In this new feature for the new season, we take a look back at the weekend’s rugby action, picking out the highlights and main talking points. The idea is to provide an opportunity for people to share their own highlights, and things that stood out for them, so let us know your thoughts!
Chiefs on Cloud Nine
It’s impossible to start this column without first commenting on Exeter’s win at Sandy Park against visiting Gloucester. There has been so much talk in pre-season about their financial handicap, lack of Premiership experience and the fact that they are near-certainties for the drop.
All this has made them even more popular, and they are now my second-favourite side, so seeing them open their campaign with an unexpected victory was delightful. They deserved the victory as well – it was no fluke, and teams like Newcastle and Leeds will be significantly more uncomfortable this morning.
Mixed bag of goalkicking
The big talking point looking back at the weekend’s results has to be goalkicking. Going back to Exeter, Gareth Steenson’s boot was a huge factor in getting them into the Premiership, and on Saturday it proved just as crucial. His 4 penalties, conversion and dropped goal put Exeter out in front whilst his opposite number Nicky Robinson missed five.
Nick MacLeod, in at 10 for Sale with Charlie Hodgson absent, also smashed them over successfully, giving himself a 22-point haul in total, whilst Mark Van Gisbergen’s radar was fully functioning as well, as his last-minute kick earned Wasps a draw against Harlequins.
Other players who’ll be out late practicing though this week are Stephen Myler and Jeremy Staunton, whose wastefulness stopped the score-line from being significantly bigger at Franklin’s Gardens. And Shane Geraghty deserves a mention: originally relegated to the bench as a weaker goalkicker, he came on and slotted his first kick from the touchline with ease.
I was originally going to hail London Irish’s recovery against Saracens as the comeback of the weekend, but South Africa’s turnaround against Australia in Bloemfontein from 31-6 down to 39-38 up was just incredible. Kurtley Beale’s late winning penalty though to make it 39-41 to the Wallabies is the definition of sporting heartbreak, but what an effort from the Boks.
The Wallabies have now surpassed the World Champions in the IRB rankings, and there are a number of issues that need to be addressed in the Bok camp. A victory might have hidden some of their frailties and put them off for another day, but another defeat to end a dismal Tri-Nations and something needs to change.
World Cup Heartbreak
Congratulations to the Black Ferns on winning their fourth successive World Cup title in a nail-biting final against England’s Women at the Stoop. Their performances in the tournament have been exceptional right the way through, and their title is rightly deserved.
It was an heroic performance from England, who refused to roll over despite the constant New Zealand onslaught, and they should also be proud of their achievements over the last few weeks.
Try of the weekend goes to Sale debutant winger Tom Brady, the teenager racing into the corner to latch on to MacLeod’s chip, and touch down impressively in limited space.
This weekend’s Hero title has to go to Soane Tonga’huia. To be a prop and score one try is impressive; two in five minutes? Take a bow sir. The second one a brilliant example of Saints number one at his rampaging best.
And as for the Villain, referee Andrew Small falls under the spotlight this week. His sin-binning of Alex Goode for being offside was ridiculously harsh – he didn’t seem to be offside and he slapped the ball backwards towards his teammate. Otherwise Small had a good game, but this had a big impact on the match, with Irish mounting an unassailable lead with the opposition fly-half on the sidelines.
Let us know what caught your eye this weekend and what your thoughts are on the first round of action.
By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)