The Premiership returned after two weeks of Anglo-Welsh rugby with its eighth round of matches. At a time that still sees many squads short of their international stars it is a true test of squad depth and a chance for many youngsters to take the step up to premiership action.
Ben Foden reached 200 appearances for Northampton as the Saints travelled to Worcester. In a match that the hosts won last season by a point, this year it was Saints’ turn to win by the narrowest of margins. A feisty affair saw Worcester score a last minute try that was then followed by the awarding of a penalty on half-way after Calum Clark was yellow carded in its aftermath. However, Jamie Shillcock could not match his touchline conversion from minutes before as his attempt drifted right of the posts. Final score 17-18 to Northampton. Bath and Bristol played out a rivalry that had not been seen in the Premiership for 7 years. Bristol, coming off the back of their first win of the season last weekend, performed admirably, but unfortunately could not hold onto the ball as they searched for a match-levelling try towards the end. A contest that also had plenty of niggle, it was won eventually by Bath by 16-9. And Exeter looked to continue the improved form they found in the Anglo-Welsh cup. Although the 19-32 win flattered them slightly thanks to 2 late tries, there were clear improvements in their attack, and a re-found potency to the driving maul. The Falcons scored a couple of soft tries, but even after not playing their best, the Chiefs will be very happy coming back with a bonus point.
On Saturday Gloucester earned their first home win of the season, prevailing 36-18 winners against Wasps. After a tight first half left the Cherry and Whites 10-5 up at the break, Wasps fightback was halted at 10-11 after Danny Cipriani’s error gifted the hosts a try. After that they never looked back with Matt Scott, Charlie Sharples and Henry Purdy all going over.
BATH AND BRISTOL PLAYED OUT A RIVALRY THAT HAD NOT BEEN SEEN IN THE PREMIERSHIP FOR 7 YEARS
Sunday saw league leaders Saracens travel to Manchester to take on Sale. Saracens led from the outset, but special mention must go to Alex Lozowski who was impressive for the Londoners. His passing, kicking and running game were all on show, not least in Sarries’ final try which saw the fly-half step several Sale defenders in his own 22 before offloading out the back to Ben Spencer. The scrum-half had a lot to do but showed excellent pace to finish off the move which left the scores 13-28. Finally, Leicester kept up their good form of late with a 25-6 beating of Harlequins at Welford Road. Freddie Burns continued to impress in a sound display, and it was his delightful chip over the top which sent Owen Williams over for the game’s only try.
The Wasps’ fly-half has divided opinion his whole career. Often lauded as a footballer-style personality who enjoys his looks and nights out more than his rugby, the last few seasons have seen Cipriani reinvent his off-pitch persona. At Sale he was part of a team that worked hard and arguably out-performed their resources, and his move back to boyhood club Wasps has seen his unrivalled attacking talent combine blissfully with their exciting backline. However, errors like his at the weekend against Worcester will continue to see him not selected for England. Yes, any fly-half can hit a duff one off their weaker foot at some point, but then to try to pick up a bobbling ball whilst under pressure 5m from your own line rather than simply dive on it wasn’t clever. You can’t imagine Owen Farrell or George Ford making the same two errors. True, if it had come off we would all be waxing lyrical about his ability, but it didn’t, and it paved the way for Gloucester to take control of the match.
RETURNS TO FORM
Both Exeter and Bristol were able to take their strong Anglo-Welsh showings from the week before into this week’s fixtures. Bristol were unlucky not to get more than a losing bonus point in Bath, but a point against Todd Blackadder’s side who now stand 2nd in the table is a good result for any team. With performances of this ilk it shouldn’t be too long before Bristol pick up their first win of the season, and add some fire to the relegation battle. Exeter find themselves up to 5th after what has been a surprisingly lacklustre start to the season. Their victory in Newcastle saw a little more of the old Exeter dogged spirit, typified in a Thomas Waldrom maul try. With a couple fewer defensive errors this would have been simple for the Devoners, which leaves much hope for the rest of the season.