The Big Match proves rugby’s popularity – GP roundup

In a momentous occasion, flying in the face of the dreaded credit crunch, and proving that rugby in the capital is in rude health, Harlequins staged the inaugural “Big Match” in front of a restricted sell out crowd of 50,000 at Twickenham against Leicester Tigers.

I hope all the Quins fans out there have strong hearts because your boys aren’t shy of a tense finish every now and then! It’s like groundhog day every time Nick Evans takes the field – I wonder if he thinks at the start of the day “which ridiculously exciting and unlikely way can I end today’s match?”. On Saturday it was a touchline conversion with 20 seconds left on the clock to square the match at 26-all which he nailed.

Despite Evans’ stunning contribution, I would say the man-of-the-match was Jordan Turner-Hall whose hard, straight lines set Quins on the front foot every time he got the ball. Even allowing for last weekend’s slip up against Saints, it is a great time to be a Quin – there is such a good feeling around the club both on and off the field.

The upset of the round was Saracens defeating London Irish by 16-13. All great runs have to come to an end and the Exiles’ 10 match winning streak was halted by Glen Jackson’s boot and a Moses Rauluni try. This season’s Premiership still has plenty of twists left in it and it could be anyone’s title once the play-off places have been decided.

On Friday night, Sale proved that Wasps’ recent form was less of a revival and more of a false dawn as the boys from the North smashed their southern counterparts 31-3. Cueto is back in form, making searing breaks and scoring tries from full-back and could find himself in Six Nations (and Lions?!) contention.

In fact, Martin Johnson’s February squad could bear little resemblance to his November one – possible additions alongside Cueto are Steffon Armitage, Will Skinner, Jordan Turner-Hall, Olly Morgan, Mike Tindall, Tom May and, dare we say it, Jonny Wilkinson? Who else has put their hand up in recent weeks?

Wilkinson’s understudy at Newcastle, Rory Clegg, has been putting in some solid performances recently but a fumbled quick lineout was indirectly responsible for Worcester’s only try of the match, as it ended 16-16.

Gloucester got back to winning ways with a bonus point victory away at Bristol 29-10. Tindall scored two tries as Bristol struggled to cope with a cherry and white side with a score to settle.

Bath made the most of Irish’s slip-up to defeat Northampton 25-14 and regain the top spot in the premiership. Their adopted South Africans, Butch James (2 cons, 2 pens) and Michael Claasens (2 tries) scored the majority of the points.

One win separates the top four teams as we head into 2009. One hope for the new rugby year is that the top players in the British Isles stay injury free and we take the best squad possible to South Africa next summer. If the Premiership needed any more spice, the incentive of a Lions summer should provide it.

By Jon Hobbs