promising signs from Newcastle and London Irish, both struggling in the league but who managed to split their games against Pro12 rivals Connacht and Edinburgh respectively.

As 2016 rolls around, there is certainly everything to play for, both in Aviva Premiership Rugby, and in Europe for England’s finest.
 

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