My Cassandra Complex
In Greek mythology Cassandra was given the gift of being able to foretell the future but doomed never to be believed!
Well, I can hardly believe it myself but in my preview column for this week I predicted the results for 8 matches (6 in the Aviva Premiership plus the two Rugby Championship matches).
Amazingly I called all eight of them correctly – that’s right 100%, the whole shebang, lock stock and barrel, the complete enchilada, the whole ball of wax – I’m using all these phrases at once since it is unlikely I will need them again this season!
Friday night started with a good win for Northampton Saints at home to Sale Sharks. The Saints have a stellar line up and big performances from players who are in the frame for the England Autumn games – notably Corbisiero, Lawes and Foden. Others who might well be on Stuart Lancaster’s radar are number 8 Sam Dickinson and Luther Burell who is likely to put pressure on the other centre possibles if he continues to break defences as he did against the Sharks. Jamie Elliot with 10 tries in ten appearances also caught the eye again. The Saints bench is powerful and this was underlined when Samu Manoa, Ken Pisi and Tom Wood were called on in the second half.
For Sale, Cipriani again showed that he is back in form – his distribution, soft hands and timed off loads were good to watch – and Mark Cueto showed that he still has a lot to offer despite his now veteran status.
The Sale front row are all just 21 – and stood up well to the highly experienced Saints unit – it’s an area I will explore in an article that is currently under construction.
There were 3 Aviva games on Saturday with home wins for Bath and Wasps whilst Saracens took out Harlequins at the Stoop.
Bath started with George Ford and Dave Attwood – two players who were on the bench last week against Saracens. They made a big difference when they came on and it was no wonder that they were both there for the kick off this week. Again they gave big performances – a couple of years ago Attwood was heralded as the new Martin Johnson and some of his aggression landed him in hot water. He is still aggressive but now it’s controlled and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him involved in the autumn. Ford isn’t quite the finished article at fly half but he will be pushing the more experienced England 10s in the very near future.- he scored a fine individual try and the Sunday papers were just about all ready to install him in the England team now. I think Lancaster will be more cautious with several other candidates ahead of him – but maybe not for too much longer.
Jamie Joseph again played well – alongside Burrell he offers Lancaster options in the mid field. Joseph scored (again) there were two for back rower Guy Mercer and one for Rob Webber – giving Bath a bonus point. All of the Irish points came courtesy of former international Shane Geraghty – all but three in the second half when it was too late. He went over for two tries and added all the rest with his trusty boot.
Wasps also gained a bonus point win when they downed Worcester Warriors at Adams Park. Worcester were ahead in the first quarter but a try before half time by Mullan and three in the second half (Wade, Cooper Wooley and Thomson) saw off the Warriors who only had a late consolation try from Drauniniu to show for their efforts.
After four games the Warriors have only a single losing bonus point on the board and are rooted to the foot of the table. Dean Ryan has been busy recruiting to bolster his squad with Galarza and Creevy joining from the Pumas after the Rugby Championship finishes. He has also picked up former South Africa under 20s international winger Dean Hammond.
They will need to hit the ground running if The Warriors are to be off the bottom at the end of the season.
The big game of R4 was Saracens visit to Harlequins. Chris Ashton scored the only try of the game and again looked hungry for work – the only blemish came when Ugo Monye stood him up in a one on one and cruised round him with ease. It wouldn’t be a total shock if these two were to wear numbers 11 and 14 in the autumn. Chris Robshaw played with total commitment as always – but even he was outdone by the dynamic Burger who has no fear and puts his body (and head) into places where others fear to tread (sic). If doctors gave airmiles for stitches Burger would be able to fly home to Namibia first class every other week.
Farrell won the battle of the kicks and showed in patches why Lancaster (and Farrell senior) are so fond of him – but despite his fierce tackling and dependability with the boot I can’t help wondering if a flat, more attacking number 10 wouldn’t serve England better. I hope to be disproved in November.
Saracens could easily have had two more tries and only Tom Williams excellent holding up of Kelly Brown and George Lowe’s tackle on Strettle kept Quins in the game. Saracens also won the front row battle and whilst Nick Easter stood out for Quins their pack was under pressure throughout.
On Sunday my last two predictions were both for away wins – Leicester at Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester travelling up to Newcastle Falcons.
The Chiefs were strangely out of sorts in the first half and the feared Sandy Park claustrophobia that has been the downfall of many visitors failed to materialise. Ben Youngs and man of the match Niki Goneva went over with Toby Flood adding a conversion and penalty to put Leicester in a comfortable lead of 15 – 0 at half-time.
The refreshments at the break (or Maybe Rob Baxter’s hairdryer) lead to a more combative Exeter in the second 40 – with the reliable Steenson slotting over 3 successive penalties to bring them within a converted try of taking the lead. Aussie Dean Mumm was prominent for their pack and not many will relish a visit to sandy Park if they can play like that for the full 80 minutes. But Toby Flood closed the game out with two more kicks and the Tigers left the South West with four valuable points.
My full house was riding on the last game of the weekend – and Gloucester could easily have let me down. Newcastle Falcons led for nearly three quarters of the game and with less than 20 to go it was tied at 16 – 16. Two late Freddie Burns penalties sealed it for Gloucester (and me) and I was a happy man by 4.45 pm on Sunday afternoon.
The Falcons scored their first try of the season but it wasn’t enough to stop the visitors getting their second win with back to back victories. As you would expect from a team coached by Dean Richards – the Falcons pack were highly combative and they are learning fast about life in the Premiership. The learning curve will need to remain steep to keep them out of the relegation battle come the end of season.
As an afterthought to my column last week I also predicted that the All Blacks and The Springboks would win in the Rugby Championship – although I have to confess that this was an easier task.
The Springboks largely wrapped up the game in the first half – in the first half hour to be honest. But Ewen McKenzie will be more pleased about the Wallabies performance in the second 40. The Aussie backs remain threatening and only need to be given quicker ball on the front foot to show what they can do to any defence. And that’s the problem – how are they going to get that opportunity whilst their pack is under such pressure. The Pumas are lower in the world rankings but their pack is awesome and will be a real handful next week in Gigante de Arroyito. The All Blacks may have won comfortably in the end but they didn’t have it all their own way – Australia beware.
A bonus point win in Argentina is no mean feat – but there is a story behind the result. Argentina are benefiting immensely from being in the Rugby Championship and are edging ever closer to not looking out of place in this competition. Apart from the thumping by the Springboks in Round 1 they have started to compete – especially in the pack as the New Zealand front row will surely attest today. Juan Figallo and Marco Ayerza are props who know their way around the dark shadows of the scrum – what wouldn’t McKenzie give to have them in his side. Leicester’s front row is already strong – just watch out Aviva when Marco gets home after next week’s final game!
But the All Blacks aren’t number one without reason – they ran in the four tries they needed to give them more than a comfortable cushion next week. The Smith’s trio were brilliant and Nonu again mystified all watching as to how he will have to leave the land of the long white cloud to play rugby. I suggest Clermont get ink on paper before someone in Super XV decides he’s well worth a punt.
Next week the Championship finishes with two intriguing games – although I’d put my house on the title for New Zealand it will be a bruising affair at Ellis Park. The Springboks won’t get a try bonus point – I don’t even think they’ll win, but they will try and beat the All Blacks up – as is their wont!
Flip van der Merwe will be missing after his dangerous tackle on Joe Tomane – he’ll be replaced by his namesake Franco. They will also be concerned about the fitness of JJ Engelbrecht who will undergo a test later in the week. The only worry for the All Blacks is Owen Franks and so the North Harbour prop Ben Afeaki is heading to South Africa as cover.
It promises to be another great week of rugby on TV – the wife will be delighted!