Boom! Round 6 in your face! What a week: we started with a Club v Country row, got sidetracked with one of the world’s best players getting embroiled in a doping allegation, and ended up with another cracking weekend of Aviva Premiership rugby. Quite the ride. Let’s have a quick roll through the rise and fall, picking out the talking points as we go.
Friday nights at the Recreation Ground in Bath are always pretty special and under the lights Sale Sharks were chopped up and made into soup. George Ford wielded the sharpest of knives and holes were punctured all over the park. Matt Banahan shone like a beacon (I told you he was good weeks ago!) and a record crowd of 14,000 hooped and hollered the Bath boys home. Josh Beaumont basked briefly but the Sharks looked like they’d left a fair chunk of their game plan on the bus. Steve Diamond bemoaned a comfy hotel in a post match interview; “We won’t stay over next time”. They should try the Waterside Travelodge; those beds were awful.
Newcastle entertained winless Bristol on Saturday and the first forty played out like Andy Robinson’s worst nightmare. Jack Tovey threw a hugely speculative pass inside for Juan Pablo Socino to intercept and the tone was set. Further tries from Will Welch and Joel Hodgson (who had one of his better games) built a 19-0 lead at half time. Injuries had hit the home side’s backline and in the second period, miscommunication and maybe a little complacency let Bristol back in. First substitute Jon Fisher rolled over and then Mitch Eadie strolled in after some neat build up play. The telling blow was not forthcoming however and the home side held on for the win. Bristol picked up a bonus point and, in truth, Falcons will kick themselves for not getting their own. Newcastle up into the top half of the table, cue some North East nose bleeds.
Leicester dumped their defensive coach in the week and set about Worcester Warriors at Welford Road with renewed vigour. But the Sixways men are a tough nut to crack and it wasn’t until late on that Leicester got the bonus point win they were after. The stand out moment was Telusa Veainu’s solo try; the pinball wizard beat umpteen defenders, twenty seven away fans and the bloke selling programmes to score an absolute pearler. No Ben Youngs, Dan Cole or Mike Williams for Leicester (apparently they don’t like judo either) but Matt Toomua is on his way. Tigers into the top four, Warriors slip worryingly back towards the bottom.
There was no comfort to be taken from the 27-all at Sandy Park as Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester played out another Premiership draw on Saturday afternoon. A furious last quarter of an hour from the hosts allowed them to salvage three points from a game in which, in many ways, they’d been outplayed. Gloucester left with just two points and despite some obvious positives, there is a glaring inability to close out games. It was an unusual match, made weirder by a refereeing apology. James Hook had stepped on the touchline in the build up to one of Gloucester’s tries. Greg Garner shrugged his shoulders contritely as he watched it on the big screen after the conversion had been taken. Gloucester still lowly on the table, Chiefs just outside the top four.
Digging themselves out of a basement battle were Harlequins, whose Stoop form appears top drawer. Invited on by a Northampton side who seemed only to want to kick the ball away, the back three of Tim Visser, Mike Brown and Marland Yarde needed no second invitation. They returned every ball with interest and even though Alofa Alofa’s try was the only one, Quins’ endeavour was there for all to see. So was some loose head heroics. Adam Jones was called into unusual action as both Joe Marler then Mark Lambert went down injured (the former in the warm up). Normally a tight head, the tight curled Welshman sprung to the home side’s rescue and by the end was winning scrummages on his own. Saints didn’t look at the races and certainly champion sprinter George North was woefully underused; an odd decision considering his galloping form. Harlequins up to 8th, Saints a point and place behind them.
The game of the weekend was supposed to be at Allianz Park as Saracens took on Wasps. And whilst the visitors sprinkled some fairy dust early on (Bassett’s try was especially easy on the eye), Saracens have the in-game ability to become an omnipresent, inexorable force. It’s like watching a boa constrictor slowly remove all the breath from an animal’s lungs and then patiently, and unattractively, swallow the being whole. It’s impressive, don’t get me wrong, but watching Wasps digested in this manner leaves you with a faint sense of inevitability. Perhaps the big black clouds gathering in the distance at the game’s conclusion made me feel this way. We head into a European break with the Barnet boys leapfrogging the Coventry outfit into top spot. There remains little doubt: Saracen’s reign will be tough to stop.
Aviva Premiership Team of the Week - Round 6
15 Telusa Veainu (Leicester Tigers), 14 Marland Yarde (Harlequins), 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath), 12 Matt Banahan (Bath), 11 Ian Whitten (Exeter Chiefs) ,10 Danny Cipriani (Wasps), 9 Kahn Fotuali’i (Bath)
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens)/Adam Jones (Harlequins), 2 Jamie George (Saracens), 3 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), 4 Graham Kitchener (Leicester Tigers), 5 Maro Itoje (Saracens), 6 Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons), 7 Jacob Rowan (Gloucester), 8 Lachlan MacCaffrey (Leicester Tigers)
Written by Sam Roberts for The Rugby Pod