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Champions race out of the blocks

Image: Richmond's Emma Croker helped the reigning Premiership champions get their season off to a flying start with a victory over north London rivals Saracens. Image thanks to Rugby Matters. See HERE for more images.

Richmond 31 Saracens 17

The big game of the opening round was the match that saw last year's winners and runners up face-off in north London. It was to be Richmond, the current title-holders, who made their mark early in the match as they went 19-0 with three tries after just 15 minutes.

Despite maintaining possession well early on, Richmond's halfback pairing of Rachael Burford and Amy Turner controlled the game brilliantly and out wide Saracens didn't have an answer to the finishing of Kay Wilson who grabbed a brace and Jackie Shiels who also went over to help Richmond to a big early lead.

Despite the poor weather, Richmond gave a masterclass in the execution of simple and core basic handling while Saracens fell off too many tackles. The home team though were not downhearted and put together some quality patterns and they were rewarded when eventually, from a well taken driving lineout, flanker Maggie Alphonsi burrowed her way over. April Brown kicked a difficult conversion.

In the second half Canadian centre pairing Sarah Ulmer and Mandy Marchark showed strong running for the home side, but it was Richmond again, who managed to break the deadlock with a try from Laura Jenkins. Saracens got back into the game through powerful finishing by young standout wing Hannah Gallagher, who brushed off some wayward tackling to dive over in the corner with the score pushing out to 24-12.

Richmond's hooker Emma Croker made the most of another spot of weak tackling to dot down under the posts to seal the game though the home side had the last say when Gallagher scored again in the corner.

With a bonus point win, Richmond are already the team to beat in the league. The play local rivals Wasps this weekend.

Scorers Richmond: Kay Wilson (2 tries), Laura Jenkins (try), Emma Croker (try), Jackie Shiels (try, 3 cons)
Scorers Saracens: Maggie Alphonsi (try), Hannah Gallager (2 tries), April Brown (1 con)

Bristol 22 Old Albanians 10

Bristol scored a four-try win in their game against the newcomers to the league Old Albanian Saints, who were playing in this league for the first time since 1998.

Bristol dominated the game for the first half hour, playing some exciting rugby on home soil and that endeavour was justly rewarded with a hat-trick of tries from left wing Becky Hughes. A couple of those scores were the result of some simple well executed handling moves with another coming from a great break from fly-half Kim Oliver supported by Emily Ryall and Amber Reed.

There were some good individual performances for Bristol from Marlie Packer, skipper Sophie Hemming and Gillian Bourke throughout who excelled up front.

Old Albanians got much more into the game at the as it wore on, becoming better at coping with Bristol's physicality and they eventually scored themselves following a powerful drive from the tail of the lineout. With three players crashing over the ref was unable to identify the scorer from, Angela Wadham, Geri Thomas and Nadia Brannon though Brannon was lucky enough to be named on the scoresheet!

Sarah Mckenna had also helped to reduce the deficit for the Saints with a penalty kick and the convertion but Bristol made sure of all the points when Nicola Hoole scored the fourth try with a simple number 8 pick up and crash-over.

Both sides know there are tougher games to come this season though the newly promoted Saints will be delighted with their tenacious second half effort and will take heart ahead of round two. Bristol play Saracens next weekend with Saints taking on Darlington.

OA Scorers: Nadia Brannon (try), Sarah McKenna (1 pen, 1 con)
Bristol Scorers: Becky Hughes (3 tries), Nicola Hoole (try), Kim Oliver (1 con)

Darlington 18 Lichfield 22

Despite the poor weather over the weekend, these two sides started this game on a remarkably pristine pitch at Darlington Mowden Park. Lichfield travelled north determined to start this season better than last year where they struggled in the early months and they got off to a great start with an early score from Sophie Nicholas to take the lead.

The home side though didnt let that faze them and with the home support spurring them on, Jennifer Edwards crossed the line to even up the scores after some excellent build-up work by the England fly-half and club skipper Katy McLean.

The game continued in close fashion with both teams showing their endeavour throughout and there was a try for both sides before the halftime whistle. First Becky Williams touched down for Lichfield, converted by Emily Scarratt and then McLean, who had impressed from the off, scored a try and kicked the convertion herself.

After half time, and with brighter conditions, both teams went on the attack with some excellent rugby on show. McLean put the home team in front with two penalties early on as her team took an 18-12 lead but some Lichfield pressure late on saw them take the win with two tries courtesy of Nicholas and Natasha Hunt.

The game was played in fine spirit and was a good exhibition of flowing rugby for the first game of the season for both of these sides.

Next up for Lichfield is a game against their nearest rivals Worcester while Darlington will look to get their season up and running in their match against Old Albanians Saints.

Scorers Darlington: Jennifer Edwards (try), Katy McLean (Try, Con, 2 pens)
Scorers Lichfield: Natasha Hunt (try), Sophie Nicholas (2 tries), Becky Williams (try), Emily Scarratt (con)

Worcester 17 Wasps 5

Both of these sides professed disappointment with their league finishes last year so this was a big opening game for these two who were equally desperate to get off to a winning start.

A tight first half saw Wasps defending doggedly with the home team, despite some dominance in the possession stakes, unable to make a breakthrough until the dying minutes of the half when Kat Merchant got across the line for a try converted by Ceri Large.

Taking a 7-0 lead into the second half, Worcester capitalised on their scoring chances with further tries from Merchant and Lizzy Binks the latter as a result of an excellent build-up move which moved wide quickly.

Worcester came close to grabbing their fourth try when Bonnie Verry, Laura Keates and Nollie Waterman all had scoring chances but Wasps defence was superb as they held their line superbly.

In time added, Wasps were rewarded for their spirited performance with try from winger Natasha Brennan, whose forceful dive for the line snapped the corner post!

Worcester travel to local rivals Lichfield next Sunday while it doesn't get any easier for Wasps who face Richmond - the only team to score a 5-try bonus point win at the weekend.

Scorers Worcester: Kat Merchant (2 tries), Lizzy Binks (1 try), Ceri Large (1 con)
Scorers Wasps: Natasha Brennan (try)

See HERE for the latest table.