Best of the Weekend: Saracens continue winning run

Ben Earl

The Sunday afternoon fixture between defending champions Saracens and the much-fancied Gloucester was well-hyped pre-match, especially given the head-to-head between fly-halves Owen Farrell and Danny Cipriani.

However the game was very much a one-sided affair, Saracens were just a class apart with the Wolfpack laying down the platform for the likes of Farrell, David Strettle and Sean Maitland to excel. Maro Itoje was also in good form, with the Lions international bagging two tries. Unfortunately for Cipriani, he was denied the ball and the platform to really to show anything and despite Gloucester getting two scores there’s still a long way to go for Johan Ackermann’s side if they are to be genuine contenders this season.

Exeter get the win over a resilient Falcons on Friday night
In a frantic first half, both sides struggled with composure as it was a messy affair with a lot of penalties, scrums and lineouts. Falcons started brightly with Zach Kirbrige scoring a wonderful counterattacking try after a stunning offload from centre Johnny Williams. But Sam Simmonds responded in style to his recent England squad omission with two tries from close range and Chiefs added to that with a try from Matt Kvesic, however in the second half the game became even more scrappy with chances begging for both sides. Newcastle’s losing bonus point was very nearly wasted by Joel Hodgson missing touch but Exeter couldn’t capitalise and leave the far-North with four points.

Wasps power their way to their first win at the AJ Bell
Sale has never been a happy hunting ground for Wasps, they haven’t won away in Manchester since 2010 when the Sharks were at Edgeley Park. It looked as though that worrying losing streak would continue in the first twenty minutes with the recently on-fire Nathan Hughes binned for a technical offence in the opening minutes and Sale capitalised. However the Sharks struggled in the front row (an area I had highlighted as a concern in my Key Summer Transfers Part 3 article earlier in August) and the destructive ball-carrying of Ashley Johnson and a rejuvenated Hughes (who himself powered his way through four defenders to score) laid the platform for the win. The Sharks will rue missed opportunities and their weakness in the scrum whereas Dai Young’s Wasps will be relieved with a bonus point victory.

What a surprise, Harlequins lose away again!
Harlequins again struggled away from home, despite starting brightly with another Danny Care score. A fantastic try from Piers O’Conor put the Bears in the lead and Irish flyhalf Ian Madigan eased the nerves with 5 wonderfully struck penalties to give the home side a crucial 20-13 home victory with a losing bonus point the consolation for Quins. The alarm bells don’t need to be rung yet, but there’s still plenty to work on from Paul Gustard’s perspective, especially given the three yellow cards that were given out during the game.

Bath hold on for 1st home win
A typical Freddie Burns intercept paved the way for a opportunistic and first win at Rec this season with Joe Cokanasiga scoring again from a lovely skip pass from in form lock Elliot Stooke. Northampton struggled immensely with set piece and the home side just played the conditions better than their opponents. Despite a late Tom Collins score, Bath held on for a crucial win.

Another refereeing controversy as the Leicester Tigers are beaten by Worcester at home
The Tigers are not exactly feeling the love by Premiership officials at the moment, but they will be more concerned about their defence. Leaky doesn’t do it justice, Leicester have conceded the most points out of all teams so far this season. The Warriors burst out of the blocks to get a 30-11 lead at halftime, echoes of déjà vu rung round Welford Road after Worcester beat Tigers last season. The Tigers did rally, led by the again-excellent George Ford, and they drew level at 37-37 but Worcester’s debutant Ted Hill finished well in the corner to give the Warriors their 1st win of the season and Tigers have another two points but will no doubt be quite embarrassed by their performance.

The game again was mired in controversy, where the Warriors second try looked to have came off a forward pass and the referee Luke Pearce not stopping the clock despite Jimmy Stevens lying unconscious on the floor. This meant that the clock was dead when Duncan Weir converted, denying the Tigers the chance to level the game again in the last play.

My Premiership Team of the Week
1 – Ben Moon (Exeter)
2 – Harry Thacker (Bristol)
3 – Vincent Koch (Saracens)
4 – Elliott Stooke (Bath)
5 – Maro Itoje (Saracens)
6 – Ashley Johnson (Wasps)
7 – Sam Underhill (Bath)
8 – Sam Simmonds (Exeter)
9 – Jack Maunder (Exeter)
10 – Ian Madigan (Bristol)
11 – Sean Maitland (Saracens)
12 – Owen Farrell (Saracens)
13 – Johnny Williams (Newcastle)
14 – Bryce Heem (Worcester)
15 – Simon Hammersley (Newcastle)

Meanwhile in the Pro14

It was the weekend of upsets and unpredictable results in the Pro14 this weekend. A cool and controlled Billy Burns conversion lead to a stunning draw in Bloemfontein between the Cheetahs and Ulster. Man of the match Cheetahs winger Rabz Maxwane thought he had done enough for victory with a 73rd minute score but Ulster scored in the last minute and Burns under a lot of pressure converted for each side to take 3 points.

Cardiff Blues responded in some style with a bonus point win over a decent Munster side, Kiwis Willis Halaholo and Nick Williams were a crucial part of an 80-minute effort from the side and they never let Munster back into the game, meaning they took a full five points to the jubilation of the Cardiff supporters.

Heavily unfancied Kings stunned the Glasgow Warriors with a 38-28 victory over last season’s table toppers. The Scots were complacent but the Kings were ruthless, scoring fine tries through winger Yaw Penxe and flyhalf Martin du Toit. Warriors did get a try-scoring bonus point but they had left themselves too much to do. Leinster were just too strong for Edinburgh as they got a bonus point win in Dublin, a Sam Davies masterclass led Ospreys to their third win of the season against Benetton, the Dragons got a crucial first victory over Zebre and a Bundee Aki-inspired Connacht got a surprise victory over the Scarlets, who are in need of bucking up their ideas at the moment with the Champions Cup looming.

Key Talking Points
– Should Halaholo play for Wales when he qualifies on residency?
– Should Harlequins fans be worried?
– Are Gloucester genuine contenders this year?

By Jacob Bassford (add me on Twitter @jacob_bassford and subscribe to my Youtube channel @FlyingG_Sports)

28 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Saracens continue winning run

  1. It’s not looking good for Quins really is it. IMO they were playing worse than any other team at the end of last season and despite looking improved at the start of this one I’m not sure they are much better than any other team in the league at the moment.

    I think Gloucester are contenders, they are not going to be impacted badly by the international windows and should get some good wins in those windows.

    I find the comments on the Tigers interesting. If Tigers had won I think the Warriors could well be aggrieved by the one Tigers try being scored despite the ref blocking a tackle being made and a deliberate knock on being called when Warriors looked like scoring even though Heem caught the ball. I felt Pearce made some bad calls but on balance I don’t think either team got more advantage than the other. Warriors were just a lot better on the day. The score wouldn’t have been as close if they hadn’t butchered 4 lineouts, 2 of which directly led to tries.

    1. Pa mate the Worcester player tackled the ref, if anything that was the player’s fault. But I agree that the ref was bad for both sides, it was just more considerable in Leicester’s favour.

  2. Ouch. Sarries were superb. I think that the away game at Allianz Park is probably the hardest game of the season for any team and when Sarries are on fire like they were yesterday, I don’t think any premiership team including Exeter would have lived with them. So not writing off Gloucester’s season yet, but the reality check has come.
    I have to say that I thought that Glos had recruited well over the summer and apparently we are up to the salary cap, but when you look at the number of current Lions in the Sarries team let alone current internationals, you do can really appreciate all of those players being on home club discounts to keep under the cap when they could be earning so much more elsewhere……….
    And in answer to the question asked, I will give the same answer as I gave four weeks ago, Glos are potential top four but the list of contenders for the title goes no further than Sarries and Exeter.
    Regarding the other results, it just goes to show how hard it is to win away in this league and away points will probably determine the standings at the end of the season pretty accurately. Be interesting to review that statement at the end of the season.

    1. Were you at the game Staggy?
      I was there in the North london sunshine and despite a comfortable win I don’t think Sarries really got out of second or third gear.
      Sarries were comfortable defending for large portions of the game, forcing Glos back when they had the ball and then quick passing and good running lines to implement fast attacks.
      I thought the Glos forwards did pretty well in defence and it was the backs that let Glos down when Sarries were running the ball. The likes of 12T, Cipriani and Trinder fell off a few tackles in the midfield which created the space out wide for Maitland, Strettle, Williams and Goode to exploit.

      1. No wasn’t there sadly. Had to make do with BT Sport. My take on it was that the speed of the Sarries attack when they got on the front foot was the key to taking players out of position in the defensive line. Trinder didn’t have a great game and did fall off a few tackles. I didn’t notice the others, and actually my impression was that Cipriani defended quite well. Might have to look at it again.

        My moan on the Glos blog was that when Sarries were trucking it up with big forwards, they had men running onto the ball at pace with support. We didn’t have that at all, and looked pretty static for much of the time until it opened up in garbage time in the last 10 minutes.
        From an England point of view, thought that Itoje had a great game in all facets of the game. But particularly, he slowed down so much ball, much illegally by the way, but when he finally got picked up on it by the ref, he then played to the rules. Clever play. Something George Smith didn’t do the week before!

        1. Interesting comparison between Itoje and George Smith.

          You’re not wrong, but for context I rather thought that Itoje ‘got away’ with rather a lot of technical infringements that he wouldn’t do on another week.

          Smith on the other hand was rather harshly penalised the previous week (although one couldn’t argue with his Yellow Card).

          You might see this as criticism of the refs, but it isn’t. Whilst it highlights the different refereeing styles/performances, there has always been an element of ‘interpretation’ around the breakdown and I think that this inconsistency makes adds variety to the game viewing, week-in, week-out.

  3. Let’s face it, if EJ wins the RWC, or even gets near to it, most of us will be apologising, but I suspect that muddled thinking and poor man management will lead us to underperform. It’s funny but clear thinking and good man management were the two things that EJ came into this job with a good reputation for.

    1. The curse of coaching England perhaps?
      As long as we perform like a top tier nation I could live with us not winning it tbh. It’s the fear that we will be as pathetic as we were in ’15 that really bugs me. I know i’ll be accused of English arrogance but we really need to be in the semi finals and anything after that is a welcome bonus.

      1. I don’t think that its arrogant to wish for a semi final place. However it might be arrogant to suggest that we were better than New Zealand or Ireland at the moment or that we deserved to win the RWC. I don’t think any of us are doing that.
        Accusations of English arrogance are generally thrown around like confetti anyway and more often than not incorrectly.

          1. For the semis you’d back Ireland and New Zealand now, and then you could take any two of Wales, South Africa, France, England, Australia, Argentina or Scotland, possibly in that order. I would say Wales are looking strong bets as well but any of these teams could beat any other on any given day.

        1. No ‘mights’ about suggesting arrogance if opining that England is better than Ireland & NZ currently. It would also be incorrect according to the WR rankings. And @ least 1 modest Englishman agrees with you about arrogance, via ‘thumbs up’!

    2. Michael Lynagh was of the opinion that Jones got the England job on the back of Japan’s win over SA in the last WC. Thereafter Japan lost to Scotland BTW. Since 2003 Jones has spent time in Oz with the Reds, in England with Saracens & in the relative backwater of Japanese rugby. Although, ironically, he out thought Mitchell in 03 & got to that yr’s WC final, he didn’t win it or much else either as far as I know. He was also ejected from the Reds & Sarries. Therefore I struggle to see on what basis Jones came to England with much of a reputation @ all.

  4. I see marketing toss has infected our glorious game in the same manner as football. The press release with the new England shirt…………. bloody ridiculous!

  5. Out of interest, what do people think an ‘in form’ England team would look like, given the evidence we have from the first few matches?

    1. 1 Mako
      2 Hartley
      3 Cole
      4 Stooke
      5 Itoje
      6 Wilson
      7 Underhill
      8 Hughes
      9 Robson
      10 Ford
      11 May
      12 Tuilagi
      13 Slade
      14 Cokanasiga
      15 Daly
      16 George
      17 Rapava Ruskin
      18 Williams
      19 Slater
      20 Kvesic
      21 Simmonds
      22 Care
      23 Farrell

  6. Under the rules Halaholo should play for Wales if selected, yes. In the wider context of the inexorable northern drift & it’s ultimate erosion of the world game, in both hemispheres, no. Harlequins ought to be worried, er, yes. As they seem to be going down the gurgler bound, Gustard must already be having 2nd thoughts. Gloucester will do well to finish in 4th place IMO. They look the part, sound the part & by many accounts have bought judiciously, yet when tested v Sarries, they fell off the stage like my old boss!


Comments are closed.