Best of the Weekend: Exeter and Saracens top of the league

Danny Cipriani

Exeter and Saracens already setting the pace

The Chiefs and Sarries recorded bonus point victories once again, and already sit in first and second place in the league with 10 points each. They are the only two unbeaten teams after just two matches, and it already seems as though they’ll be each other’s main rivals for the title.

Winning away at Wasps is no mean feat, and probably the mark of a top two team, and with the Chiefs now facing Sale, Newcastle and Worcester in the next three matches, they will continue to set the pace.

Saracens were given a bit of a scare by newcomers Bristol, trailing at half-time before accelerating in the second half after George Smith was sent off for the visitors. Despite what turned into a relatively heavy defeat, the Bears look well-organised and likely to stay up if they continue in this vein.

Their encouraging start to the season makes Sale and Worcester more vulnerable to relegation, and it was the Sharks who got the better of their match in Salford, but they did yield a losing bonus point to keep the Warriors off the bottom of the table.

That honour falls to Newcastle, who were beaten by a resurgent Tigers team, now led by Leicester legend Geordan Murphy. After last week’s surprising news that Matt O’Connor had been fired already, this was a performance to suggest that the board had made the right decision.

The Falcons have had two tough opening fixtures, but will take on Worcester in Round 3, and will be expected to win at Sixways.

Thrilling West Country derby ends in a draw

I didn’t watch them all, but by all accounts, the West Country derby was the best match of the weekend. Gloucester stormed to an early lead, but then had to rely on a late try by Matt Banahan to earn a draw against his former club.

Danny Cipriani collected most of the plaudits thanks to this no-look pass, and he’s now making headlines for the right reasons in Gloucester colours:

Premiership Results:
Northampton 25-16 Harlequins
Wasps 31-42 Exeter
Leicester 49-33 Newcastle
Saracens 44-23 Bristol
Bath 31-31 Gloucester
Sale 21-15 Worcester

Food for thought for Eddie Jones

The England coach has some tough decisions to make over the next few weeks, with several players already pushing for selection in his Autumn Internationals squad, and with the Rugby World Cup only a year away, time is running out.

Notwithstanding his off-field misdemeanours, Cipriani looks like the front-runner for the fly-half jersey (sorry, don’t mention Jersey). Technically he is the incumbent having played the 3rd Test in South Africa, but he genuinely looks like he could deliver a cutting edge to England’s attack.

Henry Slade played a vital role in Exeter’s win at Wasps, and Jones’ head will likely be turned yet again, but he’s had sufficient opportunity in an England shirt and I don’t think he fits in.

Billy Vunipola marked his latest return from injury with a try against Bristol, and with England’s pack lacking ball-carriers without him, he’ll be picked at 50% fitness.

Manu Tuilagi also featured again for Leicester, scoring one of their five tries, and the debate will continue about whether he can stay fit enough to make a proper impact on the international stage – again, that sort of power would be quite welcome in England’s backline.

Who else caught your eye this weekend?

New Zealand dominance

Argentina delivered an outstanding performance away in New Zealand, showing significant skill and determination…but still lost by 22 points.

Whether the All Blacks total domination of Rugby is good for the sport has become a talking point amongst friends, and people seem to be divided. Yes, it’s a privilege to watch the best of the best, but is it a competition if you know who is going to win? The only solution is that the rest of the world raises its game to that level, but will that ever happen?

Australia and South Africa appear to be some way behind, on the evidence of their mistake-ridden game in Brisbane. The Wallabies emerged victorious, but you’d expect the Boks to win the reverse fixture in South Africa.

Leinster and Munster both beaten in Pro14

Leinster were beaten by the Scarlets, whilst Munster lost in Glasgow, and it strikes me that they don’t often both lose on the same weekend. Someone might be able to tell me when it last happened?

The South African sides were both beaten again and sit at the bottom of the table, but the Cheetahs have had two difficult matches to kick off the season, and this league feels more competitive than ever.

Glasgow 25 – 10 Munster
Ulster 30 – 29 Edinburgh
Dragons 27 – 22 Kings
Connacht 32 – 13 Zebre
Ospreys 46 – 14 Cheetahs
Scarlets 23 – 21 Leinster
Treviso 27 – 25 Cardiff

Discussion points

– Can anyone challenge Saracens and Exeter?
– Will Bristol stay up?
– Which players are pushing for international selection?
– Is New Zealand’s dominance good for the game?
– What else have I missed?

31 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Exeter and Saracens top of the league

  1. Regarding Cips, he looks to be in the form of his life . My reservation is not should he play for England, it’s will he be allowed to play for England with the same “play it as you see it” freedom he’s got at Gloucester? If the answer is no then it’s virtually pointless selecting him. If yes, then for me, he’s our first choice ten and it’s up to the rest of the team to accommodate him.

  2. I don’t think anyone can realistically stop Exeter or Sarries from a top 2. No. I think they will get beaten when squads start to get stretched and they are concurrently playing in four competitions or have players away…
    โ€“ I think Bristol will stay up…I have seen much more from them than I have from Worcester so far. Plus they have got one of the VERY tough fixtures out the way, and Piatau will be back when internationals at other clubs are away. That will be a crucial block of the season for them…
    โ€“ I feel very positive at the incumbent England players are coming out the traps. I think Slade is showing something, Daly class, Ford stepped up, Hughes looking good, Cipriani second only to Barrett, the incumbent front 5 look OK, and looking forward to Kyle S coming back soon….
    โ€“ NZ are a marketing asset for the global game so yes…From that point of view they are good for the game. I think the responsibility is on all others to catch up

    1. My concern about Ford is that he looks the part when playing behind a dominant pack but goes AWOL when behind a retreating pack.

      1. Agree. Ford’s no good under pressure. That being in mind, I still recall Ford’s lack of basic understanding of decision making during the final for the Premiership between Bath & Saracens. Ford only kicked the ball back to Saracens x3 in the last 1/4 when Bath were down by a couple of scores & his team NEEDED TRIES! He also made too many other fundamental errors under pressure, like missing touch catches & goals. Harsh to judge a player on 1 game, but on that occasion, I suspected that his display uncovered a character flaw. Once a wrong’un?

        1. I would argue that there are few fly-halfs that really flourish when their forward pack isn’t dominating. Glaws forwards have provided Cips with momentum and he has exploited the defence subsequently.
          Ford possibly did look at sea that game…though that final was also over 3 years ago now. Ford does have good game management and I think he offers something different to Farrell and Cipriani. Definitely a place for him in the squad.

          1. So long as he doesn’t have a fwd pack with 5 reverse gears! Although you’re also right in what you state about fly 1/2’s flourishing behind a dominant pack.. & vice versa. I just see Ford as being unreliable in his decision making & his play when under pressure. Mike Brown , e.g., altho obviously not a fly 1/2, tends to stay composed whether under he’s under the pump or not.

          2. Jake – definitely still think Ford should be in the squad as no one else apart from Cips is really sticking their hand up. Always difficult for a FH to play behind a retreating scrum, but he really does just seem to disappear from the game when that happens, more so than most.

    2. Don’t see how Cipriani is 2nd to Farrell, who is basically a goal kicker & a tackler & who is too readily elevated above his worth up here. Besides which, Farrel plays in a different role for England.

      Agree that it’s up to the rest of the world to close on NZ. What’s stopping England with all it’s resources? Can only mainly be mind set, although the club v country thing doesn’t help, but it didn’t stop SCW, for a while anyway, did it?

      1. I didn’t :). Seriously though I rate and respect Sexton (I’m sure he will be chuffed to nuts) massively, but he is good in systems and at willing games into life…he certainly doesn’t have the class or mercurial skills of the other two. If I could amalgamate the three of them I would say 50% Barrett, 40% Cipriani, 10% Sexton

  3. It is interesting that a number of Glos players seem to be having a return to form under Ackermann. You would imagine that Ben Morgan, Billy Twelvetrees, and Henry Trinder are all in EJ’s mind along with DC.

    1. Unsure about Billy 12 & Trinder, but the ‘forgotten’ Morgan is surely worth a go, especially as he can do stuff that Billy can’t (line out, athleticism, speed, off loading), so offers a different, less predictable option. Of course as Cip can also do stuff that the stuttering Ford, or the stolid Farrell can’t, he’d be a banker for me. Who knows with the Ozzie ‘Trump’ in charge though?

  4. Is NZ’s ‘dominance’ good for the game’? Well, I don’t know if it is for the rest of the world, but it’s good for NZ. Anyway, what’s the ‘answer’ to this ‘situation’? Make NZ split into 2 teams? Make them carry weights around like racehorses during games (the AB’s i.e., not racehorses!)? Make them stop ‘knicking PI’s, according to AlexD & Stephen Jones, @ least. I’m glad they don’t (well maybe Ireland are beginning to be the exception with their backs/fwds pod mixes alignment to receive re/start ball), but why don’t the rest of the world analyse what NZ do, then do it better. Not quite so straight fwd of course, as e.g., market forces dictate player drain.. which also effects NZ BTW. However, their are well resourced countries (e.g. lEngland & France, who can afford to & do perpetrate much of the aforementioned player drain more than other nations & are also able to hire the best coaches, analysts etc to instigate a more consistent & successful type of game. NZ don’t have bigger, fitter (although Lynagh & Fittzpatrick opined otherwise recently.. based on what evidence though, I don’t know), faster or more players than other countries. What they do have is more effective, innovative, analytical coaches whom see the game as a simple one. When they have ball, they explore how to SCORE! When they don’t have possession, they seek to stop their scoring.. & that’s it! Their tempo, accuracy & efficiency, including making right decisions under pressure in attack & defence make them different. The derided S Rugby & uniformity of playing styles nationally via Union player & game control help too, of course. So, there’s nothing to stop other countries from adapting their mind sets to the state of NZ’s so called dominance (they haven’t won the next WC yet!), because that is what is necessary to challenge the AB’s current position in the world game.

          1. Cheers. This thumbs up bizzo seems to be zooming out of control in popularity since it’s recent intro! Where will it all end?!

    1. I am all for making them wear weights. Barrett may be all that right now but will he be any good when he weighs 18 stone? I for one doubt it.

  5. I have been wondering what sorts of centre EJ prefers in his teams? You have the first receiver type like Farrell and Slade, the gainline breakers like Teo and Tuilagi. Does he value the more mercurial so much like JJ, Daly (possibly) and say Trinder. There’s an article all on its own for TRB! Anyone else got any views?

  6. Jones doesn’t seem to know what his best type of player or midfield combination is. More worryingly for England though, is the issue he has & created for himself by a lack of a style of play in the centres. Also, for me, is his lack of basic coaching ability & apparent lack of understanding of fundamental necessaries required by his 12 & 13. Then there’s the lack of innovation, invention or creation of space. His midfield lacks evasive running lines, dummies, back 3 line entry, wrap arounds or passing directly behind to the full back who continues forward in the original passer’s track. IMO, I’d stick with Farrell now as it’s a bit late to start experimenting (& I believe Jones is basically conservative by nature anyway) & he does accumulate points as the kicker. I’d then have Daly outside him. Daly would therefore be in his club posi & is surely the only guy available with sufficient innate rugby intelligence & skills to fulfil the aforementioned centres’ requirements. Also, surely Daly is an essential for England. Additionally, if necessary, he can play in most positions in a back line, the inside 1/2’s apart (although I dare say he’d make a decent fist @ fly1/2 too @ a push), especially any of the back 3 posi’s.

    1. What is Daly’s club position? As discussed, he was playing FB last week!
      Also, although I’m definitely on the list of ex Jones fans, we have had some wonderful running lines in midfield over his tenure, so what you have said is not really true. What you are talking about should really be down to an attach coach to sort out and I know that EJ has been that for most of his tenure, and he has had some success in dealing with this, although not really in the last twelve months.
      Does anyone know if we have an attack coach now, or have one lined up?

      1. Well, as previously stated, Daly CAN play in multi positions, but he’s mostly been @ outside centre for Wasps hasn’t he? This season’s too young to tell if he stays @ full back. He might/not. He may well be an option for England in this posi, but then who fills in @ 13? JJ? Good runner apparently, but can he finish off moves which result in POINTS?! Teo? Bash through.. maybe, but where’s the guile? Slade? A N other perhaps? Tui? Another bosh merchant & he’s been making a ‘comeback’ for 2 yrs. So.. surely it’s down to Daly? You have to compare England with NZ in this respect & frankly it’s chalk & cheese. Compare try counts. Especially with an upcoming WC, do/will England’s midfield stack up? Maybe yr & my versions of ‘some wonderful running lines’ differ, but I didn’t see many on the last SA tour.
        Wasn’t there a bloke called ‘Mitchell’, who’s being(?) signed up.. as an ‘attack’ coach?

  7. Oops, sorry. ‘in this respect’ refs to โ€˜some wonderful running linesโ€™, cut & pasted out of context.


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