With the 2020 Guinness Six Nations on the horizon, a host of international stars returned to the fore for their clubs as they looked to lay down a marker in domestic competition.
Many of England’s beaten World Cup finalists were in action in the Premiership while the Guinness PRO14 resumed with Ireland, Italy and Scotland players turning out for their teams.
England internationals return
Luke Cowan-Dickie got on the scoresheet for Exeter Chiefs as the England hooker returned to the fold for Rob Baxter’s side in their comprehensive 38-3 win over Wasps.
The 26-year-old’s second-half try followed Ben Moon’s earlier effort and prompted the floodgates to open, with Tom O’Flaherty and Alec Hepburn making the winning margin more emphatic.
It was Cowan-Dickie’s first start for Exeter since May but he showed no ring rust from Japan as he benefitted from a rolling maul to deliver the decisive blow after the restart.
Fellow Red Rose internationals George Ford and Manu Tuilagi were also in action for Leicester Tigers against Northampton Saints in the East Midlands derby at Franklin’s Gardens.
But the England duo were unable to prevent their side from slipping to a 36-13 defeat against Saints, who were without internationals Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar after late fitness tests.
Canna impresses for Zebre
Zebre picked up their first win of 2019 as Carlo Canna delivered a man-of-the-match display to help the Italian outfit upset Dragons in their own backyard with a 39-12 Guinness PRO14 success.
Canna’s clever kick set up Jamie Elliott for the opening try inside the opening ten minutes, while the Azzurri international also added 12 points with the boot at Rodney Parade.
Meanwhile, Bundee Aki marked his new contract extension with Connacht by scoring a try in the Irish province’s 24-12 victory against Isuzu Southern Kings at the Sportsground.
Fellow Ireland international Ross Byrne also played a key role in Leinster’s victory over Glasgow Warriors, kicking two penalties and two conversions in the 23-10 triumph.
Byrne missed out on Ireland’s World Cup squad but with the Guinness Six Nations just around the corner, he showed he is more than capable of stepping into Johnny Sexton’s shoes.
Farrell kicks Saracens to victory
Owen Farrell was the star of the show on his return to club action in the Premiership on Friday night, kicking 20 points as Saracens defeated Bath Rugby 25-12 at The Rec.
The fly-half was one of three returning England internationals including in the starting XV, with Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola also making their comebacks after their World Cup exploits.
But it was Farrell who made the biggest impact, producing a flawless kicking display to convert Sean Maitland’s try and add six further penalties for the defending Premiership champions.
Rhys Priestland’s three first-half penalties had given the hosts the edge after a scrappy opening half hour but Maitland’s try and Farrell’s boot gave Saracens a 16-9 lead at the break.
Farrell kicked a further three penalties after the restart to ease the visitors clear, with fellow Red Rose stars Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and George Kruis also playing a part in the win.