It looks as though the Paul Gustard era is really starting to kick off now at Harlequins, as proved by Friday night’s win at the Stoop. The scoreline was very close and the last ten minutes were tense but truth be told Quins should have won that game by a country mile, but the clinical edge is still lacking somewhat. The back five were outstanding and the backs shone behind the powerful platform that was laid down for them.
It was a famous victory but we mustn’t get too far ahead of ourselves and I’m sure Gustard won’t. Harlequins give or take fielded their strongest side minus Robshaw, Horwill and late withdrawal Matt Symons whereas Exeter rested all their England internationals and only recently Scotland-capped Sam Skinner was played. There is also still a lot to work on: the strike rate needs to improve a lot and they need to become more rugby-smart. They almost threw the game away when Ian Whitten intercepted a Marcus Smith pass to bring the game to 2 points and they must be more accurate off the tee. It was an area I highlighted last week and once again there were quite a few kicks missed, and this could become crucial later on to determine key matches and it’s something that needs addressing. On the whole however, Harlequins showed on Friday night that they’re back in business.
Tigers give up after Eastmond red card
It speaks volumes about the level of confidence and belief in Tigers at the moment. Few outside of the Bears fanbase had predicted that result, I did but not by that margin. The concerning thing for me about the decision is that if it was a red card, why didn’t Madigan go for a HIA? Yes there is nothing in the laws to say that for a red card the affected player must have been injured substantially but the red card is supposed to be a severe punishment. A lack of injury surely doesn’t require severe punishment. However back to the match, with the one man advantage the Bears roared into life and Tigers were pathetic comparably in their attack, with only a converted Manu Tuilagi try and a George Ford penalty to their name.
Saracens stretch away and remain unbeaten
Going into this game, the defending champions were definitely huge favourites to win this game but to Wasps’ credit they hung in there with a 9-6 scoreline going into the 65th minute. However Sarries let loose late on with Jamie George crashing over and then replacement lock-forward Nick Isiekwe intercepting a poor Elliot Daly pass to give the home side an unassailable lead. Saracens are now the only team to be unbeaten this season and they look set to continue that form with Cardiff Blues at home next Sunday in Europe.
Gloucester provide reality check for Worcester
I think people were overhyping the Warriors in recent weeks, they went on a really decent winning streak because they fielded strong teams for the Challenge and Premiership Rugby Cups, they lost to Bath away but this result has really brought the West Midlands side back to Planet Earth. Gloucester’s pack was mesmeric once again and they scored some lovely tries off the back of it with winger Ollie Thorley scoring another brace, and despite a late Bryce Heem consolation the Cherry and Whites eventually cut free to a 36-16 victory.
Unlucky Northampton lose out to Falcons
Even Newcastle Director of Rugby Dean Richards admitted that his side probably didn’t deserve that match, the Saints had cruised to a 14-6 lead through two Cobus Reinach scores but for one reason or another they couldn’t continue that run and Mark Wilson, after his heroic antics for England last month, scored an 86th minute converted try that stole the game. The victory however couldn’t prevent the Falcons from lifting themselves from the bottom of the table.
Late Cokanasiga try earns Bath draw against Sale
Boring probably is too kind a word to describe that game on Sunday afternoon. Bath certainly had the upper hand in terms of possession but just couldn’t break down that determined Sale defence. At the interval the game was scoreless as both sides had missed a penalty each and Denny Solomona was correctly denied a try by the TMO at the stroke of halftime. The first try of the match came through on-loan Jean-Luc du Preez who powered over from close range before Bath levelled with a Cokanasiga touchdown after some lovely work from replacement Cooper Vuna. Neither side could add to the scoreline in horrible conditions, and so it ended a draw, Bath’s third such result this year!
My Premiership Team of the Week
1 – Sam Lockwood (Newcastle)
2 – Jamie George (Saracens)
3 – Henry Thomas (Bath)
4 – Maro Itoje (Saracens)
5 – George Merrick (Harlequins)
6 – Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)
7 – Jaco Kriel (Gloucester)
8 – James Chisholm (Harlequins)
9 – Faf de Klerk (Sale)
10 – Ian Madigan (Bristol)
11 – Nathan Earle (Harlequins)
12 – Francis Saili (Harlequins)
13 – Alex Lozowski (Saracens)
14 – Ollie Thorley (Gloucester)
15 – Sam James (Sale)
Meanwhile in the Pro14
Munster smash Edinburgh at the Irish Independent Park, Chris Farrell making a triumphant, man-of-the-match return to competitive rugby after 8 months out and the Irish province, bolstered by the return of their Irish contingent and Farrell, were simply a class above their Scottish Counterparts. Ospreys expectedly thrash Zebre in Swansea with Welsh winger Luke Morgan bagging a hatrick and the visitors were nilled.
Ulster edge the Cardiff Blues through John Cooney’s boot, the talismanic scrumhalf returning from Irish duty, 16-12 in Ravenhill with the Blues coach John Mulvihill certainly not holding back in his criticism of the referee. Connacht seem to be on the up after a crucial and tight away victory over the Cheetahs in South Africa. A Leinster side that has rested its international stars smashed Dragons in Newport 10-59.
Benetton Treviso got their 1st away win of the season against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth which certainly gives them momentum giving the daunting challenge of facing Harlequins next week in the Challenge Cup and Glasgow definitely showed Leicester how to win when down to 14 men after holding on to beat Scarlets 29-20, despite Alex Allan being red-carded early on for a no-arms tackle to the head on Jake Ball.
What happened elsewhere?
In the Top14, Clermont got a huge victory away in Montpellier, Lyon kept the heat on the top of the table with a convincing victory over Pau at home, Agen snuck a surprise victory over Castres away from home, Bordeaux got a decent away victory over Perpignan and Toulouse demolished Stade Français 49-20 at home.
On Saturday, a late Elton Jantjies drop goal secured a Barbarians victory in an entertaining (as ever) match over Argentina at Twickenham. Both sides had named strong outfits with the Baa-baas full to the brim with South African internationals as well as Juan Manuel Leguizamon on his rugby farewell. Rugby was definitely the winner in this one but it’s really good to see that people are taking the Baa-Baas seriously again and that they are winning matches.
Key Talking Points?
– Are Harlequins back on the rise or was Friday night’s victory a lucky home win?
– What’s up with Edinburgh at the moment? Second season syndrome?
– Why is there inconsistency in officiating in rugby? Is it solvable?
– Do you think Leicester’s problems are above board?