With the Rugby World Cup now well and truly over one week on from the final, the focus for the next two weeks is all on domestic action ahead of the start of the Heineken Cup. Here are the best bits from the last weekend, at home and abroad.
Gloucester’s two year unbeaten home run wrecked by Saracens
Given their away form over the last two seasons, if anyone was going to come through and win at Kingsholm, it was going to be the champions. Few matches this season will be as fiery and bad-tempered as this one, on and off the pitch, where anyone with a Twitter account will have witnessed how well Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu handled defeat. This level of intensity though, for a neutral, is about ten times more entertaining than whatever television has to offer on Saturday night.
It took a moment of brilliance from Owen Farrell, who just keeps on getting better, to decide this one. His threaded kick caught a tired Gloucester defence off guard, with Brad Barritt bursting through and getting the ball just ahead of Rory Lawson for the crucial score. That try three minutes from time proved the difference, with Farrell’s conversion putting them ahead. For those who are calling for him to be included in England’s Six Nations squad, he backed them up. The Cherry & Whites will feel frustrated at letting the lead slip so late on, particular after the way they dominated the line out and scrums early on. Watch out for their response next week against Exeter.
Northampton’s wings are on fire as Bath sneak home and Quins remain unbeaten
Another heavy loss away from home sees Newcastle sitting bottom of the table with 22 tries conceded so far in 7 matches. Not pretty reading for the Falcons fans, but a result at Franklin’s Gardens was never really expected. Vasily Artemyev and Chris Ashton both scored doubles for the Saints, Artemyev making it six tries in three games for his new club, whilst Ryan Lamb pulled the strings to brilliant effect, having settled in very well at his new club and keeping Stephen Myler on the bench. The Falcons match next week against Worcester is now huge.
Bath picked up their second away win of the season at the Madejski Stadium thanks to a late penalty from Sam Vesty, with Shontayne Hape giving away a 50/50 offence at the breakdown against his old club. Contrary to several newspaper reports, this was not his debut, but Irish’s attack was not on the same level as we’ve seen so far this season with him involved, as they failed to cross the whitewash for the first time. Bath suffered in the scrum but dominated in the lineout, an area where Irish are normally strong, and through tries from Vesty and Dave Attwood, the latter after some good work by the TMO, deserved to win this one. Irish will hope that Jonathan Joseph, who had to leave the field and has been outstanding so far this season, will not be out for too long.
Elsewhere, Harlequins are now 9/9 following their latest win, this time at home against Exeter Chiefs. It took a big effort to stop a spirited Exeter side from picking up a result, as Sireli Naqelevuki regularly broke the gain line and left Quins scrambling, but Nick Evans trusty boot and a well taken score from Mike Brown saw Quins get the result. The Chiefs have now not won on the road since the surprise Round One defeat of Leicester at Welford Road on the opening weekend of the season.
Leicester back with a bang and Wasps edge out Worcester
From 13-3 down, the Tigers seriously flicked the switch on Friday night, scoring 31 points in half an hour to overturn Sale up at Edgeley Park. Tries from Alesana Tuilagi, Martin Castrogiovanni, Marcos Ayerza and Toby Flood, who converted all four of the scores, saw Leicester stretch away and left Sale wondering just how they’d managed to let this one go after dominating up front in the first half. A turning point in the season for the Tigers perhaps, whilst for Sale, sitting 3rd on 19 points but with Bath, Wasps and Irish all just one point behind them on 18, the pressure is on.
Lastly, Worcester lost their fifth match of the season, this time at home to Wasps at Sixways. A pretty dreadful game, where the most entertaining moment was Nicky Robinson taking too long with his conversion attempt of the only try of the game from Richard Birkett, and watching in disbelief as Marcel Garvey ran up and kicked the ball away.
The Lions thrash the Sharks to win their first Currie Cup for 12 years
Safe to say, I got this prediction completely wrong on Friday. Not just by saying that the Sharks would win it, but that it would be close. John Mitchell’s Lions ended up running in three tries whilst young star Elton Jantjies hit 24 points to spark wild celebrations in Johannesburg. Even a dubious try awarded to Willem Alberts couldn’t stop the Lions from winning this one, their young talent really coming through with some big performances, and making them the team to look out for in next season’s Super Rugby competition.
Try of the Weekend goes to Jaco Taute of the Lions for this effort below. Great work from Michael Killian in the build-up.
Hero of the Weekend is that man Owen Farrell. Be it at 13 or 10, he shone at Kingsholm and his speed of thought got his side the win. Magnificent.
Lastly, this weekend’s Villain is Delon Armitage. His high shot on Tom Biggs in the first half at the Madejski was something we’ve seen too often from the England full back, his technique letting him down once again. Nasty stuff.
What were your highlights this weekend? Are you happy to have the Premiership back? Let us know.
by Ben Coles
Photos by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images