Rugby union talking points from the weekend's Premiership action

Guardian sport
Left to right: Saracens’ Maro Itoje wins the lineout against Bath, Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs, and Chris Robshaw of Harlequins. Composite: Getty, JMP & Seconds Left/REX/Shutterstock

1) Up and under carries more risk than reward

Bryce Heem’s red card for taking out Willie le Roux in the air was the only decision referee Luke Pearce could make after watching the incident on video. Heem did not challenge for the ball but did not get out of the way, and when the Wasps’ wing made contact in his descent, he flipped over on to his back and landed on his head, suffering a concussion that ended his afternoon early. Worcester were level 19-19 when the incident occurred in the 46th-minute and it occurred after Ryan Mills had launched a high kick towards the home 22 for Heem to chase. The Warriors had not wasted an opportunity to test Le Roux in the air, but it has become a hazardous tactic because if a chaser gets an aerial challenge wrong, the chances are he will be sent off. Worcester felt Heem had been prevented for jumping for the ball by Alapati Leiua blocking his path, but the risk of the ploy is now greater than the reward and although the Warriors left Coventry with their first away points of the season thanks to five tries and a seven-point defeat, the score when the teams had the same number of players on the field was 33-19 in their favour. Paul Rees

Wasps 40-33 Worcester: match report

2) Saracens look forward to more good times

Saracens are the reigning European and Premiership champions and look increasingly determined to defend both titles. Their eight-try demolition of Bath was testament to the desire of their England squad players to give everything for their clubs as well and head coach Mark McCall senses a good vibe in the dressing-room. “We’re lucky to have a group of international players who want to play with their mates,” he said, looking forward to Sunday’s European quarter-final against Glasgow in front of a record crowd at an expanded 15,000-capacity Allianz Park. England lock George Kruis will miss that game but is expected to return in mid-April around the time the Lions squad to tour New Zealand is announced. Robert Kitson

Saracens 53-10 Bath: match report

Sean Maitland of Saracens is tackled by Luke Charteris and Francois Louw at Allianz Park. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

3) Jones checks in to witness Saints’ impress

The England head coach Eddie Jones was among the spectators who saw an East Midlands derby betweeen Northampton and Leicester that was remarkably open. With both sides starting the day outside the top four, they had to set out to win rather than not lose and the Saints showed a purpose in attack that was missing in the first half of the campaign. They scored three tries in the first 22 minutes and should have had a fourth towards the end of the first half. Apart from the scrum where they struggled to cope with the Leicester loose-head prop Ellis Genge, they looked a side worthy of a place in the top four which begged the question why they had left it so late to showcase their true ability. Paul Rees

Northampton 31-36 Leicester: match report

4) Time for Slade to demand regular England spot

Had Henry Slade’s career followed the path he would have hoped after starring in the first of victory of England’s 18-match winning run, he would be a certainty for the British & Irish Lions tour this summer. His unique talents are perhaps best summed up by the fact that no other player at Warren Gatland’s disposal would be equally at home at either 10, 12 and 13. It is a rather un-English, or un-European thing to be able to do but then Slade’s skillset is far from the ordinary. It is all the more frustrating then to watch him struggle to seize matches and dictate them as Eddie Jones so wishes he would. There were more glimpses of his talent against Sale and he has had horrible injuries but one can only hope a summer tour to Argentina will be the catalyst for his international career. He was given all of five minutes during the Six Nations, in which time he produced a delightful offload and set up Jack Nowell to score against Italy, but the time has come for him to demand a starting place under Jones. Gerard Meagher

Exeter 30-25 Sale: match report

5) Bristol have tools to build bright future

Bristol are the living dead after losing to their fickle county rivals. A return to the Championship beckons with their next three matches against Exeter, Wasps and Saracens, but if they do go down they will not have to contend with the play-off system they found so difficult to deal with after their relegation in 2009, which will allow them to recruit earlier if – when – they dominate the division. They did not play like a side that had accepted its fate, dominating possession and territory, but they lacked a general behind the scrum and were too lateral. Gloucester, in contrast, turned visits to the opposition 22 into points, but Bristol’s long-term future looks bright: they have recruited a leading coach in Pat Lam, they have a strong supporter base and they have a wealthy backer. And they will be fully aware of the leap that is needed to bridge the gap between the Championship and the top flight. Paul Rees

Gloucester’s Jeremy Thrush climbs highest against Bristol at Ashton Gate. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Bristol 14-32 Gloucester: match report

6) Robshaw makes his point in bid to convince Gatland

Talking points? At this point of the four-year cycle? They’re all about the Lions, surely. More specifically, at the Stoop, whether Chris Robshaw has time to mount a case with a coach whom popular opinion perceives to favour someone else. The last time England blew a grand slam, Robshaw went from likely Lions captain to nowhere, usurped by Sam Warburton. This time, England’s defeat in Dublin reflected well on Robshaw in absentia. He resumed service at the Stoop this weekend as if he hadn’t been away. There is no player in the world with a better engine, and not many who could look so comfortable playing 80 minutes after 12 weeks out. But Newcastle at home is one thing, Saracens at Wembley in a fortnight will be another. He needs to have convinced Gatland by 19 April. Bad timing may yet foil him again. Michael Aylwin

Harlequins 53-17 Newcastle: match report

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