A weekend of upsets in the Aviva Premiership and some mixed rugby in the 6 Nations. Here is my round-up of all the action.
France 10 – 9 Ireland
Wales 27 – 23 Scotland
Italy 9 – 40 England
3 from 3, a clean sweep of wins but I didn’t expect the blow out score for England.
When I woke up and put on the recording of the France Ireland game I got an avalanche of advice to skip the game. The first half was both teams kicking the ball away and when they did decide to run with it dropping it after a couple of phases.
Ireland’s defence and discipline was good so they managed to kick three penalties to France’s one for a 3-9 lead at half time. France’s defence was also strong not allowing Ireland any clean breaks. In the second half Ireland, who came into this game with injuries,were beat-up by the French direct running. With ten minutes to go and France going for a penalty try from a scrum, the ball popped out quickly and had to be moved. A lovely line from Medard took him over the line. That’s what decided the game as neither side could break down the other’s defence again.
If you check out some of the stats you would also be forgiven for skipping the Wales v Scotland game. Hogg went off after 28 minutes but was the leading player for Scotland running with ball in hand. Both Scotland’s centres lasted the full eighty minutes but failed to make a single pass. The ball was kicked from hand nearly a hundred times. The game though was much better than that. Wales got the first try by a wonderful Davies run after an upland under wasn’t claimed cleanly. Scotland came back from that error strewn start to put together 21 phases leading to a cross field chip for a try. Scotland applied enough pressure to go into the break 10-13 up after a couple of penalties. In the second half they swapped penalties and things were going fine until Scotland fluffed their lines the hour mark. They lost the ball at the breakdown then fluffed a defensive lineout and suddenly Wales had gone half the pitch and had a 5 meter scrum. Typically one out ball came from it which Scotland coped with but infringed. At the second attempt Roberts bashed over but it was predictable stuff. Soon after North took an inside ball from Bigger and ran a great line to go over. Taylor pulled a try back late on but Scotland again let themselves down from the restart knocking on the ball and it was all over.
Italy matched England for the first half of the game. Initially there was an exchange of penalties so that it was 6-6 after twenty minutes. It took another loop around move by Farrell to release Ford into the corner to break the deadlock. It was reminiscent of the move to free Nowell last weekend with a forward popping it up to Farrell on the loop and then passing wide. Italy did reduce the gap to 9-11 at the break and were competing well. Italy also were competing well in the second half but after ten minutes they tried moving the ball recklessly and JJ intercepted for a try. Maybe the scoreline was causing pressure but Italy still came back well but a move down the right came to nothing. After that they ran out of energy and England’s stronger bench came on to good effect. Three more tries in eighteen minutes turned the game into a route.
Newcastle Falcons 26 – 14 Leicester Tigers
Sale Sharks 23 – 17 Exeter Chiefs
Gloucester Rugby 28 – 6 Harlequins
Northampton Saints 35 – 7 London Irish
Worcester Warriors 14 – 16 Bath
Saracens 23 – 64 Wasps
3 from 6, with the top 4 teams going into the weekend losing it’s not that bad a result.
Tigers had the better start knocking over two penalties to take an early lead. But Newcastle struck back quickly after the second of those kicks. A Try that Good converted put the hosts in front. Tigers did get back into the lead briefly via a third Burns penalty. Goode’s boot then put Falcons into a commanding lead with two penalties and then converting Falcons second try for a 20-9 halftime lead. The second half was about keeping Tigers at bay. Another penalty opened the gap to 14 points and it wasn’t until past the hour mark that Tigers scored a try. The missed conversion kept Falcons two scores ahead and a late penalty stretched that slightly.
Sharks maintained their 2016 winning record as they were happy to kick the ball and let Exeter try to break them down. An early yellow card for Sale was weathered with out giving up any points. When Exeter lost a player to the bin though Sharks were ruthless getting two tries. A third try just before halftime gave Sale a healthy 17-0 lead. An early try in the second half gave Exeter some hope but Cipriani knocked over a penalty soon afterwards. Sale then kept Exeter at bay until there was twelve minutes to go when Exeter go their second try. Again Cipriani knocked over a penalty soon afterwards and Exeter could only manage a penalty at the death which was too little far too late.
Gloucester blitzed Quins in the first half with Hook going over after only two minutes. He knocked over the conversion and swapped penalties with Evans for a 13-6 lead after twenty minutes. Morgan, who would have expected to have been in Rome, got Gloucester’s second try and Hook kept knocking the ball between the posts for a 23-6 half time lead. In the second half neither side could break each other down and the only reward was a try to Gloucester with four minutes remaining to cap a big home win.
It took a while for Saints to take control but a yellow card on 12 minutes was the catalyst. Two tries in the next ten minutes followed up by a late try led to a 21-0 half time lead. With the game effectively won Saints came out hard looking for the TBP and another two early tries more than sealed that. Saints didn’t add to their score and two late yellow cards assisted Irish grabbing a consolation try three minutes from time.
Warriors picked up another LBP but it could have all been so different. Bath got the first score via an early penalty. But Warriors put the pressure on and scored two first half tries to take a 14-6 lead into half time. When Bath lost a player to the bin early in the second half you’d have though Warriors would push home their advantage. Bath though scored a try of their own to close within a point. A Homer penalty with 13 minutes to go in the end proved enough to take the points. If Warriors had kicked over any of their three missed penalties it could so easily have been different. On small margins relegation could be decided.
The best game or at least performance of the weekend came last. Wasps came out of the traps fast and scored three tries in the first right minutes to lead 0-19. Saracens did well to temporarily steady the ship with a try and penalty of their own to pullback 10 points. But Hughes, who ran for 105 meters breaking 7 tackles, scored just before the half hour mark to gain the TBP. Anther from Hughes meant that Wasps had a comfy 16-31 half time lead. Any thoughts of a second half come back were quick quashed with Gopperth scoring an early second half try. Amazingly Gopperth beat the second most defenders making 6 miss tackles making it a massive 29 tackles in all that Saracens missed. Then a yellow card for Saracens heralded another flurry of points as Wasps sailed past the half century. Saracens did manage a try whilst they were down to 14 men but had no effect on the result. Wasps capped an amazing day with their 8th try with thirteen minutes to go and a couple of late penalties.
Obviously all the clubs know how the season is put together and have the same opportunities to plan for it. It’s clear that fans don’t see the loss of internationals impacting the credibility of the league.
Newport Gwent Dragons 21 – 26 Connacht Rugby
Leinster 52 – 0 Zebre
Ulster 13 – 10 Glasgow Warriors
Scarlets 22 – 21 Edinburgh
Benetton Treviso 13 – 7 Cardiff Blues
Munster 17 – 21 Ospreys
4 from 6, I did say it’s the kind of game that Cardiff lose but I couldn’t see how Treviso would get their first win of the season.
Ulster and Connacht top the table with Leinster 1 point back with a game in hand for an typically Irish dominated table. Scarlets are also only a point back in 4th for a very tight top of the table. Treviso are still 7 points behind at the bottom of the table.
Bordeaux Begles 15 – 12 Toulon
Toulon missed an opportunity to go top of the league but Bordeaux climbed to 5th even if they have played one more game.
Americas Rugby Championship
Brazil 29 – 33 Uruguay
Argentina 52 – 15 Chile
USA 30 – 22 Canada
After their first round draw, Argentina and USA top the table and points difference could define the championship. Brazil are the only team to have not won a game yet but they have been close picking up two LBPs. For more details of the games visit World Rugby website.
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