A slew of new heroes emerged as the Anglo-Welsh Cup returned with a bang last weekend and England Under-20s No.8 Zach Mercer showed why it was not all bad news for Bath Rugby in the opening round.
In a thrilling contest at the Rec, Leicester Tigers held off a brave comeback from Bath and headed back to the East Midlands with a 21-20 victory in the bag.
But it was not for the want of trying by Mercer, who according to the Opta stats churned out 19 carries and 83 yards – beating three defenders in the process – and even won four lineouts in an all-action display.
Shame about the result tonight, hell of a comeback from the lads onto next week don’t worry I’ll work on my defence guys #BATvLEI
— Zach Mercer (@Mercer8Zach) November 4, 2016
Leicester took the opportunity to award Fred Tuilagi his senior debut as the back-rower became the eighth member of his family to pull on a Tigers jersey in a competitive match.
Click here for the latest fixtures and results from the Anglo-Welsh Cup
And on his first senior start, full-back George Worth racked up 113 metres for Leicester – pipping Worcester Warriors and England man Chris Pennell (105) to lead all players in the round – as well as three offloads.
Kingsholm was treated to a spectacle on Saturday as remarkably, from 25-5 down, David Halaifonua’s 79th-minute try sealed a 36-32 win for Gloucester Rugby over reigning champions Saracens.
There would perhaps have been even more tries if not for the number of tackles put in by Gloucester duo Freddie Clarke and Dan Thomas (both 18) and Saracens prop Vincent Koch (19).
Thomas also carried the ball into contact 15 times and created two turnovers while among Gloucester’s backs division, Mat Protheroe was the standout – he beat a round-best six defenders and gained 85 metres.
A superb second-half performance saw Harlequins down Exeter Chiefs by 29-15 at the Stoop and it was Charlie Matthews who ruled the skies in south west London.
The lock claimed the ball at the lineout an eye-catching 11 times – three clear of the next man, Sale Sharks’ Lou Reed, on the weekend – while Dave Ward, playing in the back row, was his usual threat in the loose with a joint best three offloads.
Harlequins Dave Ward speaks after his side’s 29-15 win over Exeter Chiefs in the Anglo-Welsh Cup pic.twitter.com/F2x3H3b9Gy
— Harlequins (@Harlequins) November 6, 2016
Bristol Rugby threatened a late comeback at Sixways but Worcester Warriors denied them a first win of the season as some effective running rugby sealed the game 31-25.
Click here for the latest Anglo-Welsh Cup tables and an explanation of the format of the tournament
Four Worcester players – Pennell, Josh Adams (95), Matt Cox (68) and Max Stelling (59) – all finished inside the round’s top 20 players for metres made.
Northampton Saints came away with an impressive 24-16 win over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park and they dominated the lineout thanks to the old and the new.
Star flanker Jamie Gibson stole the ball three times and 21-year-old lock Jordan Onojaife did so twice, while Tom Collins also played a part in securing possession with two turnovers.
Elsewhere, though Wasps lost to Sale by 17-13, 19-year-old back-rower Jack Willis showed that his side do not lack for depth in the back row as his round best three turnovers was only matched by Worcester’s Andrew Kitchener and Bristol’s Olly Robinson.
Vincent Koch (Saracens) 19
Freddie Clarke, Daniel Thomas (Gloucester Rugby), Joe Gray (Harlequins) 18
Will Collier (Harlequins) 16
Harry Wells (Leicester Tigers), Joel Conlon, Scott Spurling (Saracens), Andrew Kitchener (Worcester), Jack Willis (Wasps) 15
Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby) 19
Alex Tait (Newcastle Falcons) 17
Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors), Harry Thacker (Leicester Tigers), Matt Cox (Worcester Warriors) 16
George Worth (Leicester Tigers) 113
Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors) 105
Josh Adams (Worcester Warriors) 95
Mat Protheroe (Gloucester Rugby), Charlie Walker, Charlie Mulchrone (Harlequins) 6
Andrew Fenby (Saracens), Harry Thacker (Leicester Tigers) 5
Ben Spencer (Saracens), Ollie Thorley, Lloyd Evans (Gloucester Rugby) 4
Jack Willis (Wasps), Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors), Olly Robinson 3
Mat Luamanu, Dave Ward (Harlequins), Will Safe, Daniel Thomas (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Collins (Northampton Saints), Dewald Potgieter, Matt Cox (Worcester Warriors), Mark Jennings (Sale Sharks), Beno Obano (Bath Rugby), Will Evans (Leicester Tigers) 2
The second round of the Anglo-Welsh Cup kicks off this weekend. For full details of the tournament and tickets for the Final at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday 19 March see www.new-heroes.com