Round 7 and the Aviva Premiership was back from its European vacation. And like the Griswalds, it didn’t disappoint. Well, actually, there were some moments that would have had Chevy Chase raising that characteristic eyebrow, but when all was said and done, we found ourselves nodding and smiling in a warm glow of appreciation.
Opening the festivities were Northampton Saints and Gloucester. Two teams who knew a loss could take them a step too close to the canyon. The first half at the Gardens will not live long in the memory and, indeed, showed the fidgety and out of form nature of both sides. The game contained another strange piece of TMO interaction. Having asked for help on a potential double movement for Louis Picamoles’ first half score, referee Tom Foley seemed to ignore advice given and gave the Frenchman a contentious try. Gloucester had much of the game and were, in truth, a tad unlucky not to win; their late surge up the field coming to nothing. The final whistle left David Humphreys gazing wistfully into the distance. A Premiership Director of Rugby’s life contains so many what could have beens; the destitution oozed from the Ulsterman.
Only two games took place on Saturday and it was Saracens that sidled past Leicester with indicative ease. Chris Wyles and Sean Maitland crossed over to round off sweeping Sarries’ moves, and Billy Vunipola rode a Saracens’ maul to add a third; the bonus point score was frustratingly unforthcoming. The match was also notable for the ferocity with which players flung themselves at each other; Michael Rhodes was in a particularly fractious mood. Quite where the form of Ben Youngs is at the moment though, I’m not sure. Or why Freddie Burns doesn’t get a start? Leicester were actually better than some of their recent Premiership performances, that Racing win seems to have put fuel back in the tank, but no one is as good as the men in black at the moment. World Club Challenge anyone? Go on, you know you want to.
Harlequins took on Worcester at the Stoop and the best game of the round was played out. Worcester are a far better side than their table position suggests and they more than contributed to a fine game. Both Willison and Te’o’s scores - each other playing provider - were well constructed and yet only seemed to galvanise ‘Quins further. Danny Care whizzed and popped; Tim Visser showed all his international credentials; and Joe Marchant showed exactly why Eddie Jones has his name in his book. Joe Marler looked as though the bee was back in his bonnet and was relatively lucky to escape a second yellow. Harlequins are settling into a top six side, whether they have enough to break into the top four remains to be seen. Worcester, suffering a long injury list at the moment, are a very enjoyable side to watch. They always seem to be involved in positive games of rugby.
Sunday served up a weighty trio. Three games that won’t get too many likes on Facebook but more than represented the current state of top flight affairs. Newcastle were eventually put away by Wasps but it wasn’t until Cipriani found Gopperth on a switch in the 69th minute that things seemed comfortable. A second score for the former Leinsterman in extra time flattered the home side but a bonus point win was secured. Dean Richards’ men will have been pleased to live with the Coventry outfit for so long; a top half spot does still look within reach.
The same can’t be said for Bristol. They welcomed Sale to Ashton Gate for a game that needed, at the very least, a stirring performance. It was not convergent and the Sharks, with the likes of Mike Haley, Paolo Odogwu and Sam James calling the tune, waltzed through the home defence with amenity. Nearly 15,000 turned up in the recently refurbished and extended stadium to witness a seemingly rudderless home side showing. Will Hurrell, a sole beacon of light for Bristol, proffered post match that individual errors were to blame; you could add that far too many individuals are making them. They kicked the ball away too often and couldn’t hold on to it for longer than three phases. Gavin Henson’s departure after ten minutes (with a shoulder injury) was unfortunate, but cannot be held up as an excuse for their dismal display. Desperate times for the Premiership’s bottom club; when people are using your name in the sentence as London Welsh, you know things are bad. If Andy Robinson makes the end of this week, I’ll be surprised.
The final game of the weekend was also a crime scene. But on this occasion, it was Bath pilfering the points, and few Exeter fans can have any complaints. It was, again, an arm-wrestle of a contest, with the likes of Matt Garvey and Dave Attwood showing all of their heavyweight class. As only seconds remained on the clock, George Ford’s flat pass found Semesa Rokoduguni and the Fijian-born winger promptly complied, adding Steenson and Woodburn to his long list of defenders beaten. With footwork to rival Ronaldinho, Rocky is making it as difficult as possible for Eddie Jones to ignore him. The Chiefs, however, are victims of their own success says Rob Baxter. They seem to me like a car that has been taken apart and then put back together again; somehow, despite everything being in place, it just doesn’t seem to go as fast. Some tinkering to be done, not a lot, but still.
The Anglo Welsh provides another two week hiatus, the Autumn Internationals a distraction, but we will be back.
Aviva Premiership Team of the Week Round 7
15 Mike Haley (Sale Sharks), 14 Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath), 13 Matt Scott (Gloucester), 12 Winston Stanley (Harlequins), 11 Chris Wyles (Saracens), 10 Jimmy Gopperth (Wasps), 9 Danny Care (Harlequins), 1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens), 2 Elvis Taione (Exeter Chiefs), 3 Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), 4 Michael Rhodes (Saracens), 5 Dave Attwood (Bath), 6 Matt Garvey (Bath), 7 David Seymour (Sale Sharks), 8 Louis Picamoles (Northampton Saints)
Written by Sam Roberts for The Rugby Pod