Record crowds for opening weekend

The six fixtures on the opening weekend of the new Guinness Premiership season attracted a record 104,415 spectators through the turnstiles. [more]

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The six fixtures on the opening weekend of the new Guinness Premiership season attracted a record 104,415 spectators through the turnstiles.

And every one of those fans was left in little doubt of Leicester’s title ambitions after the Tigers opened their campaign with a resounding 35-23 victory over defending champions Sale at Welford Road.

Leicester buried the memories of last season’s 45-20 Grand Final mauling from the Sharks with a bonus-point victory as they outscored the visitors by four tries to two.

"The result last May was hard to take and it made the summer tough," said Tigers captain Martin Corry.

"Something like that hangs over you, especially when it is the last game of the season. But it was a case of drawing a line in the sand and resetting our goals.

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"We have laid a few ghosts to rest with this result."
England fly-half Charlie Hodgson scored 18 points for Sale, who led 23-19 after Sebastien Bruno’s try.

But the Sharks were punished for their indiscipline as Leicester scored 16 unanswered points in the second half, culminating with a penalty try when Sale’s front-row buckled under relentless pressure.

Wing Geordan Murphy, flanker Louis Deacon and prop Alex Moreno claimed earlier touchdowns, while fly-half Andy Goode kicked 15 points as Leicester stretched their unbeaten home league record to 27 games.

Earlier in the afternoon, Ben Cohen’s late converted try and an uncharacteristic missed penalty from Newcastle fly-half Jonny Wilkinson had helped Northampton edge a narrow 25-23 win at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints coach Paul Grayson was furious Northampton had come so close to losing the game on three separate occasions having earned a 13-3 lead on the back of a powerful forwards display.

David Quinlan scored the only try of the first half after Saints had driven Newcastle off their own five-metre scrum.
But Newcastle surged into an 18-13 lead with superb tries within six minutes of the restart from winger Anthony Elliot and Wilkinson.

Northampton then levelled the match with a pushover try for replacement scrum-half Mark Robinson, only to concede again to Falcons flanker Ben Woods.

Cohen powered over in the right corner and Bruce Reihana’s touch-line conversion proved decisive – but only after Wilkinson pulled his 77th-minute penalty attempt wide.

"It was not how we wanted to get out of the blocks," said Grayson.

"We were comfortably in control without ever playing well. We contrived to almost give it away.

"You have to pick up your points where you can. No doubt there will be times this season where we play well and get beaten so I can’t complain about the result.

"But I can complain about the performance. After half-time we put no shape on the game. On the up-side, when we were in a corner and needed a score we got it, Bruce converted from the touchline.

"We almost gave it away again and Jonny came up with a miss but we should have had the game sewn up by then."
To make matters worse for Grayson, Northampton’s influential centre Jon Clarke, included in England’s 55-man elite squad, suffered a broken ankle in the first half.

But it was a good-news weekend for Premier Rugby, who recorded a 20% jump on attendance figures compared to the opening round of matches last season.

Those fans, more than 50,000 of whom turned up at the Twickenham double-header on Saturday, saw London Irish snatch victory over newly-promoted Harlequins and Wasps overcome Saracens.

The most astounding result of the weekend came at Sixways, where Bristol thumped Worcester 41-11 while Gloucester beat Bath 24-19 at Kingsholm.

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