With each team’s biggest names battling it out on the international stage, it is the turn of the fringe player to prove their worth to the Guinness Premiership cause. For the club purist it is a chance to see how the next generation is faring and to have a glimpse of the future.
It is not now an adequate excuse to roll out that the best clubs are penalised too severely for developing strong home nation talent. Managers and coaches now know they will be without a host of international stars for over a third of the season and must plan their squads accordingly.
The biggest shock of the weekend came on Friday night at Edgeley Park where a committed and determined Worcester beat Sale by 17-9. Something about being up North must agree with Worcester as they’ve now beaten Sale away three times in a row. Without Luke McAlister, Sale lacked the penetration required to go over the try line and coach Saint-Andre is now seriously concerned about his side’s form and their ability to pose a title challenge.
Bristol managed to secure their first Premiership win of the season at home to Northampton to claw back some ground on the rest of the league. They are still many people’s favourites for the drop and it will take a few more big wins like this one to stand a chance. They held out to take it 14-13.
Gloucester notched up an impressive away victory against Saracens by 25-21. Even without their star players, Gloucester were able to field an impressive lineup including Morgan, Allen, Tindall, Balshaw and Vainikolo with Dean Ryan remarking the team is back to its best.
London Irish made the most of the international weekend to consign Newcastle to another defeat by beating them at Kingston Park by 24-8. One Armitage was on the winning side this weekend as Delon’s younger brother Steffon scored a try and was integral to the exiles’ success.
In the most topsy-turvy game of the weekend, Bath came through against Leicester by 25-21. Leicester were 20-3 down at half time, came back to 21-20 up then lost out with a last-gasp play to a Butch James try.
And finally, on a cold Sunday night in Middlesex, one team cemented their challenge for the title this season whilst another played the kind of rugby that might well see them challenging for the 1st Division title next season. As good as Harlequins were, Wasps allowed them so much time, space and so many penalties that they really just had to turn up and pass the ball around a bit and the victory was theirs. Impressive for the home side were the back row, in particular Tom Guest and New Zealand’s forgotten man, Nick Evans. He showed the pace, composure and skill to warrant consideration from the mighty ABs again.
A full programme of fixtures again this weekend, the pick of the bunch being the clash between Leicester and Harlequins on Saturday.
By Jon Hobbs