Wolfhounds prove too much for the youthful Saxons
The Irish Wolfhounds came away from Kingsholm with a highly impressive 14-8 victory against the England Saxons, and a number of players certainly put their hands up for full international selection over the coming weeks. Iain Henderson, Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Robbie Henshaw particularly impressed for the Wolfhounds, but it was their impenetrable defence which ultimately won the day, as they repelled everything the Saxons threw at them, and England’s only try came through an interception from the electric Anthony Watson.
Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy were also given the chance to impress after recently returning from injury, and although neither player had too many opportunities to make their mark on the game, it would be surprising if at least Zebo isn’t involved in the senior Ireland squad when they open their Six Nations campaign against Scotland.
It was a dire first 40 minutes for the Saxons, whose back row seemed to be MIA at the breakdown, whilst Freddie Burns’ painful season continued, with the fly half struggling with both his execution and decision-making throughout. Alex Waller had a solid game at loosehead, keeping the highly-touted Martin Moore quiet all game, and Elliot Daly made a number breaks, especially after being moved to 13 in the second half, and constantly looked like a threat whenever he got his hands on the ball.
The Saxons performed much better in the second half, thanks in large to the performances of Rob Miller, Sam Dickinson and Scott Wilson from the bench, but it proved to be too little too late for the home side. The increased experience of the Wolfhounds clearly showed at Kingsholm, and whilst this loss will be tough to stomach for the young Saxons side, they will have learnt a lot from the game, and should become better players for it.
Rusty Sharks unable to upset in-form Saracens
Saracens played host to the Sharks on Saturday, in a landmark encounter between southern and northern hemisphere club sides. With the Sharks still in their preseason preparations for the upcoming Super Rugby season, they were always facing an uphill challenge against Saracens, even with the Premiership leaders missing their international contingent, and the visitors ultimately succumbed to a 23-15 loss at Allianz Park. There were concerns prior to the game that the Sharks’ preseason fitness levels would tell, and they would fall away in the second half, but conversely, it was their lack of precision early in the game which hurt them, and they turned in a far more impressive second half performance, outscoring Saracens 12-3.
With their international contingent missing, and other players rested for their encounter with Newcastle in the LV Cup, Saracens will surely be thrilled to emerge victorious from a clash with the Sharks, whose squad boasted the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Willem Alberts. Fittingly, Saracens’ South African contingent acquitted themselves particularly well, with Mouritz Botha, Schalk Brits, and Matt Stevens leading the charge for the North Londoners. Most pleasing for the home side may have been the performance of 24-year old Richard Barrington, who had the better of Jannie du Plessis throughout his time on the pitch, and that’s a praiseworthy accomplishment, regardless of where the Springbok is in his preseason preparations.
Wild weather derails the LV Cup
Torrential weather, including gales dismantling scaffolding, caused early abandonment and delays in this weekend’s LV Cup fixtures, but outside of nature, the status quo was fairly well upheld in the third round of the competition. With clamours for an Anglo-Welsh league seemingly growing by the day, added attention was surely on the cross-border clashes, and all four delivered in their own way. Scarlets started the weekend well for the Welsh sides, beating Gloucester 13-7 on Friday night, but Saturday proved to be far less fruitful for the regions, as the Ospreys and Cardiff returned winless from Exeter (36-22) and Bath (24-13) respectively, whilst Northampton triumphed 34-16 in Newport, in a hail-delayed game.
Try of the Week is far from spectacular, but goes to Paul Sackey. Conditions up and down the country made free-flowing, exciting rugby hard to come by, and Sackey’s effort takes the accolade, as he evaded the challenge of the reliable Scott Hamilton, on his way to running in a 40 metre try.
Villains of the Week are the Saxons’ back row, for their absence in the first half against the Wolfhounds. Whether through a poorly thought-out game plan, or lacklustre individual performances, England’s back row had a first 40 to forget at Kingsholm. They were thoroughly outplayed at the breakdown by their Irish counterparts, and this was typified by Luke Wallace often standing out on the sideline, nullifying his impressive ability at the tackle area. Dave Ewers carried the ball reasonably well, but not with enough dynamism to countenance his lack of impact at the breakdown. In fairness, the unit grew into the game in the second half, but did not do enough to redeem a poor first half.
Richard Barrington is my Hero of the Week, for going head-to-head with Jannie du Plessis, and emerging victorious. There are obviously a number of mitigating circumstances, including du Plessis still being in his preseason, and an unfamiliar pitch at Allianz Park, but getting the better of a prop as skilled and powerful as du Plessis will be a real feather in the cap of Barrington. At this time last year, Barrington was playing for Jersey, and his strong performance against the Sharks shows just how far the player has come in that time.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images