Rugby union: talking points from the weekend’s Premiership action

Paul Rees and Gerard Meagher
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Alex Lozowski, Rob Howley and Freddie Burns.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Composite: Getty Images / Rex</span>
Alex Lozowski, Rob Howley and Freddie Burns. Composite: Getty Images / Rex

1) England should take closer look at Lozowski

Saracens made nine changes to their side with Saturday’s Champions Cup semi-final in mind and, while it took their replacements a while to get going, Alex Lozowski excelled at stadium:mk. He sparked the move that led to the winning try – winning because he nailed the conversion – and his kicking kept Saracens in the match when Northampton were on top. He has been in and around the England squad during the Six Nations but regardless of whether George Ford goes on the Lions tour, Eddie Jones – who completed a busy weekend at stadium:mk – will surely benefit more by taking a far closer look at Lozowski on the tour of Argentina. Mark McCall certainly thinks so. “I thought Alex Lozowski had a superb last half an hour,” he said. “It was great to see him control the game and show his athleticism.” Gerard Meagher

Match report: Northampton 25-27 Saracens

2) Bristol’s pride intact, thanks to Tainton

<span class="element-image__caption">Bristol’s Mark Tainton with Billy Searle at the end of the match against Wasps.<br></span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters</span>
Bristol’s Mark Tainton with Billy Searle at the end of the match against Wasps.
Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Mark Tainton will take off his tracksuit next season when he becomes Bristol’s chief operating officer, a role that will make him the link between the coaches and the board, an act – on the evidence of recent months – that may be premature. Bristol were in freefall when he took over last November, seven defeats out of seven in the Premiership, two bonus points mustered and an average of five tries a match conceded. The club’s former outside-half and record points scorer had a stabilising influence: the defence tightened up and losing bonus points turned into victories over Worcester and Sale. The tunnel did not quite extend far enough to sustain a great escape but, unusually for a relegated side, Bristol go down, subject to the Championship champions meeting the entry criteria, with pride intact, something that is down in large part to Tainton. Paul Rees

Match report: Bristol 21-36 Wasps

3) Te’o gives reminder to Lions

Ben Te’o used the final round of matches before the announcement of the Lions’ squad on Wednesday to give the watching attack coach, Rob Howley, something to ponder before the final selection meeting on Tuesday. International calls and head injuries have combined to ration the appearances of the Warriors’ marquee signing but he was a dominant figure in the second half as the home side took control of the game to confirm their presence in the Premiership next season. His ability to play at 12 and 13, a strong carrier blessed with passing and handling skills, makes him a contender for the tour of New Zealand, with the Lions coach, Warren Gatland, liking bulk in his midfield. It was only Ben Te’o’s second appearance for Worcester since Gary Gold took over as director of rugby in January, and a team who had scored 26 tries in 13 league matches has crossed for 23 in seven since. “You cannot defend your way out of relegation,” said Gold, although his team’s decision to run a kickable penalty when five points up with a few minutes to go promoted a caffeine overdose. PR

Match report: Worcester 25-19 Bath

4) Burns likely to prosper at Bath

Freddie Burns has slipped considerably down the pecking order of English fly-halves in the past four or five years but he must be credited with an impressive run of form in the latter part of this season. His move to Leicester was supposed to improve his game management while still allowing him to use his box of tricks but while things have not quite panned out as he would have liked, he was impressive against the Falcons, constantly trying to make things happen. Had his team-mates not treated the ball like a bar of soap in the first half, Burns’s efforts might have yielded more reward but Bath and Todd Blackadder will be pleased with his current form. Burns began his career at the Bath academy and so his move back to the Rec – as part of George Ford’s return to Leicester – has the makings of a prosperous one. GM

Match report: Leicester 30-3 Newcastle

5) Gloucester’s season may be given a boost

Gloucester’s season has had more downs than ups but may yet yield a bonus. Their victory over Sale has put them in contention for seventh place and a play-off for the final European Champions Cup spot. They are only one point behind Harlequins having won three games fewer. They have banked seven more bonus points than the London club, eight in defeat, a legacy of their tending to blow leads in the final minutes. Their inconsistency makes them a threat in knockout matches when it is all about on the day and the club that finishes seventh in the Premiership team will entertain the ninth side in the Pro12 in the opening play-off round and, if successful, enjoy home advantage in the second. The day cannot be far away when the winners of the Challenge Cup are given the final place. PR

Two-tone approach may throw Warburton and Hartley a Lions lifeline

6) Jones casts eye over England options

<span class="element-image__caption">A day after watching Harlequins against Exeter England’s coach, Eddie Jones was at Gloucester versus Sale.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Steve Bardens/Getty Images</span>
A day after watching Harlequins against Exeter England’s coach, Eddie Jones was at Gloucester versus Sale. Photograph: Steve Bardens/Getty Images

It is unclear exactly whom Eddie Jones had his eye on when sitting in the stands during Exeter’s victory over Harlequins – although the fact Neal Hatley was with him gives a bit of a clue – for no other reason than there were so many Englishmen on show. The Harlequins props, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler, may be away with the Lions and therefore not available for selection for the tour to Argentina but for the hosts Marland Yarde was lively throughout, repeatedly coming off his wing, while Joe Marchant was quietly impressive at outside-centre and is surely on Jones’s mind for the trip to South America. It remains to be seen whether Chris Robshaw makes the Lions cut but, if he does not, his opposite number on Friday, Dave Ewers, is competing for the England No6 jersey. The Zimbabwe-born flanker has had terrible injury problems but he provides an enormous presence and his selection by Jones would be a welcome one. GM

Match report: Harlequins 26-39 Exeter

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