The Premiership got back underway this week with wins for Sarries, Chiefs, Saints, Worcester and Quins with a draw between Bristol and London Irish. We return to Europe this weekend in what is a somewhat disjointed Premiership season with another fixture not till 20th December, but nonetheless here are some talking points from the weekend.
Normality resumed for Saracens
Whatever your view on the salary cap it can’t be denied that when at full strength, Saracens are still the best team in Europe, but they ground out a win this weekend despite not playing their best rugby with some uncharacteristic errors from big players. The squad has been somewhat disrupted by returning World Cup players perhaps leading to the high error count and lack of discipline but they still never looked like losing. It’s hard to envision a team of this quality being relegated and if they keep grinding out wins like this they will be sure to stay in the Premiership. Bath will be disappointed not to have gotten anything out of this game and errors on their side prevented them from making a real impact which will frustrate both the players and management.
Woeful Wasps and Terrible Tigers
If you take a look at the Premiership table after round 5 it’s an unfamiliar picture. Two giants of the English game are sat in 10th (Wasps) and 11th (Leicester) with only the points-deducted Saracens below them. It’s great to see the Premiership more competitive than ever but do these big clubs that are struggling need to shake their game plans up? Leicester’s usually solid defence and set piece is letting them down more often than not and if you watched the East Midlands derby, Northampton fully exploited that; its a problem that needs fixing quickly if they want to avoid a real relegation dogfight.
Another real issue for them is try-scoring, this Saturday was no exception with again only 1 try being scored, taking them to a total tally of 5 for the season, it’s a tough read for Tigers fans. They are lacking in a clear game plan with kicks from hand not finding space but ball in hand doing the same. The likes of May, Ford, Tuilagi and Holmes all have the ability to unlock defences but it’s only useful in the right areas. Their next game is at home to Exeter which could serve as a real turning point if they can turn over this year’s favourites.
Wasps have scored some great tries but not enough of them. Watson and Kibirige out wide have provided the X-factor we are used to seeing from this Wasps side but they are yet to get a try bonus point this season and looked very average against Exeter on Saturday. Breaks were scarce and when Carr was set off down the wing they failed to score at a crucial time which would have seen the teams go level; this lack of clinical finishing could really hinder them this season. The team need to rally together through this rut as they certainly don’t lack the players to be challenging for top 4 and Quins in the next round will be a good test of where they are at mentally.
Proctor leads the way
A number of players stood out this weekend: O’Flaherty was excellent for Exeter in both attack and defence; Danny Care looked back to near his best for Quins and Cornell Du Preez put a real shift in versus a good Sale side for Worcester.
It was Northampton’s number 13 Matt Proctor however, that really stood out for me on his first Premiership start. The once capped All Black showed his ability to find space within defences with the speed and power to be able to exploit them, combined with Hutchinson on his inside it was too much for the Leicester defence to handle. He’s a great footballer which you can see in the lines he runs and awareness of others when he’s on the ball, both of which lead to tries for Northampton one of those scored by Proctor. He’s everything you want and need in an outside centre and expect him to offer much more this season.
By Tim Lloyd