Six Nations stars shine on opening weekend of season

The first weekend of the domestic rugby season is now in the books.

The first weekend of the domestic rugby season is now in the books.

And across the Gallagher Premiership and Guinness PRO14 there were a number of standout showings.

Both defending champions, Leinster and Saracens, kicked off their campaigns with hard-fought victories while a number of individual displays caught the eye.   NORTH’S STAR SHINES   The prodigal son has returned.

After five years on the other side of the Severn Bridge with Northampton Saints, George North is back in Wales and back with a bang.

On his debut for the Ospreys on Friday night, the Wales and British & Irish Lions wing crossed for two tries as they downed Edinburgh in a hard-fought encounter.

The former Scarlets player is back in Welsh rugby, much to Warren Gatland’s delight, and hit the ground running at the Liberty Stadium.

With 76 Test caps to his name for his country and still only 26 years-old, North showcased his versatility this summer with starts on the wing and in the centre for his country.

And with the autumn internationals around the corner and the Six Nations looming large in 2019, North looks to be back to his best and not a moment too soon.   STUART’S HOGGING LIMELIGHT   Stuart Hogg is sporting a new haircut and it appears to have had an effect on the pitch as well.

The Scotland full-back, player of the Six Nations in both 2016 and 2017, was the difference maker for Glasgow Warriors in their season opener against Connacht.

Hogg – who captained Scotland this past summer against USA on their tour – kicked the vital drop goal for his team while also adding a touchline conversion.

And with Finn Russell now in France with Racing 92, Hogg’s playmaking skills and kicking from hand and tee will be more and more important for the Warriors and for Scotland.

He made 52 metres with ball in hand from 13 carries with five defenders beaten and two clean breaks and that proved enough to edge out Connacht.

And if Dave Rennie’s Glasgow side are to improve on last season and make the Guinness Pro14 final this year, then expect Hogg to put his injury-hampered 2017/18 campaign behind him and hit new heights this campaign.   BACK-ROW BALANCE   While a lot of the focus on the opening weekend in England was on the men wearing No.10 – Danny Cipriani and Marcus Smith impressed while Dan Biggar also made his Northampton bow – Eddie Jones is still looking to find the right blend for his back row.

One established face in Jones’ squad produced a stunning showing to remind his head coach while another man out in the cold served notice of his potential.

Nathan Hughes was slowed by injury last season as both he and Billy Vunipola missed much of the season for England.

But he returned just in time for the South Africa tour, making two bench appearances and one start in their 2-1 defeat to the Springboks.

That summer came slightly too soon for Hughes to hit his best form but for Wasps this weekend he looked to be firing on all cylinders.

The No.8 made a jaw-dropping 26 carries for 90 metres, beating seven defenders and also making seven tackles as they came from behind to down Worcester Warriors.

Without Willie Le Roux, Jimmy Gopperth and Lima Sopoaga, Wasps needed their big names to stand up and Hughes was tallest of all.

Meanwhile, at Sandy Park Matt Kvesic gave Jones a timely reminder of his talents.

The openside has not appeared for Jones’ England since their May international against Wales back in 2016.

But after a summer off toil in pre-season for Exeter Chiefs, he led the way in their thumping win over Leicester Tigers.

The flanker scored one try and made another while also making a team high 14 tackles to earn the man of the match award.

And with Tom Curry injured for Sale on the opening weekend, Kvesic has the next few games in the league to see if he can force his way into England’s plans for this autumn.   COONEY KEEPS HIS COOL   And finally, John Cooney picked up this season where he finished the last.

The scrum-half forced his way into Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad with his performances for Ulster last season as he almost single-handedly lifted them into the European Champions Cup.

The No.9 came off the bench against Australia in Melbourne as the men in green sealed a series win in the summer and returned to Ulster looking to kick on.

And his radar from the tee is still bang on, as he kicked all their points including a last-gasp penalty to down Scarlets and kick off the campaign on a high.