The Welsh clubs joined the fray as the Anglo-Welsh Cup saw its full complement play in round two. Having to compete with international matches for attention is never easy, but the eight matches played this round were, for the most part, worth a watch.
Bristol claimed their first win of the season with a 26-11 victory against Sale Sharks, although at times they did their best to lose it. A debut try for former New Zealand U20s centre Jason Woodward was immediately followed by a silly yellow card to Rob Hawkins – the hooker being penalised for not using the arms after flying in to help Woodward ground the ball. However, the hosts steadied the ship and through some powerful maul play in the second half, deservedly went on to win for the first time in six months. Friday night also saw Scarlets clinch the only win for a Welsh team this weekend. Bath were 21-9 up at half-time, but the home side scored 35 unanswered points in a dominant second half to stun Todd Blackadder’s outfit. Among others, Rhys Priestland would have wanted to press his cause for first XV action whilst internationals took their toll. On this showing it won’t be happening anytime soon. And there was a happy return for Adam Jones as his Harlequins side ended up 15-12 winners against the Ospreys, who played at Swansea’s St Helen’s ground after an 11 year absence.
Holders Saracens bounced back from last week’s defeat to Gloucester with a typically powerful performance against Newcastle. Aided by a red card to Newcastle fly-half Craig Willis, who has since been given a 4 week ban, the London side ran out comfortable winners 29-18 after going in level at the break.
A strong Leicester side bullied Newport Gwent Dragons 42-3 at Welford Road. A starting XV that included Freddie Burns, Owen Williams, Peter Betham and Graham Kitchener was always going to stand a chance, and the Dragons never really showed up; their lack of effort typified when Freddie Burns chased his own kick 60m to touch down. Saturdays other game saw Northampton end up 19-13 winners in a dour affair at Franklin’s Gardens.
Sunday was arguably the most exciting day spectator wise as Wasps and Exeter both put 62 points on their opponents. A youthful Worcester were Wasps’ victims at the Ricoh Arena as they mustered only two Josh Adams tries. The hosts were looking to rebound after last week’s loss, and a strong lineup put 40 points on after the break to seal the victory.
Meanwhile at Exeter looked in for a tough afternoon, with Cardiff Blues scoring 10 points in three minutes, but they soon regained control, and impressive performances from Michele Campagnaro and Joe and Sam Simmonds saw them prevail. The Italian centre was the scorer of one of the tries of the weekend as some slick offloading saw Chiefs run nearly 80m from their own line, before a charge-down let Campagnaro go over unopposed. The Welsh side left their mark though, scoring 4 tries of their own, totalling 25 points in all.
A RETURN TO FORM
Both Exeter and Bristol put in much needed performances this week after a start to the season that has been far from ideal. Their first match after the departure of Andy Robinson, Bristol looked hungry in defence and far better organised than the team we have seen so far this season. In attack they scored some well worked tries, with their powerful driving maul looking particularly dangerous. Chiefs also looked far better than they have done much of the season. Michele Campagnaro was both brutish and skillful on the ball, typified in the way he bounced off one defender, then rode the tackle of another to offload and set up Tom Hendrickson in the second half. The Azzurri will be a welcome face back into the squad after an injury hit time at the club. The question for both these teams will now be whether they can carry this form to the premiership.
A theme that will pop up often throughout the Anglo-Welsh campaign: How strong should any given clubs starting XV be? This week’s result in Coventry was a prime example of what happens when mismatched teams play each other. Wasps ran away with it in the second half, and when you’re able to replace Joe Simpson with Dan Robson at half-time it’s clear why. Though high-scoring games are exciting, when a game is so one-sided it loses a bit of its sparkle. This can also be seen with the Welsh regions. Four teams form the Welsh contingency against 12 for England. They rely far more on their internationals, and mostly can’t compete with English sides playing a relatively strong team. However, Scarlet’s brilliant win against Bath goes to prove that anything can happen, though this doesn’t seem the sort of result we shall see too often.
The Simmonds brothers were the standout performers for the Chiefs this weekend. Joe at fly-half was lively with the ball in hand and guided his team around the field well, whilst Sam provided an all-action performance from No. 7. Quick, a strong ball carrier, tough defender and good at the breakdown, he will be one to watch if he can continue to give showings like this when given the chance. At Wasps, England U20 international Jacob Umaga, nephew of All Blacks legend Tana Umaga, scored two tries off the bench. Admittedly the Warriors were defeated by that point, but he looks to have a bright future ahead of him.