No two weeks are the same in the Aviva Premiership. Ask Dan Mugford, or indeed Gloucester. Sale’s Mugford steered his last minute penalty villainously wide last week, allowing Newcastle a precious home win. This week, as the Sharks coped well with an ill disciplined Harlequins side, Mugford was the hero; stepping in for AJ MacGinty at the last minute, the former Nottingham fly half kicked 14 out of the Sharks’ 19 points. Quins’ only real consolation came in the form of a Chris Robshaw try, and even though they are as rare as rocking horse excrement, the Twickenham clan left with little else. Luamanu picked up a late red for a no arms tackle, but I’m guessing that’s not what John Kingston wanted from his trip to the North West. Exeter next for the boys from the Stoop.
Gloucester gave away a lead on the opening weekend. This Friday, however, they fought their way back to a battling draw at Sixways against Worcester. Gloucester are able to produce really good games of rugby, but getting a ‘W’ against their name seems a little trickier. The match produced some lovely tries; Henry Purdy’s late score in the corner for Gloucester was offload-tastic and Warrior Perry Humphreys also took his opportunity well: having come on for Ben Te’o, who himself had scored a good try, Humphreys notched up an absolute worldie from inside his own half. Alafoti Fa’osaliva’s red card had people talking and knocked Worcester onto the back foot; Gloucester surging back to level the scores. After opening round defeats, I suggested that both these teams would need to bounce back. They did, sort of; a draw seemed just about the right result. Gloucester take on a savvy Sale operation next Friday night. Will be interesting to see what the last two weeks has taught them.
Of course, no two Prem seasons are the same. Just ask Bath, or indeed Exeter. The boys from the Recreation Ground have refound their mojo. They ran in eight tries as Newcastle failed to contain the high tempo, hard running West Countrymen. Goneva’s yellow card for swatting the ball dead certainly opened the floodgates but even with a full compliment back on the pitch, the Falcons had little response. Todd Blackadder has moved in double quick time to instil the sort of belief now on show; Ford was finding runners, Joseph was bobbing and weaving like Sugar Ray, and the forwards completely outmuscled a competent Newcastle outfit. Worcester come to the Rec next weekend, could be tasty.
Exeter have endured the toughest couple of opening fixtures the committee could muster. Perhaps their heroics last season have resulted in some blazer wearing aficionado wanting to put them in their place. After succumbing to Wasps in Coventry last weekend, Saracens came a-knocking on the Devon door. Well, I say knocking. They barged in, had a party and broke rather a large amount of crockery. The Chiefs were not at their best, they lost key players to injury and have an outside half in Henry Slade surprisingly lacking confidence. But take nothing from Sarries. They are the Premiership bench mark. The game was also of note for two rather interesting refereeing decisions. JP Doyle yellow carding Richard Wigglesworth after the TMO had ruled his trip on Slade to be ok; replays on the stadium screen had Doyle overruling his TV watching friend. The other intervention also provoked debate. Doyle spoke to captain Brad Barritt and asked that Saracens not revere a good piece of play: Jim Hamilton had won a turnover and the ‘Wolf Pack’ huddled in to the congratulate their Alpha Scotsman. I wonder what other celebrations might be on a referee’s hitlist? “Go on, ten minutes in the bin, I saw your dab. This isn’t MTV, you know.”
Wasps haven’t won at Welford Road since 2008 and in a belter of a game, Jimmy Gopperth once again proved the difference. His indifferent kicking display was offset by an ebullience with ball in hand that had the Cov faithful purring. Gopperth’s quick thinking saw Wade in for his first of the season and late on, more rugby nouse: wriggling over off the back of a maul, the Kiwi, and most of the Ricoh, were hollering with delight. Leicester had tried to come from behind again and, in truth, almost made it; Freddie Burns looked hot enough to scald but the visitors possessed just about enough cold water at the end. Quite the derby; Leicester will have hated relinquishing their home record so quickly. Almost as much as seeing Manu sidelined again: groin trouble for Tuilagi. If Tigers are to challenge this year, you feel they will need him back and firing.
Speaking of which, Northampton found their bullets against an unfortunate Bristol. Myler moved the Saints pack around the park and the likes of Picamoles and North found the try line. It was by no means vintage, something doesn’t seem quite right for the Saints at the moment, but you’ll take five points away from home any day of the week. Bristol were not the same side that worried Quins at HQ. Without the creativity of Henson, and a first half in which they seemed a little starstruck, Bristol are better than the scoreline suggested. Andy Robinson was once again puzzling over how refs see things in the Premiership; both of Ken Pisi’s feet were in touch as he crossed over for Northampton’s third but by then, the game was somewhat gone; Bristol had made too many mistakes of their own. Saints have to go to Allianz Park next weekend, Bristol travel to Wasps. Things, in the Aviva Premiership, will only get tougher.
Team of the week
15 Alex Goode (Saracens)
14 Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath)
13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath)
12 Jimmy Gopperth (Wasps)
11 Paolo Odogwu (Sale Sharks)
10 Freddie Burns (Leicester Tigers)
9 Kahn Fotuali’i (Bath)
1 Val Rapava Ruskin (Worcester)
2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
3 John Afoa (Gloucester)
4 Dave Attwood (Bath)
5 Ed Slater (Leicester Tigers)
6 Sam Jones (Wasps)
7 Marco Mama (Worcester)
8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Written by Sam Roberts for The Rugby pod