Best of the Weekend: New Zealand, Australia victorious as Premiership takes shape
Australia seal scrappy win while Argentine grit is commended
Australia clinched their first win of the inaugural Rugby Championship with a 26-19 win in front of their home fans in Perth, bouncing back from those two losses to New Zealand. The hosts will be happy to have come out alive after a shocking first half which saw them trail 13-6 going in for the break.
But South Africa’s failure to turn possession into points meant the Wallabies played themselves back into contention with tries from Scott Higgenbotham and Ben Alexander. For South Africa, they will be disappointed not to have responded after that draw with Argentina against a weak Australian outfit.
However, it was not all good news for Australia come the end of the match as Will Genia limped off the field. It’s now been announced that the stand-in captain will be out for six months after rupturing his anterior cruciate. It is expected that Nathan Sharpe will become the fourth captain for Australia this year, although he will want to quell rumours of a “captain’s curse.”
Argentina continue to impress despite defeat
It was Argentina’s dogged defence that was central to the discussions following their clash with New Zealand. Despite going down 21-5, the scoreline does little to reflect the determination of the Pumas. The lights on Argentina’s tournament are far from extinguished (unlike those in Wellington before the second half!) and they will be looking to exact revenge on home turf.
Top four remain dominant
Defending champions Harlequins and the team they beat to that crown, Leicester, both continued their good form by sealing their second bonus-point wins in as many weeks.
Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea was grateful for the 40-3 thumping the hosts gave neighbours London Welsh on Friday night following the previous weeks nail-biter at Twickenham. The home side were no match for the Premiership newcomers, who faced a five-day turnaround after facing Leicester, with the returning Ugo Monye and George Robson etching their name on the score sheet twice.
Speaking of the Tigers, they welcomed Worcester to Welford Road on Saturday with Manu Tuilagi keen to run over anything that moved with two tries to his name. Vereniki Goneva also scored on his debut while Graham Kitchener also got on the score board with a penalty try also included in the mix.
Charlie Hodgson made his former club’s first match at their new stadium in Salford as painful as possible as he scored 18 points for Saracens in their 23-16 win over Sale. It was run-of-the-mill rugby for Saracens who put pressure on the hosts through the kick-chase. Danny Cipriani was denied his blushes after opposite number Hodgson charged down a kick which nearly saw a try. Chris Ashton also continued his sound form from a week ago, finding a tremendous line off of Alex Goode to put the visitors ahead.
Northampton Saints had to fight for the full 80 to pick up a bonus point win over Exeter Chiefs. Their 24-21 victory was a heart-stopping one as the Chiefs refused to back down, a late score from Matt Jess putting the result in doubt.
Finally, Wasps were their own worst enemy at The Rec as Bath edged out a 30-23 win to make it two-from-two. An error strewn performance marked with a few moments of attacking creativity did little for the Wycombe outfit. Bath, on the other hand, took their chances well and will be happy with the win.
Irish feel the heat from Burns’ boot
Gloucester got their Aviva Premiership campaign back on track after an opening weekend defeat by holding off London Irish 41-30 in a thrilling encounter at the Madejski Stadium.
Freddie Burns proved to be the difference, kicking 25 points to add to his credentials for a place in the England setup and punishing any mistake the hosts made.
James Simpson-Daniel was the other hero for the cherry and whites, scoring two tries late on to wrap up the win. England No.8 Ben Morgan also got his name on the score sheet for the first time since joining Gloucester.
Laidlaw lauded with last-minute drop goal for Edinburgh
Scotland fly-half Greg Laidlaw was the hero against Cardiff as he slotted a 78th minute drop-goal to deny the hosts a perfect return to the Arms Park with a 21-19 win. It was the first win of the season for Edinburgh and their first in Wales since 2009.
Leinster also got off the mark with a 45-25 win over Newport Gwent Dragons in what was one of the more entertaining matches of the weekend while a Paul Marshall late try snatched a 16-13 win for Ulster over the Ospreys.
Toulouse draw line in the sand with emphatic win
Toulouse made their ambitions for the new season clear on Saturday with a huge 62-13 win over a poor Agen side. Grenoble also burst through the half-century mark, picking up a 52-7 win over Mont de Marsan.
Montpellier blitzed by Biarritz
Biarritz continued their winning start to the season with another victory, this time over and ill-disciplined Montpelier. The visitors were keeping up with their Basque hosts before being handed two yellow cards within four minutes of each other to see their hopes dashed.
Try of the weekend goes to Chris Ashton who capped off a well worked piece of play for Saracens against Sale. England fans will be hoping he finds those sorts of gaps when they welcome the Southern Hemisphere giants in Autumn. Kyle Eastmond deserves a mention for his mazy run that beat 8 defenders, but that might just reflect the Wasps defence.
Hero of the weekend goes to the defensive effort (and sheer grit) from Argentina. The score flatters the All Blacks, who had to keep knocking for a long time before gaps started to appear.
Villain of the weekend goes to Wasps. Maybe they’re missing a bit of luck, maybe all of the administrative issues that have dogged them for the last few months is effecting them. Whatever it is, they are being punished for error strewn moments (miscommunication between Robinson and Palmer this weekend being one of them.) Dai Young will be hoping to cut them out as soon as possible.
Anyway, enough from me, what were your highlights?
By Nick Winn