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

Guardian sport
<span>Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA</span>
Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA

1) Heinz can justify Jones’s faith

Willi Heinz was one of the more left-field selections in last year’s World Cup, called up by England at the age of 32 as one of two scrum-halves in their squad. The promotion of the New Zealander, who qualified through a grandmother, annoyed Danny Care, who for three years had appeared to be bound for Japan. Judging by the performances of the pair over the weekend, Eddie Jones not only made the right call but may be reluctant to jettison Heinz, who is now 33. The biggest single reason Gloucester came from behind to defeat Bath was Heinz’s ability to react to what he saw rather than read from a script. Gloucester are a curious mix of a side: on the one hand they make basic mistakes and creak in the set pieces but on the other they have the ability to make much from little, the likes of Heinz, Danny Cipriani and Mark Atkinson loading the gun for Ollie Thorley, Louis-Rees Zammit, Jason Woodward and Jake Polledri to fire. They are the Premiership’s wild cards. Paul Rees

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• Match report: Gloucester 29-15 Bath

2) Tigers show signs of improvement

Suddenly Welford Road feels a more uplifting place. This was a second consecutive match at the grand old fortress of English rugby that might be accounted “good”. Better still, unlike the preceding example (a home defeat by Exeter), Leicester won it. It seems ridiculous, given their personnel, to note how well Leicester can play when the mood takes them. Whatever else happens, this will not be their last win of the season, even if the Six Nations looms into view to disrupt them, just as they find some form. Bristol, meanwhile, drop out of the top four to join a band of seven clubs frantically scrambling for the higher ground as the black tide rises angrily beneath them. None of them is safe – not even Leicester. Michael Aylwin

• Match report: Leicester 31-18 Bristol

3) Attack-minded Kidney has cause for optimism

The former Munster and Ireland coach Declan Kidney does not even want to hear the word relegation mentioned with his promoted side sitting third bottom of the Premiership table having picked up a solitary point in their three league games either side of Christmas. He favours a glass-half-full approach, suggesting attack remains the Exiles’ best form of defence as they seek to work their way up the table. Given they scored four tries against the league leaders he may have a point. If Irish can also get all their best players fit for the run-in, they will remain hopeful of recovering from their midwinter slump. “It’s the first half of games that we’re doing damage to ourselves,” suggested Kidney. That’s where we need to make ourselves better.” For the moment, though, Kidney must soldier on without his Irish internationals Paddy Jackson and Sean O’Brien, neither of whom is set to be available for several more weeks, and hope that the Wallaby lock Adam Coleman’s shoulder problem is not overly serious. Robert Kitson

• Match report: London Irish 28-45 Exeter

4) Quins need to get a grip – and fast

Paul Gustard’s arrival at Harlequins last season was meant to sort out their defence but the six-try thrashing at Sale took them to 12 conceded in the last three matches with strugglers Wasps and Leicester the first two opponents. Quins were narrow in Salford and bypassed all too often. The experience of Mike Brown is being missed at full-back and Sale have one of the strongest squads in the Premiership. Quins have a core of hardened international experience yet they have conceded at least 30 points in five league and Champions Cup matches this season. “We were not good enough and got beaten up,” said their director of rugby, Gustard, who took aim at his England prop Joe Marler for a loss of discipline at the start of the second half that cost him 10 minutes in the sin-bin. “It was ridiculous,” said Gustard about the prop putting his forearm in the face of an opponent. “There was no need for it.” It is not just Marler who needs to get a grip. PR

• Match report: Sale 48-10 Harlequins

<span class="element-image__caption">Bryn Evans of Sale wins a line-out.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images</span>
Bryn Evans of Sale wins a line-out. Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

5) Fingers crossed for Fatialofa

There was a lot to talk about for such a one-sided and eminently predictable match. First of all Michael Fatialofa. Rugby is familiar with the long pause in play while a stricken player is tended to, so we know the precautions need not mean serious injury. Alan Solomons’ openness afterwards, however, about how concerned he is gives us pause, as does the news that Fatialofa has been retained in hospital with his neck injury. Fingers remain crossed. Otherwise Saracens were content, in their bubble against an angry world, to celebrate the retirement of Nigel Wray in style. Ten tries – and it could have been more – is a statement in this league, whoever cops it. We now have the sight of a team with a points difference of plus 121 propping up the league. MA

• Match report: Saracens 62-5 Worcester

6) Wasps rue missed opportunity

Every point may well prove crucial in the bottom half of this season’s Premiership and Wasps will be gutted not to have clung on to victory against 13-man Northampton having taken the lead with 10 minutes remaining of a dramatic high-scoring game. Then again, they won right at the end in Bristol a week earlier and will also know that home improvement will be fundamental if they want to avoid being sucked down into the relegation morass in the coming months. Their next three away league games, against Worcester, Leicester and London Irish, will be equally telling: there are signs of improvement visible but two wins out of eight is clearly less than ideal. Saints, on the other hand, have won six out of eight and have scored more tries and points than any other side in the Premiership. They may have been found out by Leinster in Europe but team spirit is healthy and winning is becoming a habit. “We made it hard for ourselves but I’m massively proud of the boys,” said man of the match Teimana Harrison. RK

• Match report: Wasps 31-35 Northampton

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