Northampton Saints made a triumphant return to the Guinness Premiership, beating Worcester 21-13 in an ordinary game at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.
The first half proved several points, not least that the coaches and players are still finding their way around the new laws. At times in the first half, it almost seemed as thought the players were simply going through the motions for forty minutes while they worked out how referee Sean Davey was going to blow, and for what.
It also proved that most pundits were spot on in predicting that these two teams will spend the season staring nervously over their shoulders at the bottom of the table rather than gazing starry-eyed up it. Neither offered much on attack, and neither defence looked particularly belligerent either. Northampton's scrum did look good, but Worcester need so much work done in the forwards that perhaps the scrummaging dominance should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Thus did a blunt and laboured first half end 3-6 in favour of the visitors, with Matthew Jones landing two out of three penalties and counterpart Bruce Reihana only one out of three.
There were only two bits of try-time action worthy of note. Rico Gear made a clean break for Worcester after Dale Rasmussen had delayed the pass well. Gear chipped and chased, but scrum-half Lee Dickson covered well for the Saints.
Just after half an hour, Northampton strung together perhaps their one and only passage of play not either punctuated by the boot or turned over, taking some six phases by the Worcester line. An inside ball from Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe went through Paul Shields' arms and into Neil Best's and the Irishman - head and shoulders man of the match - scooted through, but Mr. Davey deemed that Shields had knocked the ball forward, the most marginal of calls.
Otherwise... well Worcester must still learn that they cannot play a wide game without getting at least some support to the breakdown to secure the ball, and those Northampton players who sliced through Division One defences last year may have been reminded that breaking a Premiership line is another matter entirely.
The second half wasn't a lot better, but Northampton's sense of purpose grew and they got an edge at the breakdown, which ultimately won them the game.
Ten minutes into it, and after a series of pre-ELV picks and drives, Worcester openside Tom Wood was sent to the bin for killing the ball. Four minutes later the Saints had their first try of the season, with Dylan Hartley's fresh legs carrying him through some tired tackling and to the line.
The Saints kept the intensity, and were further rewarded with fifteen minutes to go, with the forwards once again making the hard yards and the ball then travelling right to acres of space where Jon Clarke had a simple run-in.
From the kick-off, Hartley's penchant for conceding idiotic penalties reared its ugly head. A ridiculous obstruction handed Worcester front foot ball, and after the Warriors had turned over the ball twice more in promising positions, Sam Tuitupou - by far Worcester's most dangerous player - cut a fine line through the middle to send the Saints defence into panic.
From the ruck, Aleki Lutui took the ball and also charged through some awful tackling to the line. Jones converted to make it 18-13.
Reihana put the Saints eight ahead with a late penalty, ensuring the win and ultimately denying the visitors a bonus point as Worcester's brief revival faded and died. But let nobody be fooled: on this showing, this had all the makings of an early-season relegation battle.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Hartley, Clarke
Pens: Reihana 3
Pens: Jones 2
Northampton Saints: 15 Bruce Reihana (c), 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jon Clarke, 12 James Downey, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Carlos Spencer, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Scott Gray, 6 Neil Best, 5 Christian Day, 4 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Paul Shields, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Tom Smith, 18 Alex Rae, 19 Mark Hopley, 20 Ben Foden, 21 Stephen Myler, 22 Joe Ansbro.
Worcester: 15 Chris Latham, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Dale Rasmussen, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Miles Benjamin, 10 Matthew Jones, 9 Matt Powell, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Netani Talei, 5 Craig Gillies, 4 Greg Rawlinson (c), 3 Tevita Taumoepeau, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Chris Horsman, 17 Chris Fortey, 18 Will Bowley, 19 James Collins, 20 Ryan Powell, 21 Loki Crichton, 22 Chris Pennell.
Referee: Sean Davey
Touch judges: Martin Buck, Don Helme
Assessor: Brian Campsall
Television match official: Brian Abrahams