Sharks show their teeth whilst Saracens move top at Wembley
Sale Sharks stole the headlines in the Aviva Premiership, as they impressively beat the Northampton Saints 19-6 at the AJ Bell Stadium. Mark Cueto, Marc Jones and Tom Brady all crossed the try line for the home side, whilst all Northampton could offer up in response were two penalties from Will Hooley. Sale deserve due credit for their potent attacking performance, but Northampton certainly looked disjointed at times, something which could be attributed to the return of their international contingent, following such a large passage of time away from the team. The win moves Sale up into fifth in the table, and their chances of qualifying for Europe’s premiere club competition next season seem to grow with each passing week.
Saracens managed to leapfrog Northampton at the top of the table, thanks to a 39-17 win over Harlequins in the Premiership’s showpiece event at Wembley, and Mark McCall will be ecstatic with the impact of the returning Owen Farrell, who picked up a deserved man of the match award. Worcester fans were left heartbroken on Friday night, as they led London Wasps 11-6 with the clock in the red, but a Jake Cooper-Woolley try and Andy Goode conversion at the death stole victory from the jaws of defeat for Wasps, and all but sealed Worcester’s relegation from the Premiership.
Ospreys cruise, Leinster and Munster continue to set the standard at the top
The Ospreys added further misery to Cardiff Blues’ season as they cruised to a 34-9 victory in Swansea on Friday night. Aisea Natoga set the Liberty Stadium alight with a scintillating hat-trick, whilst Ashley Beck and Rhys Webb added tries of their own to add gloss to a very effective performance from the Ospreys. With Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny likely out for the rest of the season with shoulder injuries, things are unlikely to get better anytime soon for the Blues, who will now, barring a miraculous turnaround in their fortunes, have to contend for Europe’s secondary cup competition next season.
Elsewhere in the RaboDirect Pro12, Leinster sauntered to a 27-0 victory over Zebre, whilst Munster kept pace with their title rivals, recording a 14-3 win against Treviso. A drab, 9-3 victory for Ulster on the road against Glasgow kept them within touching distance of their national rivals, but they will be hoping for a far more impressive performance against Cardiff next week, not just to improve their title hopes, but also to send them into their Heineken Cup quarter final in confident mood.
Western Force impress, Chiefs and Sharks lose 100% records
Perennial strugglers Western Force certainly pulled off the result of Round 6, as they beat the reigning champions, the Chiefs, 18-15 at nib Stadium in Perth. Two tries from captain Matt Hodgson and a highly resilient defensive effort proved to be enough for the Force, who restricted the Chiefs to just five penalties, and marks the first time the visitors have been kept tryless on Australian soil since 2001. Western Force were actually unlucky not to have lengthened their lead over the Chiefs, with Nick Cummins coming close to closing the try line on a couple of occasions, but the Force faithful in Western Australia will be ecstatic nonetheless with the unexpected result. The win comes on the back of victories over the Highlanders and Rebels in the previous two weeks, and is the first time the Force have won three games in a row since 2007.
Shortly after the Chiefs gave up their 100% start to the season in Perth, the Sharks, the only remaining undefeated side in Super Rugby, also fell to their first loss, as the Bulls triumphed 23-19 at Loftus Versveld. The Lions and Highlanders also continued to defy their preseason expectations, beating the Reds and Hurricanes respectively, but the early season woes continued for the Cheetahs, who lost 40-30 to the Blues in Auckland, and now sit rooted to the bottom of the table.
Phil Burleigh scored the Try of the Week for the Highlanders against the Hurricanes. After a superb run from Ben Smith, and excellent support from Aaron Smith, Burleigh was in position to take an offload and cruise in underneath the posts. Burleigh’s try is the first one up in the video below.
Heroes of the Week are Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau. The chemistry the two played with for the Waratahs against the Rebels was mesmerising at times, and time after time they cut open the opposition defence. It really was a case of one mind in two bodies on Friday, and Folau’s two tries, both of which were set up by Beale, would also have been fitting candidates for Try of the Week. Saracens’ marketing department are worthy of an honourable mention for their efforts in filling Wembley for their side’s clash with Harlequins, as are Aisea Natoga and Vereniki Goneva for standout performances in the Pro12 and Premiership respectively.
Nothing too cynical this week in the world of rugby, but at a push I’d put forth both Nick Kennedy and Richard Wigglesworth as Villains of the Week. Both players lashed out at Wembley, Kennedy with an attempted uppercut, and Wigglesworth with a reckless elbow. On a highly enjoyable and controversy-free weekend, these guys are the best I can come up with, but if you have any better suggestions, feel free to make them known!
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)