The Aviva Premiership is coming to a head and it’s still close at the top. We are seeing the key challengers in Super Rugby as well. Here is my review of the weekends action.
Bath 43 – 18 London Irish
Sale Sharks 23 – 25 Harlequins
Gloucester Rugby 42 – 40 Newcastle Falcons
Leicester Tigers 38 – 17 London Welsh
Northampton Saints 25 – 20 Saracens
Wasps 36 – 29 Exeter Chiefs
3 out of 6, a poor week for my predictions.
Bath have gone a long way to getting that home playoff berth that has looked theirs for much of the season. Over the 6 Nations it looked like they might let it slip but they are back up there now. The score line suggests a convincing victory but they were behind at half time, but there were plenty of penalties from Irish to make that happen. The unusual forwards/backs split of 6/2 on the bench allowed them to replace nearly their entire pack. One who did play the full 80 minutes though was Sam Burgess who also was many peoples man of the match and suggesting he is better suited to the #6 shirt. It would have been a travesty if Bath hadn’t won this with 16 clean breaks and 32 defenders beaten they were very dangerous with ball in hand.
Quins took narrow win to keep their hopes of 7th place alive. A strong first half performance saw them rack up the bonus point and a 16 point lead. But Sale turned it around in the second half (not for the first time this season) and got themselves within reach at the end but it was just too far.
Gloucester fought back to win a try fest of a game where they only led the game in the final moments. This was always going to be a rebuilding season for Gloucester and ability to win a big game last weekend and then fight back from 17 points down with a little over ten minutes to go are good signs for next season. Newcastle will be a less comfortable with a true contender expected to get promoted and despite their better play only 4 wins this season. The upside is 7 losing bonus points, it goes to show they have been competitive and more wins could be coming.
Tigers got the regulation TBP win but were behind at half time and this one wasn’t put to bed until the last quarter of an hour. Tigers got the job done but have not alleviated any of those attacking concerns, they have only scored 405 points which is less than Newcastle Falcons.
Saints got an important victory, not for their playoff aspirations but for their confidence. Back to back losses to Clermont and Exeter had people wondering if they were running out of steam. For all their domination of territory and possession they only managed 1 trying this was a victory of discipline. Saracens gave up 17 penalties to only 7.
Exeter fought to stay in this but the boot of Goode and losing Waldrom to the sin bin proved too much to over come. This kept the fight for the last 2 playoff places a 4 way battle as Wasps kept themselves within 2 points of Tigers and only 1 behind Chiefs. Wasps have done well and not faded as the season has gone on as I thought they might.
Chiefs 35 – 27 Force
Brumbies 31 – 18 Highlanders
Crusaders 29 – 15 Blues
Waratahs 18 – 16 Rebels
Lions 34 – 29 Cheetahs
Stormers 15 – 13 Bulls
Reds 19 – 35 Hurricanes
The Chiefs were already pulling away when a dumb tip tackle led to an obvious red card. This should have been the end of the game as a contest. Taking off a forward to replace the missing scrum half was surprising and led to the Chiefs forwards dominating. But somehow the Chiefs let the Force back in, amongst all this there was the wonderful hands and footwork of Nanai-Williams. Unfortunately he’s probably too slight for international rugby.
The Highlanders resting their 3 All Blacks meant this was always going to be an uphill battle. So it’s not a surprise that the Brumbies won but it was very different from the early season victories. This time it wasn’t cutting attacking back play but driven mauls from the line outs that won this.
The Crusaders again showed that they can bet teams from the bottom of the table. But this game also showed that Nadolo has finesse to go with his power, drawing players and creating space for others. The other thing from this game was MaCaw’s concussion. Hats off to Blackadder for not waiting for the concussion test before pulling MaCaw. Now let’s see him have the strength to rest MaCaw for a couple of weeks. Amateurs have to have 14 days rest before starting the return to play protocols, I hope MaCaw gets something like that.
The Tahs have got their season back on track but a much improved Rebels side, very nearly took the win at the end. The Tahs will need to remember how to close out games.
The Lions ran an amazing 709 meters with ball in hand and yet found themselves even after an hour. They were the more incisive side but wasted their pressure and opportunities. In the end they did enough but will need to execute better in future.
The Bulls back three continue to look dangerous and scored the only try of the game on turnover ball. But this was another discipline game and if you give up 5 penalties in kicking range then you better pick up more than one try in return. The Stormers continue their amazing run of only losing to Kiwi teams and are looking good to be the top SA team.
The Canes fully deserved their TBP win with twice as many meters with ball in hand than the Reds. Always in control of the scoreboard even if they only opened up a big gap after the hour mark. The vagaries of the Super Rugby schedule means they still have to play the Chiefs and Crusaders twice. So they have had a relatively easy schedule and there is still plenty of time to trip up.
One of the things that was really obvious this weekend was players joining the maul and sliding straight past the ball barrier. If a defending player does something similar he gets blown up for “swimming” round the maul. It would be good to stop this and make the players pass the ball backwards like they used to. Currently it’s too loaded in the attacking teams favour. It’s something that most of the teams do as it’s safer than passing the ball and refs are allowing it to happen.
I’ll be hosting the #RugbyChat on Tuesdays at 8pm New Zealand time on twitter. So join in and let us know your opinion.