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Coaches should not be forced into hasty changes after just one match

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 07, 2012

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For most of us who love our rugby, the first weekend of the season cannot come soon enough. For some of those whose affection for the game is sometimes tempered by the fact they earn a living from it, it cannot go quickly enough.

The opening action in the Premiership was the opposite of the British weather this summer. While that capricious combination of the elements has given us plenty of lows, some highs and a lot of mediocrity in between, last weekend had only a little that was remotely average, mundane or predictable.

A third of the 12 teams racked up at least 40 points and a fifth, Leicester, only missed out by two. A quarter of them failed to score a try though one of those three, Bath, still managed to win.

The West Country side bucked the trend in more ways than one. While Harlequins and Wasps had put on a ten-try spectacular in the match that launched the new season, Saracens also picked up a try-scoring bonus point at Twickenham against London Irish and both Exeter and Leicester matched those maximums – against Sale and at London Welsh respectively – Bath were not only the one side to win without crossing the opposition try-line but also the one side to win under a new coaching regime.

Thanks to Olly Barkley's eight penalties at Worcester, Gary Gold, Toby Booth and Co can look back on their first day at the office with some satisfaction. Brian Smith, who returned to replace Booth at London Irish, and Lyn Jones, not new to London Welsh but new to the Premiership, will look back on their first week with as little fondness as the two men at the centre of last spring's Kingsholm controversy.

Bryan Redpath quit Gloucester with a month of the season still to go, protesting vigorously all the while that he had not, as the rumours suggested, been tapped up by Sale. Within weeks he had been unveiled as the new head coach at the Manchester-based club. A few days later it was announced that Nigel Davies, established and successful director of rugby at Llanelli Scarlets, would be replacing Redpath at Kingsholm.

Gloucester fans will not be too happy at the way the weekend went for Davies – the home defeat to Northampton was the fourth in a row at Kingsholm and the seventh in a row in the Premiership – but they can console themselves that they will not be as unhappy as their former hero. Gloucester's new director of rugby knows that he has plenty to work with, feelings reinforced when Northampton coach Jim Mallinder professed himself relieved and his team fortunate to have got away with a win.

Redpath on the other hand can only wince as he studies the tapes of what was a crushing defeat at Sandy Lane. Exeter have turned their spanking new stadium into a bit of a fortress and they have made a habit of winning their opening match of the season.

But they have not made a habit of demolishing the opposition. Most of their victories to date have been based on a mixture hard work, organisation, cohesiveness and the passion of the underdog. Few of them have been as comprehensive as their dismantling of the club that had made most of the loudest noises in the pre-season transfer market.

Danny Cipriani, the Wasps wild child turned Melbourne rebel, has joined Sale with the express intention of getting his England career back on track. Richie Gray, the giant Scottish lock forward, is already a near-certainty for the Lions tour to Australia at the end of the season.

While both men were made to look ordinary at Exeter, Sale's ambitions – to establish themselves as a rugby superpower in the North West – looked fanciful.

Redpath, it appears, was so shocked at the mauling his team received that with the season only just entering its second week, he is already considering wholesale changes for this weekend's home game against Saracens.

Don't panic. It's easy to say, harder to act out – especially in the unforgiving world of professional sport. The Premiership is up and running and is no place for the faint-hearted. Nor, as Bristol discovered in losing at home to newly-relegated Newcastle, is the Championship. Especially at this stage of the season, however, another sporting cliché has most relevance – for coaches and fans alike. It's a marathon not a sprint.

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