Best Of The Weekend: Falcons Stun Chiefs, Sharks Leave It Late

Dean Richards

De Klerk and a penalty try determine late wins

Harlequins: masters of inconsistency. Just as it looked like they would back up their impressive win over Saints last week with an equally high quality one away at Sale, they threw the game away. The two sides had been blow for blow throughout, with Sale starting better, but Quins seizing control with tries from Alofa Alofa, Charlie Walker and Ross Chisholm. Unfortunately for them, a moment of Joe Marler’s lack of self-control cost them a red card, which ultimately cost them the game Rohan Janse van Rensburg got a converted try and Faf de Klerk slotted a last-minute penalty for a 30-29 win.

They weren’t the only ones that threw away a game that they should have won this weekend. Gloucester allowed the chasing pack back into the battle for fourth as they conceded a galling late penalty try to lose 22-19 at Northampton. The Saints, with new boss Alan Gaffney in charge, didn’t trouble Gloucester too often, but stole momentum late on to arrest their slide.

A storming first half from Newcastle shocked Exeter Chiefs. Sinoti Sinoti, Vereniki Goneva and Kyle Cooper scored the tries that built a 25-3 lead in that forty, before the visitors fought back to make it 28-20 at the finish. The only disappointment for the playoff-pushing Falcons will be their failure to secure a bonus point in their battle to topple Gloucester.

Saracens were able to capitalise on that slip from the league leaders as they put in an authoritative performance against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena. Welcoming back the incomparable Billy Vunipola, the visitors built an early 18-3 lead and looked like they may run away with it. That was until two quickfire yellow cards for Owen Farrell and Schalk Burger and two tries – one a penalty and one through Willie Le Roux – threatened to derail them before the break. They regained their resolve though to score two more tries to add to their three in the first half and take a 38-15 win.

Bath and Tigers claimed contrasting wins to halt their respective runs of defeat. Whilst the West Country outfit were deadly in their 46-25 demolition of Worcester, Leicester were very laborious in their slender 19-15 win at home over London Irish.

What happened elsewhere?

It was a disappointing return to action for the South African sides after their Pro14 break. Cheetahs lost 27-21 at Treviso and Edinburgh hammered Kings 37-27 to keep on the pressure at the top. Ospreys hosted Blues in a cracker, which the home side won 29-28. Scarlets smashed Dragons 47-13 and there were also big wins for Leinster over Ulster, Munster against Connacht and Glasgow to topple Zebre.

Montpellier reclaimed top spot in the French league after beating Stade Francais 28-16 and La Rochelle could only manage a draw against lowly Oyonnax. Agen got a convincing 30-3 win over Castres, whilst Brive edged Toulon and Bordeaux beat Lyon. In Sunday’s games Pau beat Toulouse and

Villain of the week

His side looked all set for an impressive away win at Sale, but Joe Marler’s red card cost them dearly and leaves them languishing in the bottom half rather than competing for that fourth position.

Hero of the week

Billy Vunipola was a man mountain after months out, but for me it has to go to the collective effort of Newcastle Falcons this week. If anybody was in any doubt about the corner they have turned this season, the solid win over Exeter will have silenced those people.

Try of the week

Purely for the tasty offload by Jack Wilson, it goes to Kahn Fotuali’i this week in the last try in Bath’s victory at Worcester.

Discussion points

– Can Gaffney turn Northampton around?
– Will Newcastle push on to make fourth?
– What are your thoughts on Joe Marler and his red card?
– What impact will Vunipola’s return have on England?

by Joe Large

21 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Falcons Stun Chiefs, Sharks Leave It Late

  1. I don’t think BV’s impact for England can be understated. A big carrier at 8 seems to be integral to EJ’s game plan. Whilst Hughes has performed reasonably well, i don’t think he’s in the same class as BV
    Let’s put it like this – I think the other 5 Nations will not be at all happy to see Vunipola’s name at 8

  2. Great to see BV back and didn’t really look rusty. As for Joe Marler, just stupid really. I totally get that playing on the edge can be both a players strength and downfall at the same time, but given he has not long come back from a ban what was he thinking? With the way the game is at the moment players just cannot take these risks (let alone consider safety of others). How can we ever expect Sinkler to learn when his mentor acts like this? Will Marler ever learn??

  3. Billy V was awesome for Sarries but, having him, Maro and Rhodes all back made the difference. The combined ball carrying effort of Billy and Rhodes was immense.

    1. Yes great to see such a strong showing from Billy and to see him last 70 minutes was very encouraging.
      It was also encouraging to see Maro playing well (couple of mistakes but generally strong showing)
      Shows the impact those players have on the way Sarries play. Will be interesting to see how they cope during the 6N when they inevitably will be missing again.

    2. Pretty horrid second half performance from Wasps (in fact other than the final 10 minutes of the first half we were pretty dire), but that takes nothing away from Sarries. Those three you mention really made the difference as the Sarries pack completely outclassed their Wasps counterparts.

      On a side note, as a Wasps fan at the Ricoh yesterday, it was horrible hearing parts of the crowd booing Farrell as he kicked and then keeping quiet for Cips. Doesn’t ever sit right when I hear that.

      1. Following your comment on the crowd: what can Wasps do to better fill the stadium? Wasps v Saracens is one of the top fixtures that will be played at the Ricoh this season, and it was a bit disappointing to see (on the TV) the stands far from full. I imagine it will improve over time as the locals become more accustomed to having a premiership team in the area, and being close to Christmas its probably a time for many to be more frugal, but still a disappointing sight nonetheless.

        1. I honestly don’t think it’ll change much. The stadium has a capacity of 32,609 – and the average Premiership attendance is only about 13k I believe. Wasps (despite it looks empty), average over 19k from a quick google so they’re actually doing rather well at attracting fans considering Adams Park averaged less than 5k before the move…

          I would say though, the size of the stadium and (weirdly) the bright blue seats, make for awful viewing on TV.

        2. Hi Jake I take a bit of an issue with your comment about locals becoming accustomed.

          The ‘locals’ already have an established rugby team in Coventry RFC and although we are currently in National League 1 and average an attendance of 1,700 there are some who prefer to stay loyal to their team, also there are those who follow the football side and blame Wasps for their position in part, which is twaddle as their owners are bent and are to blame for the clubs position.

          I wanted to say that just because Wasps have moved in doesn’t mean we haven’t seen a Rugby ball before.

          1. Mr B,
            Apologies for any offence caused. Certainly didn’t mean to imply that people from Coventry didn’t understand/watch/like rugby. Just that a more local fan base for Wasps could grow the longer they are there.

            1. Hi Jake

              No worries you may, therein, have a point as if Wasps claim decent silverware the glory hogs will crawl out of the woodwork that’s for sure.

      2. It was interesting lots of people kept saying we were missing Billy and, yes we were, but I actually think we missed Rhodes just as much. He is as adept in the second row or at 6 and his athleticism is second to none. Thankfully we will not be losing him for the 6 Nations (this year anyway!!).

  4. Marler just seems to be getting worse and worse. I think it’s reached the point where he needs to be dropped from the England squad until a time he can be trusted. He’s become too much of a liability.

    I think Saints will finish 11th this season. If they hadn’t have gotten those few wins early on in the season I’d have them 50/50 with London Irish for relegation. They just need to write this season off and start prep for next season.

    Billy V is awesome. Good to see him back.

    I really would like to see Newcastle take that 4th spot but I think they need just a little bit extra something to carry them on. I think they’re missing a little bit extra firepower to make them play off contenders.

  5. While the Saints win against Gloucester was a much improved performance from the previous weeks horror show we were lucky to get the win.
    Very dubious about the Refs call for a penalty try. He called that the breakaway maul was collapsed but to me it looked like it was already going to ground (short) before the Glous player put his shoulder in.

    1. Have to have a look at it again, but he was at least consistent in awarding the penalty try quickly both times.
      Thought Harrison had an excellent game for you. Was everywhere and really wanted it all game.

  6. Vunipola will have a huge impact on England. I don’t think there’s anyone better at making yards in traffic in the world. Hughes I thought fared better when carrying in the wider channels.

    However, what impressed me more about Saracens was how many carriers they had across the pack, not just Billy. This may be something for England to consider.

    Guys like Hartley, Cole, Robshaw, Haskell don’t really carry that effectively at the highest level. Obviously they all have attributes they bring to the team, but starting all of them (not inconceivable) limits the amount of go-forward they’ll be able to generate.

    The Vunipola’s are great, but they can’t be solely tasked with carrying, or top defences will nullify them.

    1. Totally agree with you Jonny. I would like to see Simmonds retained, maybe at 7, to provide extra ball carrying. Robshaw needs to play as he is a glue player, but Underhill at 7 does not carry enough.

      But having Billy and Maro back will make a difference. Mako, Billy, Lawes, Maro are all good carriers. It will be interesting to see who makes the final cut.

      1. Agree with this, although I would still have Underhill over Simmonds with Simmonds providing bench cover across the whole back row.

        A pack containing Mako, Maro, Lawes and Billy should really provide enough carrying I expect? With Sinkler, Genge and George all coming off the bench in the last 20 minutes in create even more late in the same (along with Simmonds), we should be in a good place.

  7. Villains of the week definitely BT who announced after the Northampton game that Quins had won by two points. Nearly choked on my toast when I opened the paper on Sunday to find they had lost! Thought Northampton were very lucky to get the penalty try, and wouldn´t have been given it away from home. Hartley completely anonymous once again, and Haywood showed up his lack of contribution. Launch was a huge loss for Wasps, whose pack looked short of a gallop without him. Not sure how long Brown is out for, but surely Alex Goode can´t play any better than he is at the moment and deserves another chance. Marler needs to be put on a final warning by Quins for persistent idiocy which has cost them at least two games this season. An international prop should not be stupid enough to be making cheap shots right in front of the ref. He should get at least ten weeks and a serious warning about future conduct. If Genge is likely to be out for a while, Ben Obano won´t let anyone down I don´t think.

    1. Obano looked fantastic on Friday evening, before going off early (hopefully not injured). Particularly impressive was his link play, more like something you see from Mako, but very encouraging to see. Could be something he’s been told to work on from the England Camp

      1. Obano certainly seems to have talent but arrived late to professional rugby so I am worried there might still be a degree of naivety about his play that could be exploited by a more canny operator.
        What I found out the other day which surprised me is that he is actually Itoje’s cousin

  8. Watched the Saints pen try several times now and i cannot find any reason why it was awarded. Saints got lucky with that call, but sometimes thats what you need to turn your season around. Glos should really be kicking themselves for failing to see out the game when they had the lead.
    Marler is a prize idiot who will get a ban. Whether its 3/4 weeks or something longer remains to be seen. He will be lucky to be available for England on 4 February. Which will let in Obano, as he’s emerged as the next in line. He’s improved an awful lot this season, but this will be a significant step up.

Leave a Reply