Saracens maintained their lofty position in the table over the weekend with another hard-fought victory, away to Newcastle by 22 – 15. As we take a two-week break for European rugby, theirs has been by far the most impressive start to the season without ever showing us fifth gear.
The three tries that Saracens scored flattered to deceive as the sides were evenly matched throughout. Winning is a great habit to have and it is starting to look like this Saracens side might have a real chance at the play-offs. Couple Saracens’ ability to squeeze out the close games with the fact that they aren’t in the Heineken Cup and that they will have relatively few international call-ups and they could quite easily run away with the league in the regular season.
On Friday night, London Irish pulled off an excellent win away to Sale, 11 – 8. A gritty determination to win on a Friday night, away from home and a plan B to stick it up the jumpers when flinging the ball about isn’t working will stand Irish in good stead for a top 4 finish. Tagicakibau was again on the score sheet for the Exiles and Hewat took on the kicking duties to seal the close win.
Saturday saw a continuation of the tight matches this weekend as Leicester edged out a resilient Worcester, 19 – 14. Jeremy Staunton has had a good start to the season for the Tigers and is managing to keep them in touch with the top of the table. Having had a run of victories, his confidence will be up when Leicester lose a fair few players on international duty and he should be able to hold the fort with Mauger and others.
Harlequins managed their first win of the season at home against Bath, 13 – 11. Neither team has managed to hit the ground running this season and this error-strewn match will have done little to scare their Premiership counterparts, or their upcoming Heineken Cup opponents. Despite struggling to win, Harlequins have had some good individual performances and it was the two Nicks, Easter and Evans who helped them to this victory.
The margins in this league are so fine that a few barnstorming runs or long-range kicks aren’t going to be enough to consistently beat other teams, both Harlequins and Bath will need to start gelling for 80 minutes to move up the league.
On Sunday, two of the top four met at Adams Park as Wasps took on Northampton. Going into the game it was the Saints who had the momentum having defeated Leeds by 20 points the week before, with Wasps having lost to London Irish. However it was Wasps who upped the intensity in the first half and blitzed their way into a 17 – 3 lead at half-time.
It was the first time this season that the Londoners had hit the levels of defensive aggression and determination at the breakdown for which they used to be so renowned and it must have taken a lot out of the team as they allowed Northampton back into the match. Geraghty kicked five penalties to bring Northampton within a score but Wasps just held out to win it 20 – 15.
In the final match of the weekend, Leeds went down worryingly easily to fellow strugglers Gloucester, at home, by 26 – 10. There is daylight now between Leeds and the rest of the league and the pressure for a victory is starting to build.
With Newcastle looking like they’re on course to win a match soon and Harlequins beginning to play their way out of the mire, things could start looking very bleak for Leeds in the near future.
As the Heineken Cup takes centre stage for the next fortnight, it is time for the Premiership to take a breather. We have seen some excellent one-off performances from London Irish, Wasps and Northampton and the Saracens’ juggernaut has taken everyone by surprise. With Leicester lurking just outside the top four we look forward to the cold winter months to see who’s squad can take the battering of the season and come out on top.
Who is your money on?
By Jon Hobbs