Aviva Premiership Team of the Week: Round 4
1: Brett Sturgess (Exeter Chiefs)
Atrocious conditions at Sandy Park on Sunday meant this game was always going be decided by the forwards. The Exeter pack put in a valiant performance against a much-revered Saracens unit that has immense strength in depth. Sturgess was the cornerstone of this epic effort that won the game for the Chiefs.
2: Joe Gray (Harlequins)
In what was billed as the battle of the up-and-coming English hookers, Gray completely outclassed his opposite man at Leicester, Tom Youngs. Converted centre Youngs needs to sort his lineout throwing out if he is ever to cement his Tigers place, let alone make it on the international stage, but Gray hit his man more often than not at the weekend. Add to that some brutish ball-carrying and the Quins hooker had a very good game.
3: Halani Aulika (London Irish)
The 19-stone Tongan prop put in an impressive 60-minute stint in London Irish’s season-reviving win against Bath. The big tight-head crashed over from short range in the first half and formed part of a pack and front row that bullied Bath and set up plenty of opportunities for Shingler to bang over penalties, which he duly did.
4: Jonathan Mills (London Welsh)
Last week Mills sacrificed two of his teeth in that epic comeback against Exeter to record their first Premiership win, an act that typified the commitment and guts that Welsh have shown so far. This weekend the teeth he has left remained intact; the only thing leaving his mouth were the shouts of joy as he crossed the line to score a vital try. One suspects he would sacrifice all his teeth over the course of the season to secure Premiership status for his team.
5: Tommy Hayes (Exeter Chiefs)
The talismanic Exeter lock set the tone for his side’s performance on a miserable Sunday in Devon, leading the charge and refusing to be intimidated by a usually influential Saracens pack. Hayes, younger brother of Irish record-setter John, epitomises everything that makes Exeter such a great club, and showed his worth again this weekend.
6: Sione Kalamafoni (Gloucester)
According to Wikipedia, Sione Kalimafoni once saved 7 children from a burning Tongan orphanage; it was a rather less impressive feat here, but his try was nonetheless important to save Gloucester from 5 straight home defeats for the first time since 1995. He carried strongly all afternoon, and offloaded well when he was eventually hauled down, to cap a fine performance from the giant Tongan.
7: Phil Dowson (Northampton Saints)
Mr dependable for the Saints was just that for 60 minutes against Worcester, before he joined his teammates in one of the most spectacular switching-offs surely ever seen. That 60 minutes was so complete a performance though, he makes the team anyway. A delicious offload for Artemyev’s try sticks in the memory, but he was typically industrious in the tight and the loose alike.
8: Nick Easter (Harlequins)
The headline was Jordan Crane returning and captaining the Tigers from No. 8, but it was his opposite number Nick Easter who stole the show at Welford Road. It is a notoriously narrow pitch, and Quins duly attacked time and again up the middle and around the fringes, Easter at the heart of these drives into the Tigers’ underbelly. A superb performance from the Premiership stalwart.
9: Danny Care (Harlequins)
Care was at his impish best at Welford Road, sniping and scurrying around the base of the scrum and the ruck, while all the time providing Nick Evans with supreme service. His partnership with the kiwi outside half eclipsed the all-English duo of Leicester, and ultimately proved to be the difference between the teams. The Tigers spent plenty of time in the Quins 22, but were far from clinical; Quins were just that, never more so than when Care slotted a cheeky, sweetly-struck drop goal from the base of a ruck.
10: Freddie Burns (Gloucester)
The Gloucester outside half has made a storming start to the season, and he continued in that fashion against Wasps. Jinking and weaving, his attacking play is a joy to behold, but what has been most impressive thus far has been his temperament and game management. He seems to finally be mature enough to run a game, and with burgeoning talents the likes of which Gloucester have in their outside backs, there is so much potential in their backline. Against Wasps he ran the show, kicking his goals as well as the corners, and would have bagged a 5 pointer save for a heroic tackle from Tim Payne.
11: James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester)
One of the greatest shames of English rugby over the past few years is the injury record of the man known as Sinbad. He has pace, power, guile, and a rugby brain to match, and showed them all for a tremendous try on Saturday. Tearing down the left wing after some slick hands from Tom Savage, Simpson-Daniel beat 3 men on a weaving run to the try line. A beautiful finish in front of the shed, who rose to salute their favourite attacking genius.
12: Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints)
If Saints fans were worried about a rather large James Downey-sized hole being left in their midfield, their fears have surely now been allayed. Luther Burrell looks to have filled in his boots and then some. Matching Downey for size, he also showed some impressive pace and movement to glide through a couple of gaps and over the line for a brace against Worcester.
13: Elliot Daly (London Wasps)
Daly’s performance against Gloucester belied his youth, his beautiful outside break resulting in a supreme solo try. As predicted, his duel with fellow young Englishman Henry Trinder was a joy to behold; the outside centre position is one of massive potential for England. Every time he got the ball he caused the Gloucester defence problems, several scything breaks sending their backline scrambling. An eminently mature performance from a man with a huge future.
14: Josh Drauniniu (Worcester Warriors)
Drauniniu makes the team on the back of a quite astonishing performance from the Worcester replacements at Franklin’s Gardens. Seemingly down and out at 37-3, Richard Hill emptied the bench and was rewarded with a heroic fightback that salvaged 2 bonus points for his side. Drauniniu crossed in the 75th minute, breaking through some shockingly weak Northampton tackles in the process.
15: Nick Abendanon (Bath)
Bath seem to have picked up where they left off last season, inconsistency defining their performances so far. One thing that has been a constant, though, is the continued assuredness of Nick Abendanon at fullback. He played well in a losing team again here, making a telling break before setting up Eastmond to cross the whitewash.
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images