Saracens triumphant in top of the table clash, Wasps end winless start
The pick of the viewing in the Premiership this weekend was found at The Stoop, as two genuine title challengers in Harlequins and Saracens battled out a physical encounter. An encouraging start from Quins saw the home side take a 12-6 lead into the half time interval, but a reinvigorated Saracens side was just too much for them to handle in the second forty, and the visitors scored 16 unanswered points, leaving them with a 22-12 victory. Jacques Burger was a worthy Man of the Match for Saracens, and is now showing Premiership fans what he is truly capable of, after an unfortunate run of injuries, whilst fly-half Owen Farrell was deadly with the boot, and directed the game well from the first receiver position. The win leaves Saracens with a 100% record after four games, whilst Quins have yet to hit top gear, particularly at home, where they have slumped to two losses.
Elsewhere, Northampton (33-14 vs Sale) and Bath (33-18 vs London Irish) both secured winning bonus points, with new additions George North and Jonathan Joseph both impressing with try scoring performances for their respective clubs. London Wasps also earned a winning bonus point in their 32-16 victory over Worcester, which ends a three game losing streak, and much of the praise must go to props Matt Mullan and Jake Cooper-Wooley, who handled their opposite numbers well, and also both crossed the try line.
On Sunday the Tigers secured an important win at Sandy Park, in a performance built on a powerful pack performance. Ben Youngs scampered over in the first half before a wayward Chiefs’ pass saw Niki Goneva score an opportune try. With the score at 15-0 to the visitors by half time it was always going to be a tough ask for Exeter to come back into it, and although they threatened the Tigers’ line on numerous occasions in the second half, the champions held on through the boot of Toby Flood. At the other end of the country, Newcastle looked for a while like securing an unlikely victory against Gloucester. They could hardly have got off to a better start, with wing Tom Catterick crossing in the first minute to open their account for the season. However, tries from Rob Cook and Jonny May, as well as four penalties from Freddie Burns, was enough to see the Cherry and Whites secure a valuable win.
Lions boost Leinster, Glasgow still undefeated
The clash between Leinster and Cardiff Blues at RDS was drawing headlines prior to the game, with Lions heroes returning on both sides, and high scoring 34-20 win for the home side certainly lived up to expectations. Sam Warburton’s first game back since injury ruled him out of the Lions’ third and final test unfortunately wasn’t enough to help Cardiff upset the PRO12 champions in their own backyard, and both Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip will certainly have enjoyed their return to domestic rugby more than their captain from the summer did. Ian Madigan also turned in a superb performance, and looks to be maturing into a very capable replacement for the recently departed Jonathan Sexton.
Glasgow maintained their 100% start to the season, beating Zebre 24-17 on the road, but their national counterparts, Edinburgh, were not as lucky, falling to a 22-9 loss at home to the Scarlets, where highly rated youngster Jordan Williams was amongst the try scorers for the visitors. The Irish sides fared well, with Ulster and Munster seeing off the challenges of Treviso and Newport respectively, although Connacht lost at home to the Ospreys in a 43-26, try-scoring bonanza.
Springboks and All Blacks continue to look a class apart
South Africa kept their hopes of glory alive with a 28-8 victory over Australia in The Rugby Championship, but missing out on a bonus point may yet come back to haunt them. The Springboks dominated the early exchanges and raced into a 23-3 lead, with tries from Adriaan Strauss and Zane Kirchner, but it wasn’t until the 72nd minute that they could add to their tally, and although Willie Le Roux’s late try gave them hope, it was too little too late for the bonus point-seeking Boks. The Wallabies were blown out of the test match by the 20th minute, and although they showed a resolute strength defensively in the second half, questions are already being asked of this Australian side, who looked blunt in attack, and nothing like the Australian sides we have now come to expect.
Several hours later, and New Zealand were taking full of advantage of South Africa’s inability to clinch a winning bonus point, beating Argentina 33-15, and scoring four tries in the process. Winger Ben Smith continued his excellent try scoring form, picking up a brace in his side’s effort, whilst his partner in crime on the other wing, Julian Savea, also crossed the try line. This means that South Africa will now need a bonus point win against New Zealand in Johannesburg next week, if they are to lift The Rugby Championship trophy, and Argentina will be desperate to upset Australia, and leapfrog them into third.
Plenty of good candidates this week, but Try of the Week goes to Zane Kirchner for his effort in South Africa’s win over Australia. Running the ball from deep inside their own half, South Africa strung together a number of excellent passes, before they found Kirchner in space, and the full back comfortably beat his opposite number, before running in for the try.
Continuing the recent trend of referees appearing in this round-up, Jerome Garces takes home the Hero of the Week award. Garces requested the TMO after what seemed like a dangerous tackle from Michael Hooper on Eben Etzebeth, but after seeing the replays on the big screen, had the resolve to make the decision himself, rather than taking the TMO’s advice – a rare but pleasant sight in modern rugby.
The South Africa vs Australia game completes a clean sweep of the awards this week, as Flip van der Merwe is your Villain of the Week, for clearly leading with his elbow in the tackle. Bismarck du Plessis was sent to the sin bin for the same offence two weeks ago, but there were legitimate arguments that he was lifting his arm to protect himself. There were no such mitigating circumstances for van der Merwe, who was perhaps lucky to just see yellow.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images