A weekend of upsets in premiership rugby, here is my review of round 13 and the x-mass block as a whole.
How did your predictions go?
2 out of 6, what a disaster from a predictions point of view. There were three big upsets with nobody expecting a clean sweep of home wins in mitigation but it still was a bad week.
Gloucester Rugby 24 v 23 Saracens
Gloucester snatch another 1 point win to start 2015 well and save their x-mass block of games. This time they had to make a kick at the death rather than hope the opposition missed. Hook made the 50m penalty but looking at the stats this should never have been a close game.
Saracens only had 26% of possession and 24% territory but were leading going into the last-minute. They also made no clean breaks and only beat 6 defenders. Compare that to Gloucester who had 4 clean breaks but 39 defenders beaten. The same disparity was there to be seen in meters gained and tackles.
So what does this all mean? It reinforces that the saying that “forwards win games and backs decide by how much.” Gloucester couldn’t defend the driving maul and this is how Saracens got their points. Also Gloucester messed up 2 try scoring opportunities, so a combination of poor execution and defending nearly cost the game.
Key Stat: Kick at goal success Gloucester 62.0% Saracens 60.0%
As stated above it was the play rather than stats in this game. I picked this one out as it goes to show how important a kicker is. The reason for the “low” percentages is that both sides lost their first choice kickers prior to kickoff. If either Laidlaw or Farrel had been kicking they could easily have won it for their side.
As a side note expect to see Kruis cited for his tip tackle, everybody was surprised it was only punished by a yellow card. It’s this kind of inconsistency from referees that drives fans mad and in this case could have been a deciding factor in who won the game.
Sale Sharks 20 v 7 Northampton Saints
Sale saw the return of some of their key players that were missing for the loss to Wasps last weekend. Cipriani as usual gets mentioned in the dispatched but this was a game where the forward stood up and dominated proceedings. That Sharks managed this against Saints is very impressive even if Northampton had several players missing.
Sale were also helped by getting on the right side of the ref. Not only were Sale the right side of the penalty count but also boy tries were scored whilst Saints had a player in the bin. Sale fully deserved the win but did find it difficult to breakdown the Saints defence and needed those tries for the win.
Saints were missing several 2nd row players especially and Mallinder said “I will be putting quite a lot of pressure on our medics over the next few days and hopefully we will have them back.” Hopefully this is something that I have read out of context but it’s the kind of comments we don’t want to be seeing from coaches. Rushing players back from injury is not good and something that should never happen.
Key Stat: Tackles made/missed Sale 122/12 Saints 95/16
The Sale pack really stepped up and made a lot of tackles to dominate Saints. It’s rare that you will see players like Clark and Burrell missing 3 and 4 tackles respectively. Clearly it was an off day at the office for Saints but Sale played a big part in that. Saints are still top of the table so there is no crisis and they just need to take this on the chin and move on.
Bath 39 v 26 Wasps
Bath wrapped up another TBP win to take them back to within a point of Saints at the top of the table. The headlines are all about Sam Burgess’s first try and he did have a good game racking up 59 meters running. How ever he was one of four Bath players with over 50 meters running and where he really made his mark was with defenders beaten. 10 defenders beaten in a game is a massive number and was a third of Bath’s total. This means he’s going to suck in defenders and create space for others if he can get the ball away.
Bath were in total control of this game from the start and having a 27-5 lead not long after half time. Wasps with little to lose threw the ball around and snatched a try back before Bath cemented their dominance with two more tries and the TBP. Wasps then scored two converted tries in the last ten minutes to make the score line look something competitive which this game wasn’t.
Key Stat: Tackles made/missed Bath 99/29 Wasps 97/30
Some reports earlier in the season accused Bath of still playing a preseason style and both sides will need to improve their first up tackling going forwards. Tackling success rates below 80% are not acceptable at this level. This clearly contributed to both sides running over 500 meters.
Harlequins 32 v 12 Leicester Tigers
Tigers had the better of the first quarter took a slender 9-3 lead. Then the Easter and Care show took over as Quins dominated the next half hour to lead by 16 points early in the second half. Tigers did manage one more penalty and whilst the second half was much more even Tigers couldn’t convert their chances. Quins did manage to wrap up the TBP with the last play of the game.
Key Stat: Offloads Quins 15 Tigers 9
Quins are starting to get their offloading, fast paced game going again. Especially prominent were the back row who between them accounted for 7 of the offloads.
Newcastle Falcons 38 v 7 London Welsh
Falcons were always in control of this game. It shows the progress that they have made that they looked comfortable winning this game even if it is against the bottom team. Welsh did manage a try just after 20 minutes but by they they were already 19 points behind. Another try just after half an hour for Newcastle ensued the TBP.
The second half was not as entertaining at the first as Falcons had to play into the wind. They still managed two more tries and equally importantly managed to stop Welsh from scoring any points.
Key Stat: Territory (1H/2H) Falcons 63% (87%/38%) Welsh 37% (13%/62%)
We can see the impact that the wind had on territory. Even so Falcons still managed two tries in the second half which shows a marked change in their playing style compared to last year.
London Irish 28 v 26 Exeter Chiefs
This was another close game with the lead changing several times in the second half. Chiefs had a decent lead at half time but they had to wait until the last 10 minuets of the half for them to get some control.
That was all thrown away early in the second half as Irish picked up their second and third tries to take a small lead that was extended with a later penalty. Chiefs pulled them selves back into it with a try from England hopeful Dave Ewers. A couple of Steenson penalties in the last ten minutes got Exeter’s noses in front, only for Geraghty to win it with a drop goal to finish the game.
Key Stat: Kick at goal success Irish 33.0% Chiefs 75.0%
Even though Chiefs dominated the first half Irish should have won this one more comfortably as they left 9 points out on the pitch.
On a side note the rumours of Irish changing their director of rugby has been confirmed as Brian Smith is returning to Australia at the end of the season.
X-mass block review
None of the teams managed to win all four games in this block which goes to show the competitiveness of the league. Only two teams didn’t win a game, obviously last place London Welsh but also fifth place Exeter Chiefs. Chiefs have been lucky that teams around them have taken points off each other.
Welsh are effectively relegated with Falcons and Irish safe and causing the odd upset but still going to end up at the bottom end of the table.
Gloucester are starting to look like a team rather than a brand new squad whilst both Quins and Wasps have shown a resurgence to save their seasons. 4th to 8th is very tight with only 3 points separating them, Saracens have a slight gap but will be looking over their shoulders in third. Saints and Bath are battling it out for first and second with a clear gap over the rest.