What a difference a week makes. On the back of the biggest winning points margin last week, Gloucester were royally thrashed by their old boy, Ryan Lamb, and his new team London Irish. But just as no-one at Gloucester would have been getting carried away last weekend, one performance doesn’t turn Lamb into the next Jonny Wilkinson.
Noah Cato scores at Wembley
While Lamb took the man of the match award, The Exiles’ Samoan winger, Sailosi Tagicakibau was the major entertainer with two very well taken tries. London Irish will be great fun to watch this season and they will hope that their exciting brand of rugby can win them the trophy. Gloucester’s one-on-one tackling was atrocious at times and it will be interesting to see whether last week’s result or this one was the blip. Irish secured a winning bonus point and took the game 40 – 10.
On Friday night Worcester showed they’ve already put last week’s tight defeat behind them with a comprehensive victory of their own, at home to Leeds – 27 – 7. Willie Walker ran the show on a night when Worcester seemed determined to get their season off to a good start. Worcester have some excellent British players who look like this season are coming of age – Tom Wood and Alex Grove are two to keep an eye on.
Leeds’ coach Neil Back won’t be too disappointed with their start to the campaign but they will need to learn some lessons pretty quickly if they are hoping not to be involved in a relegation fight towards the end of the season. Currently lying 10th in the league, they have some tough fixtures ahead against London Irish, Northampton and Gloucester.
Saracens hosted Northampton at Wembley in front of an impressive crowd of nearly 45,000. These two teams are very well matched and the game was marshalled by the two fly-halves, Shane Geraghty and Glen Jackson. Both men were accurate with the boot as the defences stood strong and the sides went into half time with the score at 9 -3 to Saracens. In the second half it was Noah Cato who gave the crowd what they were looking for with a big hit on Dylan Hartley on the Saracens 22m line that dislodged the ball which allowed him to pick up and race away to score a length of the pitch try.
Northampton came back strongly with a try from centre Jon Clarke and looked as though they might steal it as prop Soane Tonga’uiha went over the try line late in the game. The video replays looked like he might have got the ball down but the decision was a knock on and Saracens held out to win it 19 – 16.
Two tight wins from two for Saracens is an excellent start but there will be tough challenges to come in the form of Quins and Gloucester in the next two weeks. They will want to clean up their discipline as it is making things more difficult than they need to be – this weekend Schalk Brits was sin-binned again at a crucial time of the match.
Over in Somerset Bath were looking to improve from the disastrous defeat at the hands of Gloucester on the first weekend of the season as they welcomed London Wasps to The Rec. Wasps started the match where they’d left off against Harlequins, with scrum-half Joe Simpson showing again why he’s one of the best young players in the Premiership at the moment with some searing breaks. He set up one of two Varndell scores with a simple pick up from the base of a scrum in his own half and outpacing the whole Bath back-row.
Bath were able to keep in touch due to some poor kicking from Danny Cipriani – he missed four out of five kicks in total. Wasps also struggled with their discipline as Tim Payne was given a second yellow card for scrum related offences and had to play the closing stages of the match with 14 men. It almost proved to be Wasps’ undoing as Bath scored with the final play of the game, wide on the right through Ben Skirving. The conversion was a tough one and Bath’s Ryan Davis wasn’t up to the task, missing it wide and condemning Bath to a second defeat, by 17 -15.
The win sent Wasps to the top of the table and Bath to the bottom. Wasps have been quite lucky with their two victories and will need to improve further if they want to stay where they are. Bath do not seem to have recovered from their turbulent summer yet but they have the quality to make their way up the table.
In Saturday’s other game Harlequins hosted Leicester at the Stoop, keen to shake off their poor start to the season on and off the pitch. Despite some enterprising play, the match turned into another kicking duel with Leicester not able to score a try in two matches. Leicester’s new fly half Jeremy Staunton took more opportunities than Harlequins’ Nick Evans and they won the match 15 – 9.
Harlequins have joined Bath at the foot of the table but their performances have merited better. They will play Saracens, Newcastle and Bath in the coming weeks and should remain confident of taking some points. Leicester play Newcastle, Bath and Worcester and will want three wins to take them higher in the table.
Newcastle broke a premiership record in their game against Sale but not one they would have necessarily wanted – they became the first team to score two consecutive draws at the start of the season, this one ended 16-all. Both coaches felt their side could and should have won it but a draw was the fair result.
There have been a lot of close matches over the first couple of weeks of the season and that will be a sign of how tight the league will be. So far no team has consistently stood out, but impressive one-off victories and passages of play have marked London Irish, Saracens and Wasps as the teams to watch over the next few weeks.
By Jon Hobbs