The #Scrumdown - Aviva Premiership & Pro14 - Week 4
Rugby : Jonathan Hatch takes his weekly look at the Aviva Premiership and the Pro14
Premiership – Exeter continue to impress and the Falcons come from behind to win thriller.
After losing to Gloucester in week one, the Champions Exeter have played some brilliant rugby in winning three games on the bounce. They recovered from and early deficit to see off the team they beat in the final last year, Wasps, by 31-17. Wasps have not looked themselves in the last few weeks, and have lost Danny Cipriani for at least a few months to injury. They will need to improve very quickly if they hope to make the play-offs. Exeter controlled the game beautifully, and showed that the difficult 2nd album is far from impossible. Henry Slade is having an inspired season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him starting outside Owen Farrell in England’s number 13 shirt come November. The Chiefs travel to a resurgent Leicester next week, which looks to be the pick of the ties in week 5.
Bath looked to have downed the Falcons at home after a dreadful start. They found themselves 0-19 down after 18 minutes as Newcastle started the game at a canter. An inspired comeback saw Bath put 4 tries away and rush into a 32-19 lead. But, Bath regressed back to their first quarter woes in the final 15 minutes, as the never say die attitude of Newcastle saw them score two late tries and scrape home 32-33. A familiar story for Bath from last season, as they failed to play for the 80 minutes. Newcastle’s top-6 aspirations are looking increasingly credible. For the neutral, an absolute barnstormer of a game.
A terrific see-saw contest between Harlequins and Leicester ended in mild controversy, as a late George Ford penalty sealed a 28-31 win for the visitors. Perhaps a game that summarises just how tight this league has become, it was a fluke clearance kick after a chaotic sequence of play that led to the holding penalty, after Marlon Yarde was blocked after kicking forward. Whatever you’re feeling is about the refereeing (there were a few yellow cards that were arguably not handed out) this was a thrilling encounter, and Leicester were probably worth the win in the end. Just.
Saracens continued where they left off after their trip to the states, beating Sale comfortably 41-13. Sale were slow to get going, and that is always a dangerous thing to do against the two-time European Champions. The game was marred, however, by the injury to Billy Vunipola, who will miss another 4 months with a knee injury. It will be a race against time if he is to be fit for England’s Six Nations title defence.
Gloucester played some unbelievable rugby in their 24-19 win over Worcester, the pick of the bunch coming after Billy Twelvetrees finished off a beautiful try after some unbelievable work from Henry Trinder, which will surely be in the conversation in try of the season. Worcester mounted a spirited comeback, but the cherry and whites held on. Worcester are still without a win, but there was enough here to suggest that all is not lost. Gloucester will need to play like they did in the first-half more if they wish to challenge for the top 6.
Northampton continued to make their week 1 mauling by Saracens look like a blip as they thrashed London Irish 25-40 in Reading. Saints will hope to continue to win away, as this was their first win in 6. On the other side of things, London Irish fans should start to worry. They looked dreadful for large swathe of the games.
Pro 14 – Cheetahs stun Leinster and Glasgow shine against Munster
This was always going to be a huge test for the Cheetahs. After picking up their first win against lowly Zebre last week, the South Africans were faced with a much tougher test against the unbeaten Leinster. The Pro14 new boys put in a fantastic forward performance in a hard hitting encounter, and though Leinster mounted a late fight back, the Cheetahs ran away 38-19 winners. They will be hugely buoyed by the win against one of the favourites for the league, and having played some great rugby but looking light up front and in defence, the pack looked like a vastly improved unit. It would have been nice if a few more people were there to see it, but more performances like this will surely bring in the crowds.
Glasgow, however, were the team of the weekend, putting in a 5 star performance against Munster in front of a raucous home crowd. The Warriors were at their swashbuckling best, as they tossed the ball around with reckless abandon. The 37-10 score line flattered Munster, who looked well bellow par, and Glasgow suddenly look like title challengers as they go to the top of Conference A.
Ulster also continued their unbeaten start as they absolutely decimated the sorry looking Dragons 52-25 in Belfast. They were imperious in attack, and realistically could have won by more if they hadn’t taken their foot off the pedal in the 2nd half. Both Glasgow and Ulster will hope to continue their unbeaten streak against the Italians next week.
That might be more difficult for Glasgow then it might have looked at the start of the season, as Benetton Treviso won their 2nd game in a row having started this term very brightly indeed. They overcame Ospreys 16-6 in a bruising encounter. The Italians have had a sorry few seasons, but are starting to look like a very difficult team to beat.
Zebre picked up their first win of the season in South Africa against the Southern Kings. The 17-43 score line didn’t tell the whole story, as the Kings made a spirited comeback, but a flurry of late tries saw the Italians home. A great win for Zebre, but despite the increased attendance, the Kings will need to improve greatly if they’re going to win at all this season.
Elsewhere, Cardiff left it late to overcome Connacht 15-17, and the Champions Scarlets recovered from their loss to Ulster last week to see off Edinburgh 28-8. Some amazing action in the Pro14 this week in another indicator of just how good European rugby has become.