Aviva Premiership Review: Rd 2

Near Miss

When two planes get close to each other it’s termed as a near miss by the aviation authorities – personally I’ve always thought it would be better described as a near hit.

Well I had some near hits (3), 2 near misses and one direct hit this week. It was a case of oops for my predictions, which on balance were rubbish with me getting only 3 out of 6 right – a mere 50%

In my defence (which was about all I was good at on the pitch) all but one match ended up with the losers within the 7 points required for a bonus point – so we had 5 very close games – right up until the last one on Sunday when Saracens eventually ran out comfortable winners. I predicted that one well enough but there is some story behind the score line – as you’ll hear.

It was a weekend of rugby director’s letting fire too. I’ve called them all directors here – some may be called head coach or something else – just to be clear it’s the bloke in charge I’m referring to.

Friday night Newcastle Falcons – everyone’s favourites for relegation, defied the odds and took all 4 points away from Sale. Sale you’ll recall wrestled a fine win away at Gloucester in week 1. So I’ve managed to get both their results wrong!

Sale had plenty of ball and missed easy kicks at goal to eventually fall 14-15 to the Falcons. The abrasive Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond was ‘disappointed’ – in much the same way that Napoleon felt after Waterloo I imagine.

Dean Richards will be pleased to have a first win especially on the road.

The other Friday night game saw Northampton Saints away to Harlequins – another scrappy game that finished 6 -13 in atrocious conditions at the Stoop. Jim Mallinder acknowledged that there was room for improvement but must have been happy that the Saints made it 2 out of 2.

Nick Evans the former All Black kicked the points for Quins as James Wilson scored the only try of the game and Myler added the rest. Although the Saints won they lost Courtenay Lawes just after half time and he was heavily strapped as he watched the rest of the game from the side line. Stuart Lancaster will be nervous.

On Saturday Worcester Warriors were surprisingly downed at home 18 -20 by the Irish – Marlon Yarde crossed twice for the visitors to make his tally to 3 in the first two games and he looked sharp – a bonus for Lancaster. Ian Humphreys held his nerve and kicked well to take the win.

With last week’s defeat to Leicester, Worcester are now anchored to the bottom of the table (alongside Gloucester) and Dean Ryan showed his annoyance blaming the refereeing but also his own side’s ill- discipline for the unexpected loss. You wouldn’t want to be training at the Warriors this week!

I predicted that the Chiefs would take Wasps but I didn’t think it would be as close as the final score 30 -26 indicates. Like the other directors Rob Baxter was less than happy at his team’s performance – despite Tom James crossing for two tries – but he will nevertheless be pleased to get his first points of the season. Wasps winger Christian Wade remains sharp and scored again – he is likely to be up there as one of the top try scorers come the end of season (hopefully with a few for England).

Bath started well last week with the away win to Falcons – I thought that Leicester would halt them but I turned out to be wrong – not for the first time over the weekend you’ll notice.

Bath stormed into an 18 -3 lead at the break – and I’m not sure that Leicester have ever been that far behind in one half – except maybe when they have to give up more players for the Internationals than other clubs. Jamie Joseph showed why he remains on Lancaster’s radar and Banahan, not my favourite winger, scored a barn storming try down the left.

Leicester weren’t helped by their French scrum half Mele – last week’s man of the match got on the wrong side of the ref and his Gallic shrugs did little to help. He’s obviously taking lessons in diplomacy from his director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

Whatever Cockerill said at half time – presumably through gritted teeth – certainly made a difference and Leicester took the second half by 17 -9.

It wasn’t enough however and Bath went second (at least until Saracens played on Sunday) running out winners by 27 – 20 – although Leicester scored three tries to Bath’s two.

Of more concern to Cockerill will be the injuries they picked up – they were already missing Toby Flood, Miles Benjamin, Rob Hawkins, Gonzalo Camacho, Graham Kitchener, Matt Smith, Mathew Tait, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs – in addition to Geoff Parling and Louis Deacon who picked up injuries last week against Worcester

This week Hamilton and Morris picked up knocks and had to be subbed. Steve Mafi was also in trouble and noticeably limped over the line for his try.

Leicester have a strong squad but even they will be feeling the pressure from the absence of so many frontline players. Their medics will be busy for the next few days.

The final game of the weekend was Gloucester’s visit to Saracens. Before I talk about the game – Saracens have always been innovators in marketing their games – this week they added a new idea.

Anyone from Gloucester who booked tickets online were given the option of getting their money back if they predicted the winner. They also offered cheap parking – so I guess that the M4 was extra busy yesterday. Mind you the journey back would have been less enjoyable having seen their side go down 44 – 12. The bad news for Saracens is they learned before the game that Brad Barritt will be out until the new year – mind you it will force Stuart Lancaster to consider his centre combinations for the Autumn internationals – which includes a game against the ‘Awe Blacks’

The headlines will say that Gloucester were crushed by 5 tries to none with Saracens getting another bonus point to go clear at the top of the table.

But that’s not the whole story!

Nick Wood apologise to Burger

Nick Wood apologise to Burger

After just 73 seconds Nick Wood was sent off for stamping on Jacques Burger’s face in the first (obviously) maul. It wasn’t the fastest dismissal apparently – someone achieved it after 42 seconds and you have to wonder if he simply ran up and clocked the ref as soon as the game kicked off.

Saracens have strength in depth in the forwards – after an hour they brought on Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits and the enormous James Johnston as probably the biggest impact front row ever!

However Gloucester held out magnificently with only Kvesic and Sione Kalamafoni in the back row and actually finished the first half 12 – 10 to the good even with a man down – but it was the last time they were to trouble the scoreboard.

The England fly-half battle between Owen Farrell and Freddie Burns ended just about even – although Farrell should have been able to pull clear with his armchair ride behind that pack. He will also need to temper his temper – he was the first to arrive in the melee that followed the stamping – not the first time his aggression has been demonstrated on the pitch.

A final score of 44 -12 looks like a cakewalk for Saracens but it took them until Sione Kalamafoni was sin binned just before the game entered the final quarter to get a third try from Brits (one South African hooker who had a good day out)

And the bonus didn’t come until the 77th minute when Billy Vunipola bullocked his way across the whitewash. David Strettle scored on full time to give a polish to the final tally that flattered Saracens who played 69 minutes against only 14 and 10 minutes against just 13 players.

Gloucester are in a bad place (as well as being bottom of the table) – Nick Wood faces a possible 9 week ban and they have yet to show enough power and control up front to give their start studded back line a chance to show what they can do. They will also be worried about the injuries to two of those – Freddie Burns and Henry Trinder who were forced from the field on Sunday.

 

The full results are as follows -

Harlequins 6 – 13 Northampton Saints

Sale Sharks 14 – 15 Newcastle Falcons

Bath 27 – 20 Leicester Tigers

Worcester Warriors 18 – 20 London Irish

Exeter Chiefs 30 – 26 London Wasps

Saracens 44 – 12 Gloucester Rugby

 

 And the table looks like this:

Pos

 

Team

Pl

W

D

L

Pts

1

 

Saracens

2

2

0

0

10

2

 

Northampton Saints

2

2

0

0

9

3

 

Bath Rugby

2

2

0

0

8

4

 

Leicester Tigers

2

1

0

1

6

5

 

Sale Sharks

2

1

0

1

5

6

 

Harlequins

2

1

0

1

5

7

 

London Irish

2

1

0

1

4

8

 

Newcastle Falcons

2

1

0

1

4

9

 

Exeter Chiefs

2

1

0

1

4

10

 

London Wasps

2

0

0

2

2

11

 

Worcester Warriors

2

0

0

2

1

12

 

Gloucester Rugby

2

0

0

2

1

 

So I ended up with just 3 out of 6 right making my score for the first two rounds – 8 out of 12 (66%)

Of more concern is that I picked Gloucester to finish in the top 4 – and that’s looking a bit sick at the moment as they prop up the table.

Next week they entertain (sic) second placed Newcastle at Kingsholm – and they are will be lucky to get the result they want when the Saints march in!

Predictions for round three to follow before the end of the week.

I’ll be hoping to get a glass ball (and hoping it’s not a transplant!)

 

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