As we end the first five rounds of the Guinness Premiership it is evident that this season’s competition is going to be a close one. The quality promised by all the impressive signings hasn’t quite come to the fore as hoped but there have been enough glimpses of potential to ensure we are all looking forward to the domestic contest’s resumption mid-November.
No teams have gone unbeaten but Bath, Leicester and Sale have looked the most impressive with Harlequins also playing some exciting rugby. This was in evidence last night when they scored 4 tries in a pulsating first half at Worcester but then slipped off the boil somewhat. The game ended 30-23 to Quins and they will take heart from their performances thus far.
In perhaps the most impressive performance of the round, London Irish defeated the league leaders Sale 28-6 by scoring four tries to none against a defence that had gone four games without conceding any. Taking a look back through Irish’s results so far they have beaten Sale, Wasps and Harlequins and only lost by two points to Leicester and by four points to Bath. Coach Toby Booth will be mightily impressed by that start to the season.
The big news before the match at Adams Park was that Danny Cipriani was making his return to the team six weeks ahead of schedule. This was on the same ground and against the same team where he had sustained a dislocated fracture of his ankle at the end of last season. He performed admirably for 51 minutes but the team around him succumbed to the same malaise that has blighted their season so far. A complete lack of cohesion, leadership and direction is the reason for Wasps’ poor start – three adjectives associated with the one man they hoped they wouldn’t miss, Dallaglio. Bath looked good for their victory although will be concerned at how they let such a poor team come so close to taking the spoils. Bath ended up winning by 27 – 23.
Gloucester’s topsy-turvy season continued in the same manner as they thrashed Newcastle 39-23. Iain Balshaw scored three tries, reminding everyone that he can still mix it with the best of them at this level (let’s not pick him for England though, please Mr Johnson). Jonny Wilkinson was helped off the field after twisting his knee – he only has to have 18 further different injuries to have injured every conceivable part of his anatomy at some stage in his career. There was no place in the Gloucester squad for Ryan Lamb and I wouldn’t be surprised if his agent’s phone is red hot right now.
Leicester maintained their solid start to the season with a 29-19 victory over Northampton at Welford Road. Toby Flood has made the transition from 12 to 10 with ease and seems to be revelling in the decision-maker’s role. It does help to have a 38-cap all black playing outside you though.
Saracens also kept their chase for the top of the league on track with a hard fought win away against Bristol, by 23-16. Richard Hill is still looking on the bright side despite the fact that his team are the only ones not to register a win as yet. Their next fixture is a home tie against Northampton on the 16th November – a loss there and their season will really start to look shaky.
Now we can all sit back and enjoy the wonders of the EDF and Heineken cups. My money is on the Irish regions to make the strongest start.
By Jon Hobbs