The Scrumdown - Week 3 - Premiership Rugby, Pro14 and the Rugby Championship
Rugby : Jonathan Hatch rounds up the action from the Rugby Championship and week 3 in the Pro14 and Aviva Premiership
Rugby Championship – All Blacks go ballistic and Australia light up the capital
Holy-moly New Zealand can be a scary team sometimes. After a drawn series with the Lions and back-to-back unconvincing wins, they were starting to look vulnerable. Then they shut out South Africa and handed the Springboks a record losing margin, playing some unfathomably good rugby in the process.
Nobody manhandles the Boks in such a fashion, but when all was said and done in Auckland the All Blacks had scored 8 unanswered and mostly beautiful tries, winning 57-0. The Lions showed that the kiwis could be beaten with enough tenacity, but 2 years out from the next Rugby World Cup in Japan it’s hard to see any other nation getting up to the All Black standard.
Australia moved to five wins out of five when playing in Canberra against Argentina. Maybe they should play in the capital more often, as they produced a fantastic second half display to register their first win in this year’s championship. The Pumas started well, leading 10-3 with half time approaching. But the Wallabies scored 5 unanswered converted tries, so by the time Moroni collected his own chip to score Argentina’s second, the game was well gone. Australia won the tie 45-20, and will hope for a second win away to South Africa in 2 weeks time.
Aviva Premiership – Saracens and the Falcons fail to break America and Wasps finally lose in Coventry
After much hype, the swathes of empty seats in Philadelphia marred an otherwise decent game of rugby between Saracens and the Falcons. There is certainly appetite for the game here, as international matches featuring the All Blacks vs USA and Ireland’s famous win against the World Champions drew near sell out crowds. Maybe the domestic game is a step too far for now.
Owen Farrell was in imperious form upon his return to the starting line-up, kicking 19 points and marshalling his side expertly. Chris Wyles scored a try in front of his countrymen, and Saracens showed the driving resolve they lacked against Bath last week. A good 29-7 win for the European Champions, it’s just a shame more people weren’t there to see it.
Newcastle lost their first game of the season in the states, and Wasps lost their first game in 21 at the Ricoh 21-24 to a Harlequins side inspired by 18-year-old fly half Marcus Smith. The youngster was in fine form, kicking 14 points and being instrumental in Marlon Yarde’s opening try. Wasps lacked a little bite, as they did against Worcester last week, but Quins will be thrilled with how they have bounced back from their week one loss to London Irish. Smith might not be troubling Farrell and Ford yet for the England shirt, but they should be looking over their shoulders.
Northampton continued their great form from last week, this time toppling unbeaten Bath at Franklin’s Gardens. The visitors did not look a patch on the team that beat Saracen’s last week as they were overpowered in almost every area by Saints. After a relatively lifeless first half, two second-half tries gave the home side a comfortable 24-6 win. After the debacle in week one, Northampton are starting to look like the contenders they should be.
The champions Exeter Chiefs moved to the top of the table with a thumping 41-10 victory over Worcester Warriors, whose injury woes only deepened after losing fly half Tom Heathcote early on. This was a textbook Chiefs victory, dominating upfront whilst offloading deftly to finish off tries. Wasps are heading to Sandy Park next Sunday, which should be an absolute belter of a game.
Leicester finally got of the board with a convincing 24-10 victory over Gloucester. Ben Youngs typified the urgency the Tigers had been lacking in the first two rounds, scoring an opportunistic brace to put his team in control. Gloucester did not roll over despite being 21-0 down at half time, but the deficit proved too much and the Tigers picked up a much needed win.
London Irish were again well beaten, this time by Sale Sharks who ran away 36-7 winners to register their first victory of the season. Sale looked like a team desperate to make amends for the disappointing loss to the Falcons last week, and they rushed into a 24-0 half time lead. They continued to dominate a rather sorry looking Irish defence in the 2nd, and were well worth their 5 points. Irish already look tired, and it is looking increasingly likely that it’ll be between them and Worcester in the relegation battle.
Three weeks in, and not a single team has won all their games. This is shaping up to be a painfully close season.
Pro14 – Cheetahs get off the mark in a try-fest and Ulster leave it late to down the champions
There were promising signs in Bloemfontein that the Cheetahs just might make a go of it in the Pro14. The stadium could have been fuller, but those that were there were treated to 13 tries as the home side beat Zebre 54-39. The Italians were a worthy supporting act, playing some scintillating rugby themselves, but the South Africans, led by the wheels of winger Mapimpi, were insatiable, running in eight tries. Questions remain about their leaky defence, but Cheetahs sure can play with the ball in their hand.
The same can’t be said for the Southern Kings, with a paltry 3,011 people turning out to see them drubbed by Leinster. Aside from 43,000 empty seats, the team were awful. Admittedly, they were against the formidable Dubliners, and yes it is early days, but the team need to start playing better if more people are going to come out and see them. Leinster’s 31-10 win was actually a rather flattering score line. Lets hope for the sake of the experiment they can turn it around soon.
Ulster overcame the champions, Llanelli Scarlets, in a see-saw contest at Ravenhill. The game was plodding along at 12-6 with a quarter to go when it sprang into life. Scarlets took the lead through Johnny McNicholl, before Jacob Stockdale hit back for the home side. The returning Lion Jonathan Davies looked to have tied it up for the Scarlets, but a 77th minute try from replacement hooker John Andrew secured a thrilling 27-20 victory for the Ulstermen.
Munster went to 3 wins from 3 after holding off a late Ospreys comeback to register a 16-21 win. Glasgow came from 14-0 down to squeeze past the still winless Cardiff Blues 20-19. Treviso, who were unlucky not to win their first couple of games, picked up a huge 17-20 victory over the then unbeaten Edinburgh. And Gavin Henson kicked 11 points as the Dragons saw off Connacht 21-8 to pick up their first win of the season.