Bath and Exeter hold on for nervy wins
The second week of the Aviva Premiership offered up some intriguing match-ups, and even more intriguing results, but it’s hard to argue that the best viewing could not be found in the West Country, as Bath hosted Leicester Tigers, whilst London Wasps travelled to Exeter to take on the Chiefs. Both home sides took commanding leads in their respective games, as tries for Jonathan Joseph and Matt Banahan helped Bath into a 21-3 lead at halftime, and a 16-12 lead for Exeter at the interval was quickly extended after the resumption, with tries for James Scaysbrook and Tom James setting up an 18-point lead for the Chiefs. The visitors both launched admirable comebacks, but were unable to get over the final hurdle, and had to suffice with losing bonus points, with Leicester succumbing to a 27-20 loss, and Wasps falling to a 30-26 defeat.
Elsewhere in the Premiership, London Irish and Newcastle Falcons both picked up important away wins over prospective relegation rivals in the forms of Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks respectively. A potentially gargantuan conflict between Harlequins and Northampton Saints fizzled out due to adverse weather conditions, although the Saints went a long way towards proving their title credentials as they toughed it out and triumphed 13-6 at The Stoop. Saracens closed the curtain on Sunday, cantering to a 44-12 victory over Gloucester, who were hamstrung by Nick Wood’s early red card for stamping. Despite only playing against 14 men for the majority of the match, Saracens’ pair Joel Tomkins and Billy Vunipola were both in impressive form, and could pose an interesting dilemma for Stuart Lancaster this autumn.
Scots and Welsh celebrate, as Irish left frustrated
Scottish sides were left celebrating in the PRO12 on Friday night, as late scores sealed dramatic wins for Glasgow away at Ulster, and Edinburgh at home to Newport. A late try from James Eddie drew ecstasy from the travelling Glasgow fans, as they had endured Ulster dominating the majority of the game, whilst a try from Tim Visser put Edinburgh into a position where Harry Leonard’s last minute penalty was enough to secure victory. Irish misery came close to being compounded as Munster trailed Zebre by nine points at halftime in the Stadio XXV Aprile, but a resurgent second half performance was too much for Zebre to deal with, and the men in red left Italy with a winning bonus point and a 43-21 victory.
The best viewing was found in Dublin however, as champions Leinster played out a thrilling 29-29 draw with the Ospreys. The game will be remembered in a bittersweet fashion by Osprey fans however, as they took a seven point lead in the second half, and then saw Leinster hooker Sean Cronin sent to the sin bin, but the home side showed great determination to outscore the Ospreys by 10 points during Cronin’s time in the bin, and a late Dan Biggar penalty was then required by the visitors to rescue a draw from a game which they should arguably have won. The Scarlets wrapped up the weekend’s PRO12 action, beating Treviso 26-10, with scrum-half Gareth Davies impressing, scoring two first half tries.
Potentially historic weekend fails to live up to expectations
The clash between New Zealand and South Africa at Eden Park was set to potentially be one of the most exciting test matches in recent history, but a poor decision from referee Romain Poite ultimately negated the game as a contest, and New Zealand eventually cruised to a relatively comfortable 29-15 victory. Poite sent off hooker Bismarck du Plessis in the 42nd minute, after awarding him two yellow cards (check ‘Villain of the Week’), and from that point on, the Springboks’ slim chances of upsetting the All Blacks were all but gone. The game, unfortunately, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but does keep both sides on track for a ‘winner-takes-all’ match in South Africa at the end of The Rugby Championship.
Like the New Zealand-South Africa fixture, the meeting of Argentina and Australia in Perth was billed to be a great match. If Argentina could show the same kind of form they displayed in their last two matches (narrow losses to South Africa and New Zealand), there was a sense they could upset the Wallabies in their own backyard. Unfortunately, the Pumas side looked flat in comparison to their recent performances, and although a late surge brought them to within a point of Australia, they couldn’t find an extra gear when needed. The 14-13 victory for Australia moves them above Argentina in the championship table, but thanks to Argentina’s two losing bonus points so far in the competition, they can still potentially leapfrog the Wallabies, if they beat them at home in the last week of the tournament.
It’s never easy to pick up points at Ravenhill, but that is exactly what Glasgow did this weekend, thanks to try-scorer James Eddie. It wasn’t spectacular, although Ruaridh Jackson’s offload was certainly noteworthy, but it won the game for Glasgow, and on a weekend bereft of dazzling tries, it is a worthy Try of the Week.
Hero of the Week goes to Beauden Barrett, whose performance for New Zealand after replacing the injured Dan Carter has gone under-the-radar following the All Blacks’ victory. Barrett may have only had to play against 14 men for the majority of his time on the pitch, but he controlled the game brilliantly, and was a key component in pushing New Zealand’s lead out of the reach of the Springboks, keeping them on course for The Rugby Championship title. Honourable mention must also go to Dan Biggar for his clutch, game-tying kick in Dublin.
The Villain of the Week is Romain Poite, for his poor refereeing performance at Eden Park. The Frenchman sent off Bismarck du Plessis early in the second half, for two yellow card offences. Although the second yellow card was a borderline decision, Poite had gone to the TMO for assistance, so cannot be criticised for that decision, but his yellow carding of du Plessis in the first half for a superb tackle on Dan Carter, was a shocking decision. The reckless stamp from Nick Wood during the Saracens-Gloucester game ran Poite a very close second, but I opted for Poite, as his decision ruined a potentially historic test match.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images