Lesley Vainikolo announced his arrival in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP with an incredible five-try haul as Gloucester destroyed newly-promoted Leeds Carnegie at Headingley.
The former Bradford Bulls wing spent five-and-a-half years terrorising Super League defences before switching codes and joining Gloucester on a lucrative three-year deal in July.
And the aggressive running style which harvested 149 tries in 152 appearances for Bradford quickly acclimatised to the 15-man code in the most auspicious manner possible.
The giant Tongan, 28, opened his Cherry and Whites account in the first half and then claimed four tries within the space of 19 second-half minutes.
That amazing contribution said everything about the abilities of a player nicknamed ‘Volcano’ for his sheer physical power and devastating attacking prowess.
In the 36th minute he collected a pass on the left-hand touchline and advanced forward at pace, simply skittling a pack of Leeds defenders before charging over the line.
His second score on the hour mark was a similar effort and seven minutes later he completed his treble with another trademark touchdown in the left corner which left opposing defenders trailing in his wake.
Vainikolo’s fourth try saw him ground a high kick to leave Leeds followers stunned into silence and his fifth and final effort in the closing stages strained credulity as he waltzed over virtually unopposed.
In summary, Vainikolo’s display encouraged hopes among Gloucester supporters that he can enjoy a similar impact in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP that he did in Super League.
No player had ever scored five tries on his GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP debut and Vainikolo’s efforts fittingly drew rich applause from the smattering of Bradford followers who came to pay homage to their former idol.
That Vainikolo’s first rugby union outing should be at Headingley was apt.
For it was there he played and scored in his final game for Bradford in a 38-14 win against Leeds Rhinos in June.
Many of his former Bradford team-mates were also present to witness his union bow, but Leeds, reborn and renamed after last season’s National League One title success, also deserve credit for their performance on their return to the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
A huge crowd of 10,674, at least by Leeds’ standards, saw Stuart Lancaster’s men compete manfully for long periods but injuries to fly-half Alberto Di Bernardo and Hendre Fourie hampered their cause.
Gloucester, with Vainikolo a lurking menace, always looked capable of moving up through the gears.
He took just three minutes to make his mark after taking a pass in his trademark position on the left-hand touchline.
A typical piece of aggressive running from the Tongan forced a penalty from which a well-crafted line-out close to the Leeds line saw the visitors switch play to the right flank.
Some quick handling saw the ball worked out to Leon Lloyd and his delightful long offload sent James Simpson-Daniel over in the corner.
Gloucester fly-half Ryan Lamb failed to convert and the response from the newly-promoted hosts could hardly have been more emphatic.
To say they cut Gloucester apart would be a gross exaggeration, but they quickly fashioned a period of sustained pressure which reaped rich rewards in the seventh minute.
Carnegie hooker Rob Rawlinson found flanker Jon Dunbar 20 metres out and he showed outstanding power and agility to scuttle down the left flank and crossing in the corner.
Di Bernardo converted and added three penalties before the break but Iain Balshaw crossing for Gloucester in the 28th minute, and with Vainikolo claiming his first shortly before the break, the visitors enjoyed a slender 19-18 lead.
Anthony Allen crossed for the visitors shortly after the break but Leeds again responded well after the break when Tom Rock went over in the 48th minute.
However, Vainikolo then stole the show with his remarkable four-try haul while Lamb ended the game with three conversions and a penalty.