Aviva Premiership Team of the Week: Semi-Finals

15: Mat Tait (Leicester Tigers)
This was a coming-of-age performance that, despite England’s three fullbacks for the Argentina tour being on show, has stolen all the headlines. Tait was assured at the back, making a double whammy of try-saving tackles in the first half and sweeping up any loose ball Evans and Care sent his way. He was adventurous in attack and had a hand in two tries before scoring one himself.

14. Niall Morris (Leicester Tigers)
Another in a long line of typical Tigers wingers/fullbacks, Morris may not be the quickest but he makes up for that with an industrious work ethic. He is strong in the tackle and, as all top wingers do, possesses the healthy knack of being in the right place at the right time, as evidenced in his try this weekend where he popped up off his wing to canter in under the posts.

13. Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
It wasn’t the type of headline-grabbing performance that we are perhaps used to from Tuilagi, but to judge it a failure on that basis would be cruelly unfair. What was most impressive about him this weekend was the way he went about his business quietly, and actually allowed the back three outside him to excel. His powerful burst past Botica and beautifully timed inside ball for Morris’ try was testament to the much more well-rounded game he now possesses.

12. Anthony Allen (Leicester Tigers)
It is tough to gauge quite how important Allen is to the Tigers as he is simply always there. All that can be said is that he does the stuff no-one else wants to do, smashing tackles and making the tough yards to allow the likes of Tuilagi and Tait around him to shine. He may never make it onto the international stage again, but few Tigers fans will mind if that means he remains in the heart of their midfield.

11. Vereniki Goneva (Leicester Tigers)
Where has he been all season? One can only assume he had some sort of falling out with Cockerill (it wouldn’t be the first time) as since his return a week ago he has been simply brilliant. Looking like the heir apparent to Alesana Tuilagi, Goneva has pace and power to burn and showed both to finish an opportune try brilliantly just before the break. Also works incredibly hard in defence, which could never really be said of Tuilagi.

10. Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints)
Austin Healy in commentary was gushing about Myler’s performance, particularly in defence, and quite rightly so. The Saints blew Sarries away with their physicality and even Myler, far from renowned for his tackling, got stuck in with a series of huge hits. And after a few early wobbles from the tee, his kicking was exemplary and took the game away from the home team. Comprehensively outshone his opposite man Farrell, who looks worryingly out of sorts.

9. Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints)
This was Dickson’s sort of game, all niggle and abrasiveness. Behind a dominant pack he looked good, and probably nailed down the starting England jersey in Argentina this summer. He also showed great vision to send GJ Van Velze down the blindside for his try, having noted Chris Ashton’s absence from his wing. Ben Youngs deserves a mention as one of the Tigers’ Lions that went well once again.

1. Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton Saints)
Tonga’uiha clearly just does not want to leave for France, and contributed heavily in adding an extra cap to his Saints career in two weeks’ time. He had Matt Stevens on toast in the scrum and was back to his boisterous best in the loose, which has been lacking at times this season.

2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
Both Hartley and Tom Youngs were superb this weekend, which will have pleased Gatland no end. Hartley pips it into this team, however, for leading his team to a massively unexpected win. His belligerent spirit seemed to inhabit the whole Saints team on Sunday, for which he deserves great credit. He was, as always, a nuisance at every opportunity, which is exactly what is necessary to beat Sarries.

3. Brian Mujati (Northampton Saints)
The Saints have made some superb front row signings for next season, but boy will they miss this unit. Mujati taught young Vunipola a lesson at scrum-time, and was more obvious in open play than he is usually. What a pair of props Racing Metro are inheriting.

4. Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
It is becoming a somewhat broken record, but Parling was once again imperious at line-out time against Quins, ensuring his team a solid platform to play from. His ever-developing ball-carrying skills were on show once again also, including one cheeky shimmy in the first half that fooled few but looked excellent.

5. Christian Day (Northampton Saints)
To out-master Steve Borthwick at the line-out is no mean feat, but that is exactly what Day managed at Allianz Park yesterday. He is one of a few in this team who are now looking desperately unlucky to have been overlooked for the Argentina tour, especially given the squad’s lack of a line-out expert.

6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers)
A 60m try is not something many wingers achieve very often, but a 6″6′ blindside flanker who also has to concern himself with all the nitty-gritty physical stuff too…? It was an astonishing effort from Croft that brought the entirety of Welford Road to its feet – you suspect there may even have been some Quins fans inwardly marvelling at its brilliance. Then there was his try-saving tackle on Care in the first half, which he had no right to make and without which Quins could well have opened up a sizeable lead.

7. Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)
Wood is renowned for his quiet work-rate, and doing the unseen stuff that allows the rest of the team to excel – so to see him smashing tackles and carrying ball was a bit of a shock. But that is exactly what he, along with the 22 other Saints, did, and it caught Sarries completely unawares.

8. Samu Manoa (Northampton Saints)
How this man did not get nominated for Player of the Season is beyond baffling. Many would argue – and it is tough to disagree – that he deserves to have won it. One can only imagine what it must be like to wake up the morning after having been on the end of one his shuddering hits, but it cannot be pleasant. On a day when the Saints simply blew Sarries away with their physicality, Manoa typified everything that was excellent about their performance.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

21 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership Team of the Week: Semi-Finals

  1. Hard to argue with any of this – although could have had Youngs at 9 as he was outstanding.

    The 6/7 combo could be England’s come the Autumn.

    1. Yep- in my opinion the most balanced 6/7 act we have. We are different to other countries who have a headline 7 as we have a headline 6 like Croft. That is partly the reason why we have had no ‘specialist’ 7 for years, not that we had one to put in anyway…

      1. Completely agree. Not sure where that leaves Robshaw. But it should work well. As you said, there is no fetcher there, but that doesn’t bother me too much. Wood smashes every ruck, Croft does more work there than he gets credit for, and he also has that xfactor about him. For me, unless Kvesic/ Fraser really put their hands up as potential “out and out 7s”, them two (Croft and Wood) seem the best pairing.

        1. I would have Robshaw on the bench. Tempting to have Vunipola to swap for Morgan at 60 but think Robshaw is far too good a player to leave out right now. Things dont really look good for him right now, as at the breakdown I think Wood is better and if Croft is at 6 then I cant see Lancaster leaving out Wood. Agree about Kvesic and Fraser. Need to show Lancaster that even if they are considered more of a 7 than Wood, can they do more at the breakdown that Wood or Robshaw can, not just shine in open play as we have Croft to do that.

          1. Agree again. Croft for me must play, then it is finding the right workhorse next to him. If that is Wood, Robshaw, Kvesic or whoever. Right now for me it’s Wood. I like the idea of Vunipola, but for me he has to get ahead of Morgan first. The bench option for back row needs to cover more than just 8, which means Robshaw or Haskell head up that list.

          2. With Croft in I think we need a 7 & 8 that have a huge work rate. Crane/Waldrom get though big shifts and Salvi is everywhere, the balance works. I can see Warburton, Faletau & Croft potentially being a fantastic Lions trio for the same reason. Still have some concern over who England play at 8 to give us an effective unit if Croft is at 6.

            Morgan isn’t noted for his work rate, his tackle counts are never that high, he’s generally hanging back for the huge carries. So if Croft is policing the wider channels and Morgan is back of the defensive line I think it leaves too much for a 7 to do alone even with the engine of a Wood or Robshaw. Vunipola may be a better option, he certainly has a higher work rate with the ball, but not in Faletau’s league in defensive terms, probably not an 80 min athlete yet either.

            With the options we’ve got it still brings me back to our best team performances of late. Wood & Robshaw in tandem, Morgan (or Vunipola) providing go-forward. Then use Croft from the bench to inject some game changing pace.

  2. Couldnt agree more, both teams played brilliantly to get the win. Samu Manoa for me was player of the weekend, the man is a monster and he can only get better.

    1. How he didn’t make the short list, as a minimum, for player of the season is a mystery.

  3. The other aspect of Tuilagi’s game that impressed me was his ruck clear out. He’s really hurling people out of there, hopefully he can do the same with some of those specialist Aussie poachers.

    1. Completely agree in regards to Tuilagi’s development. He was very destructive at the breakdown, getting himself over the ball a few times and really slowing things down. I was also impressed by his passing and offloading, that was much improved.

  4. Thought Hartley was brutal at the weekend, showing exactly why he has snuck on to the Lions plane. Is the Premiership final a straight shoot out for Lion’s starting hooker? (Sorry, I don’t rate Hibbard)

    1. Hibbard is a very good player. For me, Tom Youngs will bench for the Lions, he is a great impact player because of his explosive ball carrying. IMO, it will be Hibbard vs Hartley for the test jersey, with other filling the midweek spot.

      I think this works for loose head as well. I.e. Vunipola is an impact player – therefore Jenkins and Healy will fight it out to start, and the other playing midweek.

      1. Yes, Youngs is definitely more impact player, although he performed pretty well starting throughout the Six Nations. Maybe I just haven’t seen enough of Hibbard to be convinced yet, will see what he does in the warm ups.

        I think it’s clear that Gatland’s plan is attrition warfare, pick and drive, kick to the corners, Robert’s/Tuilagi/North/Cuthbert up the middle, for the first 50/60 mins and then try and bring on a host of impact players to blast through tired Australians. Part of me almost thinks we could see Farrell at 12 and a horrendous kicking game taking place, with Parling/O’Connell trying to turn Australian line-outs in their 22, although I pray not.

        1. I’m not sure. I’ve read a lot on Aussie blogs about Robbie Deans picking a squad full of strong defenders to try and counter all the big boys in the Lions backline… which makes me wonder if perhaps it’s a bit of a bluff?

          Wouldn’t be the first time Gatland had played mind games, would it? And in Youngs and Sexton you have a half-back pairing that love to run with it. Tuilagi, whilst known for running over people, is actually very quick and can be pretty destructive in the wide spaces. Then with Maitland/Hogg/Halfpenny/North out wide there are players who can really fly. I just wonder whether they’ll be a bit more expansive than we expect.

          But then maybe it’s just wishful thinking!

          1. I am really hoping that Jamie is right and not Charlie!

            There are enough players in the Lions squad to play an expansive game. Bowe is an excellent runner as well to go with the list Jamie mentioned. Put that with the likes of Croft as well, then suddenly we might see attractive rugby!

          2. I have that suspicion also, especially given that they face South Africa several times a year, and South African teams several times a year. The Wallabies will be well coached and more importantly well experienced at dealing with physical warfare. Think Australia will be expecting to see Phillips at 9, Roberts and BOD in midfield, perhaps SOB in the backrow. But if we have Youngs and Sexton at half back the whole approach changes.

            Tuilagi for me must start at 13, he is the best runner the Lions midfield have and although he every now and then makes a positioning error in defence, he offers FAR more in attack than BOD and Roberts (I invite anyone to try and disprove me). I would love the first test backline to be: Youngs, Sexton, North, O’Driscoll/Roberts, Tuilagi, Maitland/Bowe, Halfpenny

        2. Not wanting to wizz on anyone’s bonfire, but I think it may all be a bit of wishful thinking.

          I definitely cannot see Farrell at 12 for the lions. Firstly, they have only taken 2 10s, so to start playing on at 12 completely defeats the point of taking 2. Secondly, looking at gatland’s history, he likes to have big 12’s. Roberts for Wales, he has Henderson for Ireland, and erinle while at wasps. This is also why I don’t think we will see BOD shift into 12 either, as the other 3 centres are more in the “big 12” mould.

          Even the silky players are pretty big lads, so chances are we will see ugly rugby. I don’t care if we do, as long as we win.

  5. Tait, Allen, Myler and Day – forgotten men? Perhaps they all have a little something extra to prove!

    1. With the exception of Tait there, I would be surprised if we saw any of them be anything more than good club players. With Tait, I’m not sure where he fits into the England squad. At 15? Behind Foden and Brown (and sadly even Goode)? Or at 13 where there is a certain Mr.Tuilagi?

Comments are closed.