As the days get colder and Christmas looms round the corner, our Guinness Premiership heroes try to warm the cockles of our hearts by bestowing upon us exciting play, scintillating breaks and try-heavy score lines. Whilst this isn’t always the case, it is heartening to see the teams trying to play the most expansive and attacking rugby are sitting at the top of the table.
On a bitter Friday night, the two most Northern clubs hosted a couple of intriguing matches to set the weekend off. First up, Sale defeated Leicester in a more comprehensive manner than most would have predicted. A display of hamstring-popping pace from Cueto from within his own half saw him race clear for the first try early on and Sale never looked back. The Tigers briefly hinted at a comeback with a well taken Aaron Mauger try, beating what looked like about 5 would-be tacklers in the process, but they couldn’t bridge the gap and Sale ended up 27-13 winners.
Further North, Wasps and Sale played out a disappointing match with each side looking to hand the victory to the other on a plate by committing regular infringements. Rather than actually winning the match, Wasps just played slightly less badly than Newcastle and it was only Dave Walder who shone with an excellent penalty-kicking display to help Wasps take it 23 -17.
Wasps will be welcoming back their internationals with open arms with very few of their squad players standing up to be counted for the rest of the season. Newcastle on the other hand may have uncovered another fly-half gem in 18 year old Rory Clegg – he exhibited plenty of skill and composure throughout to keep his side on the attack and in contention.
The only match to be played on Saturday saw Gloucester canter to an easy victory against Northampton by 33-10. Again it was the cherry and whites’ stellar back line dominating the points tally with tries by Balshaw, Vainikolo and Barkley as well as one from Luke Narraway. Northampton boss Jim Mallinder wasn’t too perturbed with the result and I think realises that this season is one of consolidation for his Saints team before mounting more of a challenge next year.
On Sunday London Irish hopped above Bath and joined Gloucester at the top of the Premiership. Irish claimed the number one spot on points difference with a win away at Bristol, 18-13. It wasn’t all plain sailing though and took a Shane Geraghty interception try to see them clear in a match Bristol could have won. Things should keep on improving for Irish as two England men who actually enhanced their reputations, Nick Kennedy and Delon Armitage, return to the fold.
Aiding the congestion at the top of the table (the top five are separated by three points) was a Harlequins victory over Bath at the Stoop, 21-14. Credit has to go to Dean Richards who has brought on some fantastic young players in the past couple of seasons. Mike Brown, Jordan Turner-Hall and Tom Guest are now regularly outplaying their opposite men at Premiership level and further honours should be forthcoming.
In the mid-table clash between Saracens and Worcester, the Londoners eased to a convincing 23 -6 victory. This win sees a 6 point gap emerge between the playoff hopefuls and the relegation contenders as league action once again takes a pause to make way for the Heineken Cup home & away double header fortnight.
The two sides who have confounded expectations are London Irish and Wasps with the rest of the teams settling into the predicted pecking order. The competition will kick-off again on the 20th December with the top two, Gloucester and London Irish, battling it out at Kingsholm.