With squads bolstered by the return of some England internationals, most, if not all, of the premiership teams took to the field this weekend with scores to settle and points to prove.
Let’s start with the one match that didn’t go ahead, Sale against Wasps on Friday night. Attention has been focused on Wasps’ director of rugby, Tony Hanks, for his decision that the pitch was not fit to play on when both his counterpart at Sale, Phil Kingsley-Jones and the referee declared it playable.
The fact that the pitch had to be inspected and it wasn’t merely a formality that the match would go ahead would suggest that there was, at the very least, some concern from all three parties as to whether it was playable. The rules are that all three must agree that the pitch is playable for the match to go ahead and as they didn’t, the match was abandoned.
Whilst “player-safety” is an easy issue to hide behind, Wasps would not have gone up to Sale with a view to call the match off. They had taken a strong squad with them, possibly their strongest of the season, and it is of no benefit to them not to play and risk fixture congestion later in the season. The decision must have been an honest one and any investigation should be focused on changing the rules to give the power to abandon a match to an independent official.
The two matches that did go ahead on Friday night were Worcester v Saracens and Newcastle v Northampton. Any team hoping to defeat Saracens must have a solid, reliable full back and an accurate kicking game. Worcester, with Latham at the back and Willie Walker pulling the strings from 10 are such a team and for one half of this match looked like they might hold the key to unlocking the dogged Saracens.
However such is the measure of Saracens’ determination this season that they came back from 9 – 3 down to take the lead and it was only in the last 10 minutes of the match that Worcester equalised to notch their second successive 12 – 12 draw.
Newcastle had the considerable momentum of consecutive victories against Bath, Worcester and London Irish as they welcomed Northampton to Kingston Park. But it was Shane Geraghty, out to re-establish his reputation after a dismal autumn showing, who once again stole the show along with his lightning-quick winger, Chris Ashton.
Newcastle were in touch throughout the first half but lapses in concentration in the second allowed Ashton over for his second and third tries to take his tally for the season to 9 (5 in the premiership). The match finished 28 – 8 to Northampton.
On Saturday Leicester managed to undo a lot of Leeds’ good work in recent weeks with a flurry of second-half points at Welford Road. Toby Flood and Lewis Moody both starred as Leicester, turning around at the break with the scoreboard level at 6 – 6, scored 5 second half tries and ended the match comfortable victors by 39 – 6.
Crucial this season will be Leeds’ ability to keep bouncing back and taking positives even in defeat. They will have a chance to right some wrongs on Friday night as they welcome Harlequins to Headingley.
Harlequins conducted a mini-revival of their own on Saturday with victory at home against Gloucester, 35 – 29, securing a bonus point in the process. Nick Evans was again central to their efforts with a cracking solo try and 15 points with the boot.
In the final game of the weekend Bath failed to score a solitary point at home as London Irish shut them out, 16 – 0. Ryan Lamb recovered from his poor display against Newcastle last week to score all his side’s points.
The win keeps Irish in touch with Saracens at the top of the table. Despite the fact that they’ve lost two matches and drawn one, their impressive four bonus points compared to none for Saracens means they are within four points of their London rivals. The two teams face each other on 27th December which should be a cracker of an encounter.