GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – In the last weekend before the break for LV= Anglo-Welsh Cup action resumed, much attention was focused upon events at Twickenham, as England took down the Wallabies in a ragged affair. However, Aviva Premiership sides were still in action and though the weekend lacked any instant classics, there was plenty of action both on and off the pitch to talk about. Without further ado, on to the weekend’s talking points…
Gloucester In Trouble
For all the attention this space has lavished upon the woes of Worcester Warriors (and make no mistake, woeful is a generous adjective to apply to the side) affairs at Kingsholm have been dire as well. Two wins out of seven matches is not the start to the season that the Cherry and Whites would have envisaged. In fact, I had predicted that they would take a Heineken Cup slot with ease, counting upon a new look backline to fire on all cylinders. While the talent of the team is undeniable, anyone tuning in to Gloucester’s lackluster performances can see that things are not clicking. Moments of individual brilliance have been relatively commonplace, leading fans and pundits alike to question why the side has failed to coalesce into a cohesive whole. Individual players such as Matt Kvesic are clearly out of form, and while Ben Morgan retained his place in the England side for the current Autumn International series, he too has been far short of his best. The forward pack has lacked the ability to control the pace of play, leaving the backs scrambling and turning the ball over far too often. These problems are solvable, but the Cherry and Whites need to find a way out of the doldrums, and quickly, lest their Heineken Cup dreams disappear before the New Year.
Wade Turns Heads With Brace
Christian Wade continued to turn heads with an eye-catching display for Wasps, bagging another two tries to add to his ever-growing collection. Though Chris Ashton and Marland Yarde appear to have the wing slots locked down for the time being, Wade can only be this impressive for so long before being given his shot on the Test stage. Many have compared the young winger to Jason Robinson, though Wade lacks the credentials to play at fullback as well as on the wing. While England fans remain impatient, it is important to remember that Wade’s pace is once in a generation, and his attacking flair could have him as an England stalwart well past the next World Cup cycle. At 22, Stuart Lancaster can afford to give the wing more seasoning, though Wade himself admits his keenness to enter the international arena.
Tigers Mauled Again
At this point, the Leicester Tigers must be heartily sick of the Harlequins visiting the East Midlands. The London squad has now emerged victorious in three out of the past four encounters between the teams at Welford Road, having won 23-16 this weekend. Victory in last year’s semifinal went a long way towards soothing the sting of past defeats for the home side, but there can be no comfort for an irate Richard Cockerill, who conceded that his side came out second best in many facets of the game. Quins had faced defeat in their previous four matches before halting the slide against Sale last weekend, and looked to get their weekend back on track with a truly impressive victory over a diminished Tigers team. The risks taken by Connor O’Shea paid off, as Nick Evans looked reinvigorated at fullback, while the defense was stalwart in preventing the Tigers from scoring a try until the final minute of the game, at which point the result had been settled. For Leicester, the post-match report will read “wasted opportunity” as they once again let points go begging.
Elsewhere, Saracens put last weekend’s defeat behind them as they demolished Newcastle, 40-3 behind 18 points from returning fly-half Charlie Hodgson. Hodgson marked his return to the Premiership with a try-scoring appearance, emphasizing the wily veteran’s value to a championship contender. New boy James O’Connor impressed for London Irish, though the side eventually fell to Northampton 19-14. On Friday night, Bath piled on against Worcester, winning 21-6, while Sale managed to hold off Exeter 18-16.
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