Guinness Premiership Report: Round 4

Saracens remain as the only unbeaten team in the league after a weekend of unspectacular but gritty matches resulted in some switches at the top of the table.

On Friday night Harlequins made the journey up to Newcastle to try to record their first victory of the season. Newcastle welcomed back the half-back pairing of Micky Young and Jimmy Gopperth – one of an excellent bunch of 9/10 combinations currently weaving their magic in the premiership, along with Hodgson and Lamb and Simpson and Cipriani amongst others.

Newcastle dominated the opening exchanges and tore into a 14-3 lead at half time, but it was Harlequins’ turn to add their name to the drawn matches record books as they fought back to 17 – all at the finish. Their resistance was spearheaded by Nick Easter and Danny Care, both of whom look determined to prove their worth to the England cause in a losing team. Ugo Monye also put his hand up with a well taken try and another assured performance at full back.

On current form, Newcastle look likely to start winning some matches soon. I wouldn’t bet against them upsetting the form books next weekend as they welcome Saracens to Kingston Park. Similarly, Harlequins may have turned a corner with their second half fight-back but could be further scuppered by England call-ups when November rolls around.

On Saturday, Northampton trounced Leeds 30 – 10 who are looking more and more as if it’s going to be a one-horse race for relegation. With staple relegation-flirters Worcester and Newcastle getting close to some good form, it could all slip away from the Yorkshire team before the turn of the year.

Northampton’s Shane Geraghty again ran the show, but it’s time to start praising those inside of him for the team’s continued form. He is given a platform of excellent possession by his pack that doesn’t contain many star names and the service from Lee Dickson at 9 has also been top notch.

Worcester claimed their second win in an impressive start to the season by defeating Sale, 24 – 18. Worcester are well aware that their strengths lie in a combative pack, a controlling fly-half and lightning quick wingers and they exhibited those in equal measure against a Sale team yet to show any real form.

Both wingers, Marcel Garvey and Miles Benjamin, showed their pace and eye for the line in the match, scoring a try apiece. It was the back row combination of Sanderson, Wood and Talei who really caught the eye as they charged around the pitch tackling anything that moved. There’s a steel to this Worcester side that has been building over the past few seasons. They might not challenge for the title but they should do enough to keep themselves safe.

On Saturday night, Bath welcomed Leicester to the Rec and a return to fitness of Aaron Mauger in the tigers’ backline. Pure quality never diminishes and Mauger has it in spades, evidenced in his deft passes and astute kicking throughout. It was Bath who took a slim lead into half time, by 14 – 13, after a typically bullish Banahan try and three Nicky Little penalties, compared to a Mefin Davies converted score and two Staunton penalties.

Dan Hipkiss returned to the fold as a second half substitute for Anthony Allen and reminded everyone of his talents with a very well taken try to get Leicester back into the game. However Bath responded with two further Little penalties and the match ended a fair 20 – 20.

Leicester have had an ominously quiet start to the season, observing the turbo-charged rugby of London Irish and Northampton and the grit of Saracens and Wasps to sit just behind the play-off positions without ever hitting top gear. Bath’s new signings are settling in well and they’ll be hoping to keep on improving as the winter draws closer.

On Sunday both the top two going into the weekend were in action, London Wasps away to London Irish and Saracens at home to Gloucester. Saracens again fought and hassled their way to a victory, this time with Glen Jackson steering the ship instead of Derrick Hougaard, as they narrowly defeated Gloucester 19 – 16.

Saracens may not be scoring many tries or playing very attractive rugby but they are winning against good teams. They are another squad unlikely to be too troubled by the international window (aside from Captain Steve Borthwick) and could improve further.

In a scrappy match London Irish made the better of their opportunities and overcame a misfiring Wasps outfit to take the match 28 – 16. Sailosi Tagicakibau was again the difference between the sides as he proved his credentials as one of the best wingers in the competition with two well taken tries, one of which was an interception when it looked like Wasps were about to storm back into the game.

With three bonus points already, London Irish are only one point behind the leaders Saracens and look like the best team in the competition at the moment. Next week is the last round before the season starts to get confusing with Heineken Cup and Autumn Internationals stealing the limelight – it has been a very interesting start to the season, what are your thoughts on all matters Premiership?: Harlequins being second from bottom? The strange amount of drawn matches? Saracens’ South African revolution?

By Jon Hobbs