Finn Russell inspires Bath as champions Saracens lose again, while Sale and Bristol claim wins

Colin Newboult

Scotland and Bath fly-half Finn Russell in action in 2023.

Scotland star Finn Russell once again showed his class as Bath made it successive victories to start the Premiership season with a 25-16 win over Saracens.

The fly-half was making his first start, after coming off the bench in their opener, and was excellent as they defeated the defending champions.

Although Russell wasn’t accurate off the kicking tee, he directed play superbly and set the tone by producing a brilliant off-load for Tom de Glanville’s score.

Andy Christie had touched down in the first minute for Sarries via a Russell error, but his response was superb and the West Countrymen went into the break 20-13 ahead as Miles Reid and Ruaridh McConnochie also went over.

Alex Lozowski reduced the arrears with a penalty in the second period, but Thomas du Toit’s try completed a fine win for Bath.

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The result leaves Saracens rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table, while Bath go top after back-to-back bonus-point wins.

Saracens came out of the blocks firing, with Christie charging down a careless Russell chip before regathering and crossing underneath the posts to help put his side 7-0 ahead.

However, the Scotland fly-half made amends immediately, deceiving the onrushing Sarries defence with a stunning offload to feed De Glanville for Bath’s first try of the match.

The visitors then took a 12-7 lead after Reid muscled his way across the whitewash from close range.

Lozowski reduced the difference to two points with a penalty midway through the first half, but Bath were back in control less than two minutes later.

Ben Spencer produced a delightful cross-field kick from the base of a ruck to feed McConnochie, and the winger capitalised, going over in the corner on his first start of the season.

Lozowski took another shot at goal 12 minutes before half-time, but his effort drifted agonisingly wide.

The Saracens centre did kick his second penalty of the afternoon shortly after to keep the hosts within touching distance, but Russell restored Bath’s seven-point advantage moments later.

Saracens were on the front foot as the heavens opened after the break, but Aled Davies knocked the ball on at the base of a ruck on the edge of Bath’s 22, and the visitors cleared the ball downfield.

It was not long before Saracens were back in the visitors’ half, and after the hosts won a penalty, Lozowski made it 20-16 from the tee.

However, that only seemed to anger Johann van Graan’s side, and they were in the ascendency again six minutes later when Du Toit touched down from the back of a driving maul.

The hosts showed immense heart to stay in the game in difficult conditions and had the opportunity to launch an attack from a lineout in Bath territory with 10 minutes left to play.

But the conditions got the better of replacement hooker Samson Adejimi, and his throw was judged not straight as the match started to slip away from Sarries.

Bath controlled the closing stages, dominating possession and limiting Saracens to scraps as they capped an excellent afternoon with a statement victory.

Rob du Preez stars as Sale Sharks beat Leicester Tigers

Rob du Preez scored the winning try to complete a fine individual performance as Sale Sharks deservedly defeated Leicester Tigers 24-17 at Welford Road.

The game was level at 17-17 when the fly-half received the ball from a scrum, spotted a gap and rounded the final defender to touch down.

That effort gave them the lead with 10 minutes remaining and it was one they would not relinquish as they secured their second victory of the campaign.

Tom Roebuck and Ernst van Rhyn had earlier crossed the whitewash for the Sharks, with Du Preez converting both, while the playmaker also added a penalty in the second period.

Mike Brown, Hanro Liebenberg and Ollie Hassell-Collins responded for Leicester, but the 2022 champions have their lost their opening couple of matches so far this season.

Sale were forced into a late change at full-back, with Tom O’Flaherty coming in for Joe Carpenter and the visitors were further rocked by conceding the game’s opening try after eight minutes.

From a ruck, Tom Whiteley fed Jamie Shillcock, whose quick pass allowed Mike Brown, denied by an excellent Du Preez tackle not long before, to finish from a few metres out.

Shillcock failed to convert and the Sharks responded immediately when Gus Warr’s off-load found a galloping Van Rhyn and the back-rower timed his pass to send Tom Roebuck under the posts, making Du Preez’s conversion a formality.

The fly-half sent a penalty from 40 metres wide soon after and Sale then had a try from O’Flaherty ruled out for a knock-on at the breakdown by Nick Schonert in the build-up.

But the visitors were able to make the most of a sustained spell of pressure when Van Rhyn was adjudged to have touched down after a TMO check, Du Preez adding the extras.

It was then the Tigers’ turn to hit back quickly when captain Hanro Liebenberg barged his way over from close range, with Shillcock’s conversion reducing the gap to 14-12 at half-time.

A simple penalty from Du Preez took Sale’s lead back out to five points early in the second half, a gap that remained after Hassell-Collins knocked on in-goal having got to Shillcock’s kick down the left wing first.

However, Hassell-Collins was able to score just after the hour mark, shrugging off O’Flaherty’s tackle to level the match after he had been put into space by Joe Powell, Shillcock pushing his conversion wide.

Sale almost regained the lead four minutes later when Sam James gathered Sam Bedlow’s pass, only to be held up by a posse of Leicester forwards.

But there was no denying Du Preez in the 69th minute as he took Raffi Quirke’s pass before dummying and going clear to score a try he converted himself under the posts.

Arron Reed almost made the game safe when he knocked on after being tackled by Dan Kelly, but Sale held out for what was a deserved victory.

Bristol go two from two with come-from-behind victory

Bristol Bears roared back from 11 points down to beat Northampton 33-27 and bag a second successive win at the start of the Premiership season.

The Bears had fallen 19-8 down at cinch Stadium but 10 points in the final two minutes of the first half set them up for a big second period.

Tommy Freeman did extend the Northampton lead briefly with a bonus-point try just after the break, but Max Lahiff and Harry Thacker went over to secure a fine Bristol success.

The Saints had been hit by an injury blow before the game as full-back George Hendy was forced to withdraw in the warm-up, bringing Tom Litchfield in at centre.

But the home side made a flying start to the match, scoring inside three minutes as a well-worked move ended with Tom Seabrook scoring in the corner.

Fin Smith slotted the conversion with aplomb and Northampton had a 7-0 lead early on.

Bristol were having to work hard in defence, but when they got their chance to attack, they took it, Virimi Vakatawa offloading superbly for Magnus Bradbury to score.

Callum Sheedy hit the post with his conversion and Northampton soon made him pay, James Ramm doing brilliantly to offload for Seabrook to score again.

Smith’s conversion made it 14-5, but Sheedy cut the gap with a scrum penalty.

Bristol were then hit by a yellow card as Gabriel Ibitoye was punished for a deliberate knock-on.

Northampton wasted little time in making the most of their man advantage as a fine flat pass from Tom James set Tom Pearson free and the flanker glided in for the score.

Bristol were having to hold on but they saw out the rest of the sin-bin period well before suffering an injury issue as Vakatawa was forced off five minutes before the break.

The Bears launched a fightback before the break as Sheedy slotted a penalty and then added the conversion to Bradbury’s second score of the game.

Northampton hit back at the start of the second half, with a charge-down and kick ahead leading to an opening for Freeman, who showed his speed and composure to bag the Saints’ bonus-point try.

But the Bears bit back, kicking a penalty to the corner before prop Lahiff showed his power to score.

Sheedy’s conversion put Bristol ahead for the first time, and the fly-half extended the lead with a penalty soon after.

Northampton were really struggling and, after Sam Graham was sin-binned for killing the ball, Thacker rumbled over from a lineout drive to bag the Bears’ bonus-point try.

The Saints finally found some energy as they earned a penalty seven minutes from time, Smith slotting it to put his team in losing bonus point territory.

Northampton had one final chance before the end, but the Bears defended ferociously as a knock-on ensured the away side would win it.

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