Controversy reigns in Gloucester, Saracens maintain 100% start
Gloucester picked up their first win of the season in a nail-biting 26-24 victory over Northampton at Kingsholm, but the game is likely to be remembered for its controversy, rather than its rugby. A superb Northampton try late in the game looked to be enough to send Saints home as winners, but a controversial decision to award Gloucester a penalty after the 80-minute mark, allowed Billy Twelvetrees to kick a much-needed winner for the home side. As if this wasn’t enough to anger the Northampton fans, referee Martin Fox also missed an offside from Gloucester players at the preceding restart, and number eight Ben Morgan seemingly illegally kicking the ball back into the scrum, both of which would have given possession back to Northampton, and effectively ended the game.
Leicester and Harlequins both took maximum points, collecting bonus points on their way to beating Newcastle and Worcester respectively, in games which will remind Dean Richards and Dean Ryan just how big the tasks ahead of them are. Although Manu Tuilagi didn’t get on the score sheet for the Tigers, he looked a class apart in his first Premiership game of the season, setting up two of his teammates’ tries, as well as being bullish with ball in hand throughout the game. Chris Robshaw was another non-scorer who excelled, dominating the breakdown contest against Worcester, with the Harlequin doing his best to give Stuart Lancaster some tough, albeit welcome, dilemmas ahead of the Autumn Internationals.
London Wasps fell to a 26-22 loss away to Sale, meaning the High Wycombe-based outfit have now collected three losing bonus points from their first three games, thanks in large parts to slow starts in each of their last two games. London Irish also picked up a losing bonus point, as they lost at home to Exeter, 29-23. The Chiefs have yet to really impress this season, but still have two wins to show from their three games, and if they can find form soon, could push themselves into top four contention. Saracens ended the weekend by leapfrogging Leicester at the top, after they secured a bonus point in their 31-17 win over Bath, with David Strettle in particular impressing, and picking up a brace of tries in the process. The result means that Saracens have taken a maximum 15 points from their opening three games, and already look a formidable challenge in the race for top spot.
Glasgow extend unbeaten run, Italian sides triumphant
It was a weekend to remember for Italian rugby fans, as they witnessed both of their sides pick up invaluable wins, and provide much needed ammunition for those people defending the need for a truly European cup competition. Zebre recorded their first ever win, and did it on the road, beating Cardiff 30-25, thanks largely to their half-back pairing of Brendon Leonard and Luciano Orquera, both of whom were superb throughout. Treviso also looked comfortable in their 29-19 victory at home against Munster, with the Irish side yet to really get going in this year’s competition, and came close to being the first side in PRO12 history to lose to both Italian sides, being saved only by a second half resurgence against Zebre last week.
There were wins for both Glasgow and the Ospreys, as they climbed into first and second position respectively, continuing their successful start to the season. Glasgow weren’t at their best in their 12-6 win over Leinster, but the ability to win ugly is mandatory if a team has legitimate title aspirations, and with each passing week, that certainly looks to be the case for the Scottish side. The Ospreys game wasn’t quite as close, as the Welsh side cut loose against Edinburgh, beating them 44-10, with braces for Eli Walker and Richard Hibbard, as well as an excellent 80m breakaway try for Matthew Morgan. Elsewhere, there were important wins for both Newport and Ulster, who bounced back admirably from their narrow defeats a week before, with the Dragons beating the Scarlets 23-16 in a competitive Welsh derby, and Ulster mounting a successful comeback in their 18-7 victory away to Connacht.
An odd one this weekend, as both the Heroes and Villains of the Week awards go to the same team, Zebre. They clinched their first ever win in the RaboDirect PRO12, beating the Blues 30-25 at Cardiff Arms Park, but seemed to still be fielding 15 men on the pitch for a phase of play at the end of the game, despite having a player sin-binned just moments before. Optimistically this could be chalked up as an unfortunate mistake, but cynically this could be seen as a team without a win in their league history, desperate to put an end to that accolade. An honourable, or in this case, dishonourable mention, for Villain of the Week also has to go to referee Martin Fox, who awarded Gloucester a highly controversial game-winning penalty after the 80 minute mark against Northampton, and also missed a couple of indiscretions from Gloucester earlier in the play, which, if seen, would have enabled Saints to escape Kingsholm with a win.
Try of the Week is a much simpler affair, with the award going to Jamie Elliott, but the young winger owes much thanks to Northampton’s new arrival, George North. North collected a high ball inside his own 22, and proceeded to beat four Gloucester defenders with a mixture of nimble footwork and power, before a series of offloads from Northampton found Elliott in space, and saw him run in unhindered, beneath the posts.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images