In a downpour at the Stoop there was little show-stopping rugby on display. It is on these occasions that a captain is needed to step up and see their team over the line. The hooker was on fine form as a strong display up-front meant Northampton were able to keep the points ticking over from the boot. Hartley was crucial to the one decisive try, seizing on a loose ball from a charge down and recycling quickly. The England international will need to maintain this cool head in order to reinstate himself back in Stuart Lancaster’s plan. However, this display was a true reminder of his quality and as long as he keeps his head on his shoulders, then it will be a strong season for Northampton and their captain.
After making his way onto the England scene this summer, the London Irish wing has carried that momentum into the new season. Two excellent tries epitomised Yarde’s recent brilliant form as he demonstrated pace, strength, agility and a little too much passion, finding it necessary to take exception to Mieres as he crossed the line. Wing is becoming an increasingly interesting position on the England stage with Wade and now Yarde bursting onto the scene. The plaudits, however, certainly go to the London Irish man this week and his skill will be vital for his team, undoubtedly looking to build on last season.
Tom James is another player fitting the Welsh mould of Cuthbert and North, strong and powerful with bags of pace. And following this weekend’s performance, it seems Exeter have certainly secured themselves a solid summer signing. The 26-year old wing lit up the match with two brilliant tries, the second being the pick of the bunch, as he burst through the defence by beating two men and completing the 50 metre sprint to the line to help secure the victory for his team. Exeter are establishing a solid foundation in the Aviva Premiership and with continued comeback performances such as this, they may well find themselves competing for top honours come the end of the season.
Standing at 6ft 5in Iain Henderson towers over most people and the impressive utility forward has continued his growth as one of Ireland’s most exciting young players. His rise to prominence within a hugely talented Ulster team has largely been down to his phenomenal work-rate and tenacious style of play, but injuries to Stephen Ferris and the fluctuating form of Dan Tuohy, Roger Wilson and Sean Doyle have also contributed to his increased appearances for the Irish Province.
Henderson missed the opening match against the Dragons due to injury but his second half substitute appearance against Glasgow demonstrated why Joe Schmidt and his predecessor Declan Kidney spoke so highly of this talented young man. Henderson has already gone on to collect two full international caps for Ireland and while Ulster continue to push for domestic and European honours he could well be adding to that tally come the Autumn.
As Harry Leonard lined up a last gasp penalty on Friday night, those in attendance at Murrayfield could barely watch. The young fly-half slotted home the three points, securing a much needed home win against an impressive Dragons side who defeated Ulster in week one. Leonard was the spark Edinburgh needed as he collected a conversion and two other penalties to bring Edinburgh home 16-13 winners.
At 21 years old, Leonard is one of a crop of impressive young Scots who are blazing a trail through the rugby world. Since joining Edinburgh in 2011 Leonard has amassed 21 appearances scoring 88 points in the process. He has represented Scotland at under-18 and under-20 levels, captaining the latter in the under-20 Six Nations. While he is still eligible for the under-21s Leonard has his eyes firmly fixed on a full international call-up this autumn. His performances for Edinburgh will no doubt give Scotland head coach Scott Johnson a dilemma when it comes to naming his squad for the up-coming Autumn Internationals and Six Nations.
By Jono Frank and Alex Mcleman
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images