Best Of The Weekend: Bath And Edinburgh Continue Surprise Starts

Bath Rugby

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.

Discussion Points

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

14 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Bath And Edinburgh Continue Surprise Starts

  1. A tad harsh on the Tigers pack in my opinion. They had the Saints scrum all day. Particularly Genge who was also great in the loose. Lie-out was woeful and their ball carrying was not as effective as Saints but I think they have the personnel to turn it around.

    1. They did seem to have taken a step backward though from last week. I had Leicester down to win this as they seemed to have less to rectify from the first week, lack of accuracy at times but created opportunities and possibly could have won with better taken chances. Instead Genge aside, they lacked the intensity in the loose that Saints brought to the Park. Saints definitely much improved and a step forwards on the previous showing.

  2. Also on the Bath start, they are doing the basics excellently and playing off a good platform.

    The good thing for them is they will not lose too many players to international duty either.

  3. If they can get some more players fit, potentially yes.

    Consistency and taking lessons on bringing intensity that others are doing.

    Might not be until next season which won’t be great for the league and new product, be interesting to see how they fare against Zebre and Treviso to get a real benchmark of where they are.

    Glasgow would appear to have the tougher fixtures so far but excellent start from Edinburgh must give them confidence.

    None of them seem particularly likely at the moment, be interesting to see how SA fare in their first fixture with the ABs, although their chances are probably better in the final round.

    The game is becoming more popular over there and if we have NFL over here, then makes sense to reciprocate with our “product” if the game has global growth ambitions.

  4. Rugby Championship – All Blacks survive scare?
    Really? The All Blacks usually do come back from a deficit don’t they? And are there any stats to back up this 1st 1/2 ‘scare’? ‘The Pumas let New Zealand off the hook’? NZ created & took their chances. Argentina DIDN’T. They opted for 3 instead of going for 7 after 1/2 time. Wrong mind set.

    1. I imagine the best stat to ‘back up this 1st 1/2 ‘scare’’ would be the scoreline at half time…

      That being said, I agree there was never a point where I thought NZ would lose.

  5. The Pumas had most of the possession – 60% in 1st half – according to the match statistician! Yes they did give the ABs a scare (certainly by former AB standards of Carter et all who would have been clear by 30 pts at the end and not 17!)
    Barrett continued with another woeful day with the boot (certainly 4 missed and two more by Sopoaga)
    IMO the ABs continur to look vulnerable as never before. One good find for them was Fetitoa (spelling? And yes another PI for you from Tonga)

    1. Not sure about like never before, but certainly this AB side is not as good as the one that won the 2015 WC. How could it be with their whole midfield and McCaw retiring?

      Having said that, they still very rarely lose and come the 2019 WC the players coming through may well make them by far and away the best side there.

      I would say though, that Barrett is no Carter – which makes a huge difference. His running game is potentially better than the AB great but his game management and kicking from tee are both pretty poor for an international 10.

  6. Jacob

    Added to that their flankers were outplayed in the first half. All possession and recycling was done by the Pumas – A case of no McCaw maybe?
    Cracks remain in the AB facade of invincibility. Not the case in the second half clearly but the very EXISTENCE of the first half (not visible in 2015 or before except against England in 2012) beggars many a question be raised!
    “Rarely beaten” you say yet within the last year they’ve encountered two major hiccups when facing teams from the NH that refused to play the SH way (we can all argue til the crack of doom about what that is and looks like another time and the merits or not of). Yet facts remain facts and the wheels of change seem to be turning!
    I don’t subscribe to the sycophantic “we must bow to the ABs” all the time drivel that permeates on here at times.

  7. Fifita comes from the island of Vava’u (an island affiliated to Tonga apparently though they’re bloody miles apart) and Vava’u is about 3,000 kms away from New Zealand.
    This classifies him as Tongan (not Vavauan apparently) with the latter the largest archipelago and thereby a Kiwi eligible for AB honours. I must have my cynical hat on but it all sounds bloody tenuous to me!

    1. I don’t think we English are in much of a position to cast the first stone though, AlexD. None of the major teams give a monkey’s about where people were born, and professionals are going to play where they are best paid.

  8. Andy
    Take your general point on the chin but was more referring to international level which IMO has to be something apart and inviolate (or should be) though the cat has been let out of the bag somewhat and belatedly they’re trying to stuff it all back in again!

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