As the dust settles on another tight England defeat, with the score line flattering to deceive the performance, an envious glance will be cast by Martin Johnson at the style and level of rugby being played by some of the Premiership teams shorn of their England stars.
Geraghty: will Johnno come calling?
There were two stand-out ties of the round – London Irish v Leicester and Gloucester v Bath – but the sheer excitement of the last 10 minutes at the Madejski stadium stole the headlines.
At times Leicester looked to have the match completely under control only for the unpredictable Irish attack to once again breach the defensive line. Irish have game-breakers lining up all over the park and perhaps this contributes to their major limitation: they only know how to play one game-plan at breakneck speed and struggle to squeeze the life out of their opposition to close down a game.
Having said that, the Premiership is better for it and you could see by the way all the Irish players, Shane Geraghty and Steffon Armitage in particular, were running around with smiles on their faces that they wouldn’t want it any other way. In the end, a last ditch break from winger Thompstone wasn’t enough and Irish went down 28-31.
In another high-scoring contest, Gloucester downed Bath 36-27 and picked up a valuable bonus point to extend their lead at the top of the table. James Simpson-Daniel again showed why, when fit, he demands to be picked for England with two scintillating tries.
Northampton fans will be devastated to see that their remarkable home record was finally quashed by none other than Newcastle Falcons. If you want to watch a team in form and enjoying their rugby you could do no better than taking a look at the Falcons. Racing to a 19-0 lead in the first half they were able to hang on despite a resilient fight-back to win 19-12.
Worcester managed an equally unlikely victory against a London Wasps team who had been scraping regular wins in recent weeks. It seems that the results may have been papering over the cracks for Wasps and their season is one or two more losses away from being a trophy-less one. In this match Wasps were unfortunate not to make more of their opportunities and can feel aggrieved with a couple of decisions but don’t currently deserve to be any higher in the table.
Bristol nearly gave new head coach Paul Hull a happy start to his tenure as they led their game against Harlequins going into extra time. They were, however, cruelly denied a vital win by an Ugo Monye try and Chris Malone conversion after 80 minutes as Quins took it 17-14. With closest rivals Newcastle and Worcester both managing unexpected victories, Bristol are now talking of salvaging pride and just trying to get a couple of wins before the inevitable relegation.
In another tense finish Saracens gained an important victory against Sale 24-23 to momentarily forget that their squad is being disbanded at the end of the season. The rest of this campaign will no doubt turn into an emotional “us-against-the-world” affair and there could well be some more upsets on the cards. Sale did have a chance to win it at the death but Lee Thomas missed a conversion to hand Sarries the win.
Next week sees the two form-teams from last weekend face up to each-other as Gloucester travel to Leicester on Saturday. The Premiership sides all welcome back those England players who weren’t in the starting XV against Ireland so expect to see improved performances from the teams worst affected by international call ups.
By Jon Hobbs