Premiership – Bath’s resurgence stuns Sarries
Todd Blackadder’s slow revival of Bath seems to be picking up pace. After seeing off the team who pipped them to the playoffs last season (Tigers) in their first game, they have now dispatched the European champions (Saracens) to continue their whirlwind start. A lacklustre first half from the Londoners allowed Bath to cruise to a 14-0 lead, courtesy of a Francois Luow try and nine points from Rhys Priestland’s boot. Sarries came back strongly though, looking to have battered their hosts out of the game as they came back to lead 21-17 with five minutes to go. However, Semesa Rokodoguni pilfered the result with two exceptional tries in the remaining minutes, as Bath won 31-21.
The East Midlands derby – usually a benchmark for intense physicality – turned into a damp squib, with Northampton showing up their rivals where the opposite was expected. The Tigers were outmuscled yet again, meaning the backs had little chance to shine and Saints had an easy job of turning their disaster of last week around. From the off, the monumental Courtney Lawes was responsible for smashing the Tigers into submission, which they did all to easily, allowing Luther Burrell, Dylan Hartley and Tom Collins to run in the tries. Jonny May went over for a late consolation to make the final score 24-11, but Saint have the bragging rights for now.
Exeter made light work of London Irish, winning for the first time as champions 37-7. Harlequins also got their first win, 28-17 over Gloucester, who would have been looking to build momentum after their brilliant round-one performance. Wasps kept at 100%, but required two converted tries in the dying embers of the game to overcome a stubborn Worcester 24-10 in the West Midlands derby. Newcastle warmed up for their Philadelphia showdown with Saracens, with a late penalty try guiding them to a 13-12 victory in a dull encounter with Sale.
Pro14 – Scarlets continue where they left off
The Pro14 is already starting to take shape, with some surprises thrown in. Nothing has been more surprising than just how easily the South African teams have been to tame. Munster’s all-action attacking game produced expected results against the Cheetahs. They ran in eight tries in a 51-18 bombardment, including four for Alex Wootton. Fellow Irishmen Connacht had an equally easy time against Kings, putting their disappointing opening round loss to Glasgow to bed with a 32-10 bonus-point victory.
Scarlets continued to fill the ‘for’ and ‘try-scoring bonus-point’ columns of the table, smashing Zebre 41-10 in tricky conditions. The champions came to life in the second half, where their attack from anywhere style paid dividends. They now head up conference B and don’t look like relinquishing that. Leinster are, however, keeping the pressure on them as they needed a late rally to shake off the Blues 37-9.
The northernmost teams also remain unbeaten, with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ulster all recording victories. The men from the Scottish capital broke clear of Dragons as they made it a 35-18 bonus point victory and gave their fans more hope than they have had in many years. Ulster held off a strong Treviso fight back to win 21-14, whilst Glasgow stretched their legs after drawing at the break to beat Ospreys 31-10.
Rugby Championship – All Blacks survive scare
The All Blacks had to come back from a half-time deficit at home to Argentina. The Pumas had the better of the opening forty, but couldn’t take all their opportunities as they let New Zealand off the hook. The hosts cut clear after the break, with Beauden Barrett going over for the sixth – and last – try to win 39-22.
Australia will be left reeling as their inability to close out a game means they are still waiting for a Rugby Championship win in 2017. They dominated most facets of the game, but couldn’t break clear of South Africa as the scores were left tied at 23 apiece.
Top14 – Miniature maverick torments Clermont
Gabriel Lacroix almost (using very loose maths) got a try for every foot he is high. The 5’6″ La Rochelle winger ran in a hat-trick in a 51-20 taming of Clermont. Oyonnax edged out Agen 12-10, whilst struggling Stade went down 30-10 to Bordeaux. Fellow Parisians Racing left Brive languishing at the bottom with a 25-6 victory. Pau stopped Lyon in their tracks, winning 30-14, and Toulon were the winners, 20-16, in Sunday’s other game against Toulouse.
Try of the weekend
Edinburgh’s running lines and handling were devastating at times against the Dragons. This was particularly evident in Blair Kinghorn’s opening try, where he latched on to a delicate inside ball. You can check it out here.
Hero of the weekend
I feel I could give it to a Bath man two weeks in a row in Semesa Rokoduguni. Or, the diminutive La Rochelle hat-trick hero Gabriel Lacroix. However, for his four-try exploits against the Cheetahs, I shall plump for Alex Wootton.
Villain of the weekend
Leicester’s start has been underwhelming at best. Whilst they recruited well for the back-line, they have been severely undone by the lack of grunt in the forwards – something that, to the naked eye, has been obviously missing for some time now. So, Matt O’Connor, for your failure to recognise – or at least resolve – this, you are my award winner this week.
Will Bath maintain this terrific start?
What’s the solution for Leicester?
How long will it take the South Africans to bed in?
Can the Scottish teams push on?
Who are most likely to get a victory against the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship?
Newcastle take a ‘home’ game to the USA next week. Thoughts?
by Joe Large