The Scrumdown Week 2 - Aviva Premiership, Pro14 & The Rugby Championship
Rugby : The Scrumdown looks at Week 2 of The Premiership, Pro14 and the return of the Rugby Championship
English Premiership – Saracens Roko’d, Saints bounce back and London Irish crash back down to earth.
Bath look like a different team this season. Having spent the last few campaigns thrilling with their quick feet and sublime offloading, yet frustrating with bad decision making and deteriorating energy levels, if the first two games are anything to go by, they have worked hard to rectify this in the summer.
Bath dominated the first half, marshalled by a much-improved Rhys Priestland’s cool-headed game management and Francois Louw’s intensity, Bath went in at the break 14-0 at the Rec. Saracens wouldn’t be back-to-back European champions if they lied down, and with the help of three British and Irish Lions coming off the bench they looked to have snatched the win with 4 minutes left when Goode and Wyles worked together to put Ben Spencer in, putting the visitors 21-17 up.
Then a moment of sheer genius from Semesa Rokoduguni, quiet till that point, changed the game. The winger skipped round 4 players on his way to the line to put Bath 24-21. Saracens came again, but it was Roko, for the 2nd time in as many weeks, picking off a loose Mako Vunipola pass and running 80 metres to put the game away 31-21. Bath will be thrilled with their start, but will need to keep their feet on the ground if past seasons are anything to go by. Saracens will rue their slow start, but this was a blip as opposed to a crisis. They head to Philadelphia next week to treat East Coast USA to some Premiership rugby against Newcastle.
Northampton looked utterly dreadful last week. So dreadful, in fact, that this week’s 24-11 win over Midlands rivals Leicester feels almost miraculous. They put in a solid defensive display against an exciting Leicester back-line. There was nothing particularly fancy about how they played, but the urgency and intelligence they showed couldn’t have been further from the lackadaisical performance at Twickenham last week. The raucous Franklin’s Gardens crowd will breath a sigh of relief.
As for Leicester, they were heavily touted as potential champions at the start of the season, yet they seem to missing something up front. Losing to arguably their two biggest rivals in the first two weeks is going to hurt, but I think that back-line is too good to be kept down for long. They’ll look to pick up their first win against Gloucester next week.
Gloucester’s away form will be a cause for concern for fans of the cherry and whites. Quins were guilty of a slow start last week, but not so this week. Their first two tries were brilliantly worked, and despite a Gloucester rally, and having an absolute sizzler chalked off for a Marlon Yarde forward pass, Quins were able to run out 28-17 winners at the Stoop to get their campaign off the mark.
Sale and Newcastle contested a niggly and scrappy contest on Friday night at the AJ Bell. Sale scrum-half Faf Du Klerk looked fantastic amongst the melee, but it was ultimately the Falcons forwards that would win out, after they picked up a penalty try late on after Sale were adjudged to collapse a rolling maul. Sale were unlucky to lose 12-13, but they needed to make their periodical dominance count. As for Newcastle, they go to 2 wins from 2 and are looking like they’ve finally learnt how to win tight games. They’ll relish the chance to impress in the US next week.
Champions Exeter bounced back from their disappointing defeat away to Gloucester on opening night to humble new boys London Irish 37-7 at Sandy Park. This was a textbook Exeter performance, dominating up front and picking their moments to cut loose. London Irish played some okay rugby, but were patchy. Still, they wouldn’t have expected to pick up much away to the champs, and should fancy giving Sale a good game away next week.
The Chief’s next game against Worcester may not be as cut and dry as it looked last week, after the Warriors gave Wasps a scare. The game was at 10-10 with 20 minutes to go, and Worcester were arguably edging it slightly, but a below-par Wasps finished strongly to run out 24-10 winners. Worcester should take heart from their performance after a dreadful week 1, but they will need to learn to play for the full 80. Wasps move to the top of the table at this early stage of the season.
Pro14 Roundup – Scarlets, Munster and Leinster dominate again and South Africans will look forward to going home.
A familiar look in week 2 in the Pro14 as the champions Scarlets played some terrific rugby to annihilate Zebre 10-41 in Italy. Sterner tests are to come, but the Llanelli outfit looks like the team to beat. Their trip to Ulster should be a doozy next week, and Zebre look like they may be whipping boys for the season.
Ulster had a harder time of it against Treviso. 21 points up and cruising, the Italians rallied late and came within a whisker of picking up the draw. Ulster held on to register a 21-14, but they’ll need to improve next week against the Scarlets.
Munster thumped the Cheetahs at home 51-18, playing some scintillating rugby in the process. The Cheetahs again looked dangerous on occasion with ball in hand, but fell apart in defence. It will be interesting to see how they go at home to Zebre next week. A good confidence boosting home win could turn Bloemfontein into a fortress.
The other South African team, the Southern Kings, improved from last week, but were still well beaten by Connacht, who got off the mark with a 32-10 victory. Leinster will be travelling to Africa next week off the back of a comprehensive 37-9 win over the Cardiff Blues, which should be an intriguing tie.
Glasgow continued to impress with a 31-10 win over Ospreys, and their Scottish counterparts Edinburgh also went 2 from 2 with a 35-18 win over the Dragons.
Rugby Championship – New Zealand come from behind again and the Springboks and Wallabies play out brutal draw
I think the British and Irish Lions might just have figured out the only way to beat the All Blacks; Stay behind and in contention and strike late. Do not, whatever you do, appear to have a comfortable lead. Just like Australia a fortnight ago, Argentina were in the ascendancy, finding themselves 22-15 with 25 to go and with New Zealand down to 14 men. Cue the inevitable All Black magic as they ran in 3 tries to run out 39-22 winners. The Pumas will be disappointed that they didn’t put the game away, but they can take heart from the fact that almost every other team in the same position seems to lose to the all-conquering kiwis.
It was rarely pretty, but you can’t fault Australia and South Africa for effort. Both teams left everything on the field, and looked out on their feet by the final whistle following their 23-23 draw. This was a great old-school bruising test match, with both teams improving gradually after a torrid couple of years. The return fixture next week should be a belter.