Jono Frank keeps his eye on several players that could be pushing for International honours this weekend.
After a disappointing start to their campaign, Bath emerged from this encounter with a new lease of life. The back line looks re-invigorated with Olly Barkley kicking flawlessly and the exciting young talent of Kyle Eastmond threatening out wide. The 23-year-old’s first try for Bath was reminiscent of Jason Robinson, displaying quick feet, pace and strength to dance his way to the line and expose Wasps’ defensive frailties. With the knowledge of Brad Davis, who brought Eastmond over to Rugby Union, and former Springbok coach Gary Gold there is no doubt the multi-talented back can put his injury-plagued season behind him and keep the likes of Christian Wade on their toes in the search for a place in the England squad.
Another convert from Rugby League, Burrell, 24, is a strong and powerful centre that has added depth to the Saints back line. Coming on as first half replacement he had to work exceptionally hard as Exeter piled on the pressure in an attempt to cut Northampton’s lead. However, right when it was a required, an explosive break through the Exeter back line saw the summer signing cross the line for his first try. Burrell has certainly endeared himself to the Franklin’s Gardens crowd, earning the tag of “super sub” for his early season performances. It now remains to be seen if he can instate himself in the starting 15.
Leinster returned to winning ways in the second round of the RaboDirect PRO12 with young fly-half Ian Madigan catching the eye and giving Jonny Sexton something to think about. The European champions ran out winners against Newport Gwent Dragons with the 23-year-old producing a fine display, not only from the boot but with the ball in hand, getting the back line moving well. Whilst benefiting from the agreement between the IRFU and clubs for established internationals that sees Sexton rested for a number of games, he also puts in the hard work himself. Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes was quick to sing his praises, commenting, “He doesn’t get everything right, but he cops his feedback on the chin and then puts his head down and works hard off the field during the week”. Madigan is benefiting from his freedom to develop and is likely to be a name on people’s lips throughout the season.
The Scarlets have got off to a flyer with 21-year-old Liam Williams leading the charge. The full back was instrumental in the thrashing of European Champions Leinster last week and claimed his second man of the match award this weekend as the Welsh team came away from Glasgow sitting firmly at the top of the PRO12 table. Despite his accolades, the young flyer remains grounded, quick to praise other members of his team in their opening performances and in the contribution to his incredible try against Leinster. With only one international appearance to date, Williams will be looking to continue in this vein and try to establish himself amongst a wealth of dynamic and youthful Welsh backs.
In a game that was decided by the boot of Charlie Hodgson it was essential that the forwards contested at the breakdown. Mako Vunipola spoke in preseason about “getting fit in order to repay the coaches’ faith in him” and it was this strength and persistence that eventually wore Sale down. The 21-year-old prop epitomised Saracens’ work rate and was an outstanding presence at the breakdown. A lovely piece of footwork in the second half saw him jink around two defenders before throwing a slightly loose pass, however, the former Bristol youngster’s hard work bodes well for a strong season.
By Jono Frank
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images