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

Guardian sport
Clockwise from top left: Thomas Young, London Irish fall against Saracens, Exeter Chiefs celebrate against Sale and Quins coach John Kingston. Composite: PA, Getty Images, PPAUK/Rex/Shutterstock, Action Images

1) Quins’ sick list grows to a worrying 28

John Kingston paused as he mulled over whether to put a precise figure on the list of unavailable Harlequins players for this match. Twenty-eight. How many of those would be anywhere near the first team is difficult to discern but, regardless, it feels an astonishing number. The guy subbing the report that included the figure had to ring to double-check it was not a mistake. Whether this tells us anything new about the nature of rugby today will be debated long and hard. As will whether Marland Yarde was included in the 28. It looks as if he is off to Sale. Kingston insisted he was a Quins player until they said so, but he did not insist he was staying. He left Yarde out for the second week running, and Yarde did not even turn up to watch. He’s off, all right. Michael Aylwin

2) Wasps’ Young in show of defiance

Thomas Young was a surprise omission from Wales’s squad for the autumn internationals given the injuries to Sam Warburton and Paul Moriarty. There are few more effective players over the ball than Young, as the flanker again showed in Wasps’ win at Northampton that ended a run of four Premiership defeats, but Wales preferred Sam Cross as a back-row option despite his lack of experience. It is a time when Wales are trying to encourage players based outside the country, those with fewer than 60 caps, to return home if they covet an international career. Is Young a victim of that? “You will have to ask Wales,” said Dai Young, Wasps’ director of rugby and Thomas’s father, who would not comment further. By coincidence, Young Sr is believed to be one of three names on the shortlist to succeed Warren Gatland as Wales head coach. Paul Rees

3) Sale cannot stop Exeter’s charge

“The boys trained for 15 minutes on grass this week and then did a captain’s run of seven or eight minutes before we flew up here,” said Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby. As preparations went before the trip to Sale on Friday, it was hardly ideal but the short turnaround from the Champions Cup win at Montpellier the previous Sunday dictated as such. Both matches were chosen for live television coverage and the gruelling schedule demanded the Chiefs play twice in five days, in France and in Salford. Afterwards, though, Baxter could afford to smile after a gritty 10-6 win which epitomised the Devon club’s collective desire, certainly in the closing stages as they repelled several waves of home attacks. He said: “We passed the character test with flying colours.” That bodes well as the Chiefs seek to defend their Premiership crown. Ross Heppenstall

Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Simmonds is tackled by Tom Curry and Jono Ross of Sale Sharks on Friday night. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

4) London Irish hope for pre-Christmas boost

It will not have gone unnoticed on London Irish’s trip home from Saracens that Worcester collected two points from their defeat at Harlequins. It means Irish are now just three points above the Warriors and the two matches between the two sides – the first of which comes three days before Christmas – are already looking pivotal. In the end, it was another heavy defeat for Irish on Saturday but there is no shame in a loss at Allianz Park and Nick Kennedy’s side were in touching distance until Saracens raced through the gears in the last half an hour. It will not have exactly been high on the list of matches Kennedy expected to take points from either, and considering it was preceded by two Challenge Cup games and is followed by back-to-back Anglo-Welsh fixtures the Exiles have some time – that rare commodity for promoted sides – to address their Premiership losing run. Gerard Meagher

5) Blackadder laments derby defeat

Gloucester’s intense delight at beating their old West Country rivals was not shared by Bath’s Todd Blackadder, who could not contain his frustration following Ed Slater’s injury-time match-winning try. “It was probably a nine out of 10 in terms of frustration. It was sub-standard from us ... we found ourselves in a position where we should have shut the game out and we didn’t. Credit to Gloucester, they deserved it but from our side that was just not good enough.” The local derby element made no difference to his unimpressed mood. “It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s Gloucester or not. I understand the rivalry but good teams do the basics all the time. You can’t pick and choose your moments.” Gloucester have been inconsistent themselves in recent times but the glorious off-load from the prop John Afoa to set up his captain, Willi Heinz, for his second try of the game deserved maximum reward. Robert Kitson

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