Best of the Weekend: Saracens, Quins avoid upsets, Munster and Ospreys excel

David Paice

Upsets narrowly avoided all round in the Aviva

Two extremely unlikely upsets were on the cards in Round 14 of the Premiership, as Sale Sharks hosted Saracens, and Newcastle Falcons made the trip south to take on Harlequins, but both games proved to be far more competitive than many expected. A strong-looking Saracens side were actually trailing Sale 10-3 at the interval of their game, and had to turn in a relatively error-free second half performance to turn the game around. Thankfully for Saracens, the class of their squad showed, and Charlie Hodgson was able to kick 12 second half points against his former team, and salvage a 15-10 win. It was a similar story at The Stoop, as the Falcons held a 14-12 lead over the home side in the second half, but Ben Botica came through in the clutch, successfully kicking two penalties, and gifting Quins a hard-fought 18-14 win.

Northampton Saints returned to the top of the table with a powerful 30-14 win over the struggling Worcester Warriors, with the soon-to-be Worcester man, Gerrit-Jan van Velze, helping lead the Saints to victory with a brace of tries. Bath came from behind to keep their title challenge well and truly alive, beating Exeter Chiefs 27-23 at Sandy Park, in a thrilling back and forth game, whilst London Wasps’ playoff hopes took a severe dent with a lacklustre 23-20 loss at home to London Irish. The weekend’s action was capped off at Welford Road as Leicester Tigers waited till late to turn it on, but were able to steal an 11-8 win against Gloucester, and climb up to fourth in the table.

Irish provinces prosper in the Pro12

Munster kept their place at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 with a bonus point win over Zebre in Cork, but Leinster, their title rivals, kept pace with the league leaders, also securing a bonus point win, as they beat Newport 31-19. There were plenty of impressive performances from both sides, but no player may have shone more than Simon Zebo, who looked lively throughout, and was unlucky not to add to his two tries against Zebre. CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell of Munster, and Jack McGrath of Leinster, also put in standout performances, as their respective sides cruised to comfortable wins, despite missing a plethora of international stars.

Elsewhere, Glasgow chalked up their seventh successive away win in the Pro12, as a late Mark Bennett try helped them come from behind and beat the Cardiff Blues, 27-20. Unlike Glasgow, Edinburgh couldn’t help put a painful week for Scottish rugby to bed, as they fell to an 11-7 loss to Connacht at the Sportsground, a result which saw the Irish side move off the foot of the Pro12 table. The Ospreys wrapped up the Pro12 action for the weekend, and did so in spectacular fashion, recording their record win the tournament, beating Treviso 75-7 at the Liberty Stadium. Young talent Sam Davies was particularly impressive, scoring two tries, and accounting for 22 of the Ospreys’ points.

Lions cause first Super Rugby upset

The Lions began their reintegration into Super Rugby with a last-minute triumph over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, as the Southern Hemisphere showpiece returned with two South African derbies. The home side had been dominant throughout, but failed to take their chances with a string of unforced errors and missed kicking opportunities, and after a missed penalty in the last 5 minutes that would have put them 5 points clear, the writing was on the wall. A dropped goal from fly-half Marnitz Boshoff in the 78th minute gave the Lions a one-point win, and left the Cheetahs licking their wounds after what should have been a comfortable home victory.

In the other match, the Sharks were in ominous form, dispatching the Bulls 31-16 in Durban and scoring a four-try bonus point in the process. Undoubtedly the most impressive side in action, the Sharks are now being hotly tipped to win the South African conference.

Dan Cole ruled out of Six Nations

‘Dan Cole will have a period of rest from rugby to relieve a bulging disc in his neck which is trapping a nerve’ read the RFU press release yesterday, as the England tighthead prop was ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations. Dave Wilson has returned to fitness just in time, but Lancaster is viewing this as an opportunity to build some much-needed experience in this position. How do you think this will affect England’s chances in the tournament?

Try of the Week goes to Ollie Devoto of Bath, for his effort against Exeter. A combination of skill from fly-half George Ford, and an exemplary running line from Devoto, unlocked a stubborn Chiefs’ defence, as the two youngsters displayed their talent and chemistry.

Tomas O’Leary is the Villain of the Week, after he stamped to the head area of James Haskell. London Wasps’ Director of Rugby Dai Young described the stamp as ‘reckless, rather than vicious’, but more consideration needs to be taken by players in these positions.

The Hero of the Week accolade goes to Hugo Southwell, as the former Scotland full back was forced into a premature, injury-enforced retirement this week. His club career spanned three countries, as he represented Bristol, Worcester, Edinburgh, Stade Francais and most recently London Wasps. He was also a very effective international player, and it’s a struggle to think of a more underrated player for Scotland than Southwell, who picked up the last of his 59 caps in 2011.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

11 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Saracens, Quins avoid upsets, Munster and Ospreys excel

  1. Arrrgghhhh….Dan Cole is out. England’s chances this 6 Nations just took a significant blow

    I know that Wilson is fit again but is he up to international pace? Did he play on the weekend?

    Other than that there’s no cover. This is where Lancaster’s policy of not giving Thomas some more game time is going to bit us on the backside.

    Other than Wilson and Thomas, is there anyone else?

    1. Don’t worry Pablito, I have it on good authority that Goode is being retained on the bench as not only does he cover every back position to a world class standard but he can prop too! Lacks a bit of pace by propping standards but you can’t have everything.

    2. I get the impression Lancaster and co. really don’t trust Thomas at this level yet. So let’s pray Wilson is up to speed or I think this is a major problem. He did play against Exeter, for 46 minutes. I’m not sure he can play a full 80 as Dan Cole can though, so I guess Thomas will be getting more experience.
      Will Collier is officially next in line in the Saxons I think (but injured?), but they gave Tom Mercey a go in the Wolfhounds game and also Scott Wilson, who I thought looked the best (in the scrum at least) but is still only 19. Kieran Brookes was an unused sub in the Scotland A game. Other than that, there’s Doran-Jones who went to Argentina last summer I think.

      1. Matt B – that’s been my problem with Lancaster’s policy when it comes to Cole. OK they may not think Thomas is up to international standard yet – but the best way of finding out would be to have given him some game time – the Scotland game would have been perfect for a 20/30 minute cameo

        Now we have Cole out, Wilson only able to play 45 mins at premiership level and apparently the next best options are 19 years old and / or have no international experience at all.

        Mercey has been pretty good for N’hampton this year. If Lancaster really doesn’t trust Thomas that much, perhaps Mercey should leapfrog him

        PDJ is definitively not international standard in my opinion, even though he has a couple of caps

        1. They could equally be aware that he’s not upto it because the boys have destroyed him in the scrum in training, and the same happens to him in the AP…

          He’s getting one on one time with the coaches because they see potential I believe, a like for like replacement for Cole, but they don’t want him actually playing yet. Not much choice this weekend though.

          1. Probably the player that England could least afford to lose.

            It makes for a very tricky selection now because Wilson did not look great in the Bath game, and was definitely second best to the Exeter LH whilst he was on the pitch.

            Doran-Jones has never looked entirely right, BUT he does have some test experience. The youngster – Scott Wilson – did impress in the A game, but that would seem a very long shot, smaybe he gives Dave Wilson the first half, and hopes for no scrums in the second half when young Thomas comes on.

    3. If Wilson was fully fit I wouldn’t be too worried, but the Welsh guys have just demonstrated you can’t have a lot of time out, play a few mins at club level and expect to be on top form at international level.

      I’ve not understood the Thomas inclusion thus far, he’s by no means a dominant scrummager at premiership level. I hope they’ve got it right, from what I’ve seen he looks 2-3 years away and more of a Saxons candidate. With Collier out as well I would be looking at a big lump like Brookes who I think can do a much better job in the scrum.

      Has anyone else been called up as cover?

  2. Didn’t see the Devoto ‘try of the week’ but it must have been some try to top some of the Ospreys efforts, several of which we’re outstanding. Hope Gatland was watching as that is what Welsh rugby should be about with some great performances from Wales ‘fringe’ players, good to see Ryan Jones on the road to recovery also.

  3. Not to detract from Hugo’s hero status (I was always a big fan) but a special mention should go to Glasgow’s bench. Excellent positive impact from James Eddie, Jonny Gray, Finn Russell and Chris Cusiter. Definitely helped to swing it Glasgow’s way.

  4. Leinster fan here…

    To describe our win over Dragons as “comfortable” isn’t just wrong, it’s barmy!

    Yes, we won with a bonus point. However, our tries were only scored when NGD were down to 14 men. The Dragons’ poor discipline resulted in 2 yellow cards and a red card. At the times when the Welshmen had a full team on the pitch, they made us look pretty ordinary.

    1. Dragons have been a surprise this year, playing well but still below the international radar so essentially have a full strength squad to pick from. Dragons and Connacht are the two teams you don’t want to play during the international windows!

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