Aviva Premiership Review: Rd 11

Nearly a Triumph

I came very close to getting a full house for the second week running which would have been a first. It looked very much like last week’s 6/6 predictions would be repeated but like most of my horses they stumbled at the final hurdle.

 

It started so well – Friday night I not only had Wasps winning away at Newcastle but I also said that the Falcons would pick up a losing bonus point.

Wasps had been cruising at 17 – 0 but Newcastle never gave up and managed to grab the bonus point just as the clock was turning red. Dean Richards would have wanted more but the bonus inches his side towards safety in the Premiership and he can look forward to the New Year with some confidence.

 

Saturday’s first big game was at Franklins Gardens where Bath tuned up with high hopes of continuing their good run. The visitors were on an 11 match winning streak in all competitions and must have fancied their chances. This optimism was underlined when they raced into a 13 – 0 lead after just 15 minutes courtesy of a Kyle Eastmond try and George Ford’s trusty boot.

But as Northampton have shown they are nothing if not resilient – they were ahead after 30 and then stretched away to lead 21 – 13 at half time.

More tries followed for both sides in the second half and Bath fought back to be just 33 – 25 with a little over ten minutes to go – but Northampton scored their 6th try to ensure they travelled home pointless. Both Stephen Myler and George Ford pressed cases for consideration in Stuart Lancaster’s squad now that he is short of a number 10 following Toby Flood’s decision to head off to France at the end of season.

 

The Tigers had Owen Williams at fly-half in Flood’s absence and he did well as Leicester recovered from last week’s mauling by Saracens to take all four points at home to Sale Sharks.

They established a comfortable lead and looked to be cruising at 20 – 3 before Sale staged a strong fight back. The Sharks were without Danny Cipriani who had flu and so he didn’t have a chance to press his own claims for consideration of an England recall but former internationals Mark Cueto and James Gaskell lead from the front as the Sharks finished powerfully to grab themselves a bonus point and to deny the Tigers a valuable fourth try.

 

Top of the table Saracens went to bottom club Worcester and predictably came away with a five point haul – achieving the fastest bonus point of the season in less than 30 minutes.

The half time and indeed the final score was 26 – 8 following a pointless (sic) second forty.

In the absence of the injured Owen Farrell, Charlie Hodgson filled in well with 3 conversions and a try of his own. Lancaster will have been pleased to see Brad Barritt back in action although it seems likely that he won’t be first choice for the 6 nations.

 

Nearly 75,000 were at Twickenham to see Big Match 6 with Harlequins taking on the Exeter Chiefs. Harlequins always looked the better side but no one can deny that Exeter play the sort of exciting rugby that draws a sell -out crowd to Sandy Park for every home game.

Rob Baxter’s side are prepared to run the ball from anywhere on the park and whilst the execution isn’t always perfect they can be a real handful for any team that isn’t ready to defend against that sort of ambition.

Harlequins were however, and they showed an equal willingness to play attacking rugby with soft hands and offloads from backs and forwards alike. Nick Easter stood out as did Mike Brown, Danny Care, Matt Hopper and Charlie Walker. In some positions Stuart Lancaster is spoilt for choice.

Harlequins won comfortably but will regret butchering at least two chances for a try bonus – one, surprisingly, by the otherwise excellent Brown.

 

So, on Saturday night I had 5/5 correct predictions and was feeling fairly confident that London Irish would hold off Gloucester to give me a second perfect score in 8 days.

It was not to be – Gloucester came away with the win – but only thanks largely to Billy Twelvetrees who kicked 5 out of 5 and grabbed a loose ball to send Johnny May away for an easy try.

The Irish managed 19 points – consisting of 3 tries and just one successful kick.

When you have a Wallaby full back who is useful with the boot it seems incomprehensible that with the other kickers failing you don’t chuck the ball to him to have a go.

With just four minutes left on the clock they had the opportunity to draw level with a long range penalty attempt – why on earth did they not finally call up James O’Connor to try and land them more than a losing bonus point?

 

Here’s the summary of the results –

Falcons 12 – 17 Wasps

Tigers 30 – 23 Sharks

Saints 43 – 25 Bath

Worcester 8 – 26 Saracens

Harlequins 22 – 6 Chiefs

London Irish 19 – 22 Gloucester

 

And the table at the halfway stage of the season looks like this –

 

 

Pos

 

Team

Pl

W

D

L

Pts

1

 

Saracens

11

10

0

1

46

2

 

Northampton Saints

11

9

1

1

43

3

 

Bath Rugby

11

8

0

3

34

4

 

Harlequins

11

7

0

4

32

5

 

Leicester Tigers

11

6

1

4

30

6

 

Exeter Chiefs

11

6

0

5

27

7

 

London Wasps

11

5

0

6

27

8

 

Sale Sharks

11

5

0

6

25

9

 

Gloucester Rugby

11

4

0

7

21

10

 

Newcastle Falcons

11

3

0

8

14

11

 

London Irish

11

2

0

9

13

12

 

Worcester Warriors

11

0

0

11

3

 

Saracens and Northampton are pulling away and it looks very much like there will be a scrap for the last two play-off places. Much though will depend on the period of the 6 nations when many sides will have to manage without their internationals – and this could make the difference in the end.

I’ll post my predictions for next weekend later in the week.

 

 

About David Shute

Shutey’s obsession with all things rugby far exceeds his ability on the pitch during his playing days as his blog (www.rugbyoldbloke.wordpress.com) certainly testifies.
He lives in England and can be caustic about the progress of his team since his mate Clive resigned – this is reflected in his writing about the state of Northern Hemisphere rugby. You can follow Shutey on twitter but only if you seriously have nothing better to do.

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