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:
Ooooh @DannyCipriani87 ?
WHAT. A. PASS. ?
The man is playing with wing mirrors on ? pic.twitter.com/5njY1qBhyV
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 8, 2018
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
– 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?