Following a productive European fortnight for most of England’s clubs, the Guinness Premiership resumed this weekend with Gloucester and Bath looking to keep going where they left off, sitting at the top of the league.
The weekend began with Sale’s visit to Worcester and the debut of perhaps the most surprising of all the Southern Hemisphere signings, Luke McAlister. It is well known that McAlister is (was?!) thought to be a permanent fixture in the All Blacks three-quarters until the next world cup and he showed why on Friday night. He and Hodgson combined like port and cheese to trouble Worcester’s back line regularly. However it was full-back Foden who shone the brightest, scoring an improbable try using Robinson-esque footwork to round off a very capable performance. Sale won 34-15.
Saturday saw Gloucester, Leicester and Bath all record wins to keep them in the play-off race. The manner of Gloucester’s victory will be very encouraging to the cherry and white faithful because it seems that this season they have become more than a one trick pony (that trick being a “flair-at-all-costs” mentality). They came from 13-25 down at half-time to win 27-25 against Quins.
Leicester inflicted a heavy defeat on Leeds but missed out on a bonus point. Varndell scored two and Andy “the Victorian Villain” Goode notched up 4 penalties to help Leicester to a 29-6 victory.
Bristol may have still been suffering from a European hangover (and quite right too!) as they slumped to a 28-13 defeat by Bath. Bath’s man-mountain winger, Matt Banahan, seems to be scoring for fun and it will be interesting to see how he fares on the sevens circuit in December. He only took up rugby three years ago, turning his back on hockey for the benefit of the oval-ball game.
On Sunday Wasps took on Newcastle, both sides keen to carry on their European form. It was Wasps who dominated proceedings, bringing their current run to 4 wins in a row. The back-line, led by man-of-the-match Cipriani, again stole the show with tries for Flutey, Sackey (2) and Cipriani (2).
Saracens keep within touching distance of Bath and Gloucester with their close win over London Irish. Sarries fly-half Jackson decided to throw caution to the wind and instead of going for the posts with a penalty in the last minute of the match he opted to kick to the wing, where Haughton managed to gather the ball and score the winning points. He claimed he did it to ensure Irish would have to score a try to win the game but secretly he did it because he knows everyone loves a showboat.
The stop-start Premiership campaign is once again put on hold for three weeks leading up to Christmas with first the EDF Cup, then the Heineken Cup stealing the limelight.
By Jon Hobbs