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Highlights & Report | Saints topple Saracens in opener.

Huge results for Saints.

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Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images

Northampton Saints kicked off their Gallagher Premiership campaign with their first win at Allianz Park in three years as they defeated reigning champions Saracens in a see-saw season opener.

In a back-and-forth contest that saw the lead switch six times, Saints scored three tries before the break – David Ribbans, Rory Hutchinson and Henry Taylor all crossing the whitewash – with Saracens only able to send Matt Gallagher over in response.

But the boot of Ben Spencer kept the home scoreboard ticking over and though neither side crossed the whitewash in the second forty it was ultimately a James Grayson penalty that secured the win at the death for Saints. 

Saracens wasted no time getting their first points of the Premiership season – with Spencer knocking over a penalty just two minutes in – before the scrum-half added a second on the 15 minute mark.

But Saints responded well and charging runs from Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Coles and then Paul Hill got Saints into Saracens’ 22; and after a period of pressure on the tryline, the men in Black, Green and Gold came away with the first try of the game – David Ribbans the man over the line in his 50th appearance in Saints’ colours.

Grayson made no mistake with the conversion to put Saints ahead, but the lead was short-lived as another Spencer penalty swung the scoreline back Saracens’ way. And the home side stretched that lead just a minute later as Ben Earl snuck through a gap and fed Matt Gallagher for the score.

An important turnover from Coles in Saracens’ territory got Saints back on the front foot though and with Northampton working their way up the pitch, Hutchinson spun and stretched over the line for Saints’ second of the match. 

Grayson’s conversion brought the game back within two and Saints were soon back on the scoresheet again. After scooping up loose ball in their own 22, Grayson hacked the ball downfield and with Collins in chase and Taylor on his shoulder, the wing offloaded to see the scrum-half score Saints’ third against his former side – again Grayson converted and the away side entered the changing room five points in front.

Saints were denied a George Furbank try by the TMO after the break though, and Spencer sent another penalty through the posts to close the gap to two points. Spencer and Grayson exchanged another penalty each before the Saracens kicker added another from the tee to see the home side lead again.

But the scrumhalf’s eighth kick came off the post and when the chance came for Grayson to line up for the sticks in the game’s final minute, the 21-year-old sent the ball sailing through the uprights to see Saints secure their first away win over Saracens in three years.

Match Highlights:

Report from Saints

Premiership

Cipriani has a new club

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(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Danny Cipriani will join Bath Rugby in May on an extended one-year contract, to include the completion of the 2020/21 season.

The 16-cap England international will join the Blue, Black and White at the beginning of May, following a rigorous recruitment process to strengthen the club’s options at fly-half, with Rhys Priestland departing to Cardiff Blues at the end of this season.

The 33-year-old playmaker is credited for his unique vision as well as his natural creativity and impressive attacking skillset, contributing to a semi-final place for Gloucester in 2018/19 and the Rugby Players’ Association Players’ Player of the Year 2019.

Highly attack minded, Cipriani’s ability to predict the passage of play, create space and control the game is a key component of the fly-half’s unique attributes.

His expertise in game understanding, combined with an exciting commitment to seizing opportunities, has often resulted in match-winning moments across his 18-year career in the sport.


On joining the Blue, Black and White, Cipriani said: “I’ve been really focused over the past three months on improving my running efficiency and kicking, while looking for a club that matches my ambition. After speaking with Stuart and Neal, it was clear that Bath offered that opportunity.

“We talked about what I could bring to the club and what Bath were looking for in a fly-half; someone who could be part of an attacking mindset, who could help unlock that aspect of the game and inject additional pace and vision – complementing the quality in the team.


“The club has a clear ambition and drive that aligns with my own; they want to achieve something special as a team, they want to win. That was a very appealing vision for me.”



Cipriani will join Tian Schoeman as an experienced fly-half who will support Bath’s developing players – in particular Orlando Bailey – to evolve their game.

Cipriani and Schoeman give Hooper experienced options at fly-half, providing a significant opportunity for Bailey to further accelerate his development with their stewardship, following his recent appearances in the first team.


Director of Rugby Stuart Hooper said: “Danny’s abilities are evident; his game understanding and management are exceptional as is his skillset in the backline. He has a real eye for detail around the attacking shape, I’m confident that he will bring an exciting dimension to our game.

“We have made no secret of our recruitment in this key position. Our process, as with all recruitment and contracting decisions, has been thorough and diligent and we are now incredibly excited to be able to announce the recruitment of Danny.


“I have no doubt that Danny will become a valued member of our playing group and become an ambassador to the younger players coming through the pathway just as Rhys has so well over the seasons.”

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Premiership

Tigers welcome back Burns

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Leicester Tigers will welcome Freddie Burns back to the club ahead of the 2021/22 season.

The 30-year-old, currently playing for Toyota Jido Shokki in Japan, returns to Leicester for a second stint at the club where he made 75 appearances between 2014-17.

Burns began his professional career with Gloucester in 2007 and made his Test debut in 2012 after representing England Under-20s and Saxons.

He joined Leicester in 2014 and scored 603 points for Tigers in three seasons, before moving to Bath Rugby ahead of the 2017/18 campaign and then to Japan for the 2020/21 season.

Speaking about the addition of Burns from next season, Leicester Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick said: “We are looking forward to welcoming Freddie back to the club from next season.

“He is an experienced Premiership player who has played international rugby and will be a valuable addition to our squad.

“I have been impressed with the way Freddie has spoken about wanting to be a part of what we are building at Tigers and his determination to be a leader in our squad.”

Burns added: “I can’t wait to be back in Leicester and part of the club again.

“I can see the changes in the team and clear identity of the squad with Steve and want to be a part of that.

“I am coming back to compete and want to be playing in the Premiership once again.

“Tigers fans are so passionate and I always had such a good connection with them, they are definitely a reason why I want to come back to the club.”

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Premiership

Gallagher Premiership scrap relegation

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(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
  • At the end of season 2020/21 there will be no relegation from the Premiership into the Championship, and no relegation from the Championship into National One. 
     
  • Provided the winner of the 2020/21 Greene King IPA Championship is eligible for promotion under the current Minimum Standards Criteria, the 2021/22 season to consist of 13 teams in the Gallagher Premiership and 11 in the Greene King IPA Championship. 
     
  • Holistic new minimum standards on and off the pitch for promotion to the Gallagher Premiership will be developed between now and the end of May 2021 with involvement and approval from Council which will be designed to promote sustainability in the professional game.

The RFU Council today cast a strong majority vote in favour of no relegation from the Gallagher Premiership or the Greene King IPA Championship for the 2020/21 season. 

Council members considered the impact Covid-19 has had on all areas of the game, including the earlier decision to suspend promotion and relegation in the community game and the Gallagher Premiership cancelling a significant number of matches in the 2020/21 season.  These cancellations have resulted in a material impact on league positions which could mean relegation based on cancellation not on field merit. 

Over the next four months the RFU, Premiership Rugby and Championship representatives will work on recommendations for changes to the season structures for 2021/22 and beyond for both the Premiership and Championship. 

It is hoped that proposals will include a different approach to promotion and relegation from the Gallagher Premiership.  The aim will be to retain the ambition of clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship and below and to continue to allow a route to promotion to the Gallagher Premiership. New minimum standard criteria, investment in facilities and club funding will be discussed.  The domestic calendar will be reviewed, which will also allow additional preparation time for the England senior men’s team ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023.  Player welfare will be central to the proposals and the RPA will be consulted on the development of season structures.   It is likely that any season structures may also include a further moratorium on promotion and relegation for three or four seasons, after which the structure will be subject to further review.  Those proposals would be subject to a vote of the RFU Council before the end of the 2020/21 season. 

Speaking about the RFU Council vote, RFU President, HH Jeff Blackett said; “The RFU Council has taken time to understand and discuss all the factors regarding no relegation for this season so that we act in the best interests of all levels of the game.  We want to ensure a healthy elite game to support successful winning England teams that generate income to stimulate and preserve the game across all levels.  The Council will continue to be closely engaged with the proposals from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Championship to ensure we maintain the integrity of the future league structures for England Rugby.”

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