WORCESTER, ENGLAND – It’s the last round of Aviva Premiership action before the two week break for the Anglo-Welsh Cup, and though attention will be focused on Twickenham, a full slate of matches is scheduled for the weekend. Worthwhile encounters will be taking place around the league, and as last weekend proved, games lacking international stars don’t necessarily have to lack entertainment value. On to the preview….
Debuts for Senatore, O’Connor highlight Weekend
With many of England’s stars in action against the Wallabies on Saturday, Premiership die-hards will turn to the season debuts of two Southern Hemisphere stars for their weekend entertainment. Leonardo Senatore hopes to halt Worcester’s slide against Bath, while James O’Connor has embarked on a high-profile publicity tour in preparation for his first run-out for London Irish. The Irish hope to draw fans to the Madjeski, and have been offering discount tickets in hopes of getting supporters to give the Australian back a proper reception. The London side’s back line is now one of the more undeniably exciting in the Premiership. In a best-case scenario, they will follow the model of fellow capital residents London Wasps: plenty of tries, lots of entertainment, and questionable results. Worcester is without a win since March, a 7 month span made only slightly less insufferable by the return of their Argentine international. Unfortunately, the reason Senatore has been unavailable is due to an IRB ban deriving from an inexcusable incident in which the flanker bit South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth during the Rugby Championship. If Worcester is to have a chance on Friday, Senatore will have to keep his teeth where they belong, and everything will have to bounce the Warrior’s way.
Is Exeter for Real?
Exeter have now scored over 40 points in two of the past three matches, and ran Glasgow close in the second round of the Heineken Cup. The New York Times (International edition, but still) ran an article talking about the success of the Chiefs in making the transition from Championship side to Heineken Cup competitors, and though Exeter will likely fall short of silverware this season, they continue to evolve under the steady hand of Rob Baxter. This weekend, they will face a stern test at the hands of Sale Sharks, whose record at home has been impressive throughout 2013, reaching back to the end of last season. One of the few matches this weekend that features a relatively full complement for both sides, if you have nothing better to do with a Friday afternoon, this match should be well worth your time and interest. After this weekend, English sides effectively take the next two weeks off for the LV=Anglo Welsh Cup, so look for both sides to be giving it their all around the park.
England Face Australia
The Autumn Internationals occupy a strange place in the rugby hierarchy. Though victories (such as England’s triumph over New Zealand last year) are well worth celebrating, the nature of the clashes, which come at the end of an extremely long season for Southern Hemisphere sides, mean that they sometimes lack the verve of Six Nations encounters. England’s squad selection against Australia demonstrates some of that slightly experimental mentality. While Stuart Lancaster is somewhat stuck for centres, lacking the heft of Manu Tuilangi due to injury, the unblooded pairing of Joel Tomkins and Billy Twelvetrees will warrant watching. Many are becoming nervous that two years out of the Rugby World Cup England does not appear to have a settled side. Though Chris Robshaw retained his captaincy, questions remain in some quarters about his fitness as an international flanker, and it seems that each match he must play the game of his life. Though competition for places is healthy in a certain context, continuity will become increasingly important as England enter the final cycle of international play before the World Cup takes place on home soil.
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