BATH, ENGLAND – Through the end of the third round, an average of five and a half tries per match had been scored in the Premiership. For all the talk during the doldrums of January and February, every fall and spring, clubs in England prove that when there is workable weather, they can play very attractive rugby. Hat-trick heroes have been crowned every week thus far, and some shock results have shaken up the league’s established power structure. With that, let’s dive into our Aviva Premiership Talking Points.
Leicester Dominated at the Rec
The Tigers were absolutely dismantled by a rampaging Bath team, who went ahead 23-0 at the half, and never let up. Former Leicester man George Ford kicked twenty points, and Bath outplayed Leicester in all aspects of the game. The lone bright spot for Leicester was the return of Tom Croft after a year out of action. However, even Richard Cockerill could find no excuses for the turgid performance, admitting that the Tigers “got what we deserved.” This makes twice in two weeks that a playoff contender has been humiliated, following Harlequins loss to Saracens at the Stoop in round two. While it is too early to draw any conclusions about the state of the league, Leicester have not been shut out since 2008, and this marked their heaviest defeat in the Premiership era. Bath were excellent throughout, and absolutely clinical in their finishing. After barely missing out on the playoffs last season, this might be the year the team returns to glory.
Exeter Hang On at Kingsholm
The first match of the weekend proved to be a close affair, with Exeter barely hanging on to beat Gloucester, 25-22. The Chiefs were ahead 22-12 at the half, having survived an early yellow card to winger Ian Whitten. Jonny May scored an early Try of the Year candidate, running down the sideline before chipping ahead beautifully to himself, barely touching down before an oncoming Chiefs wing could rob him of the try. Dan Murphy went over in the tenth minute, ensuring that the Cherry and Whites took full advantage of Whitten’s time in the Sin Bin, putting twelve points on the board while they possessed the man advantage. Exeter chipped away at the lead, punishing Gloucester for their ill-discipline with five penalties in the first half, and adding a converted try in the thirty second minute through flanker Ben White. Gloucester emerged after the half a changed side, closing the gap with a penalty and a try, only to fall short in the final minutes. Gareth Steenson hooked a penalty to wrap up the victory for Exeter, who have two wins from three matches to start the season.
Saracens Survive Scare
Though Exeter and Gloucester kicked off the weekend with a compelling match, the best game of the weekend played out between Saracens and London Irish. Though the Exiles had looked lackluster in their first two matches, they summoned an impressive performance to run Sarries close. Only a late try by Billy Vunipola secured the victory for Mark McCall’s side, who are now three from three. Owen Farrell, starting for the first time this season, kicked thirteen points and distributed well. It looked as though the Sarries would cruise to an easy victory as they racked up twenty points in the first twenty-three minutes, but London Irish went on a 17-3 run between the 27th and 44th minutes to go ahead, 29-23. Blair Cowan crossed the whitewash for the Exiles, and Alex Lewington secured his first hat-trick in the losing effort.
Best of the Rest
Sale dispatched London Welsh with ease, dismantling the new boys 46-8. After three matches, the Welsh have conceded 151 points, an astonishing number. If they continue to ship points at this rate, the side will surely go down as the worst in Premiership history, even after significant financial investment… Quins and Wasps played out at a barn-burner at the Stoop, featuring an all-action display by Chris Robshaw. Questioned mid-week after the capitulation to Saracens, Robshaw inspired the Quins to a hard fought victory, scoring a try in the forty-sixth minute. Thomas Young made things interesting with a 75th minute try, but Harlequins hung on to grind out the win… Northampton ran through Newcastle, running out 35-10 victors on Sunday. Stephen Myler was rested; 20-year-old Will Hooley started and scored an early try en route to the bonus point win.
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