2018 In Review: July to September
We continue our review of Gallagher Premiership Rugby in 2018 by casting minds back to the months of July, August and September.
After the culmination of another thrilling season, players were rewarded with some well-earned rest, but July saw the battle for the Premiership Rugby Sevens Series at Franklin’s Gardens, as the best in the league duked it out for the title.
Having returned to pre-season training, August saw several standout new faces join up with their teammates after a busy summer of recruitment.
And while fans revel in the movings and shakings of the summer, nothing compares to the optimism of a new season, with Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby kicking things off in spectacular style on August 31.
Here’s our round-up of those days long ago when the weather was warm and the new season was young.
With players back from their holidays and pre-season in full swing, the eighth edition of the Premiership Rugby Sevens Series beckoned, with Franklin’s Gardens the venue.
A thrilling weekend of rugby saw Wasps, Newcastle Falcons, Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins impress to top the four pools, each side notching two wins and plenty of scores to the delight of the crowds.
After a dramatic set of quarter-finals that saw Saracens down the Chiefs, the semis took centre stage, with Wasps toppling the Falcons and Saracens running out 29-21 victors over London rivals Harlequins.
The final pitted two previous winners against one another, with Wasps boasting two titles to Saracens’ one.
But, against all the odds and after scraping through their group in second, Saracens snatched the win thanks to two tries from skipper Joel Conlon that paved the way to a 33-12 triumph and the familiar site of the Men in Black lifting a trophy.
With Gallagher Premiership Rugby still in the midst of its off-season break, and the summer internationals complete, attentions turned to the rumour mill of the transfer market.
All 12 sides were busy throughout the summer, some sealing deals before the end of the 2017/18 season, while others announced shock arrivals out of the blue as the new campaign drew near.
Charles Piutau had reached a deal with the Bristol Bears back in August 2017, but he made the trip across the Irish Sea from Ulster to meet up with his new teammates – including brother Siale and former coach Pat Lam – in what was a move that had the Gallagher Premiership Rugby side purring.
Danny Cipriani moved from Wasps to Gloucester Rugby, with New Zealander Lima Sopoaga coming in to replace the fly-half at the Ricoh Arena, while Worcester Warriors added classy Scottish international Duncan Weir to their ranks.
Northampton Saints got their business done early, confirming the arrivals of Welsh stalwart Dan Biggar from Ospreys and James Haskell from Wasps well in advance of the summer break in what signalled a statement of intent from Chris Boyd and co.
Bath Rugby snapped up exciting youngster Joe Cokanasiga in what proved to be a particularly shrewd piece of business, while reigning champions Saracens brought in wingers new and old with Alex Lewington and David Strettle joining for the title defence.
Arguably the shock of the summer was to come though, as on July 3 Sale Sharks captured the signature of England international Chris Ashton after he was released by French side Toulon, a significant coup for Steve Diamond as the flyer touched down.
After what seemed like an eternity, that tantalising wait for the new season to begin was finally over as Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby raised the curtain on what was an action-packed first month of Gallagher Premiership Rugby action.
The Bears couldn’t have asked for a better return to the top flight as they welcomed Bath to Ashton Gate in a hotly-contested derby on 31 August.
A late try from Alapati Leiua proved the match-winning score as Bristol snatched bragging rights over their rivals and sent the home faithful into raptures.
That set the tone for a breathless opening weekend of rugby, with Harlequins running in six tries to down Sale, Wasps edging out Worcester 21-20 and both of the previous season’s finalists making winning starts.
It was the perfect foundation for a standout month, with Bath and Gloucester playing out a 31-31 draw the following week, Wasps somehow coming from behind to beat Leicester 41-35 and Saracens and Exeter setting the early pace with five blistering wins from five.
A month that kicked off what has so far been a record-breaking season of Gallagher Premiership Rugby, September had everything you could’ve asked for and more on the rugby pitch.