NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – An absorbing weekend of Premiership action saw the leaders taken down a peg, the cellar dwellers cement their place as relegation favorites, and England’s internationals make some strong claims for berths on the bench. Without further ado, here’s your Weekly Aviva Premiership Talking Points…
Released Players Make Claim to Bench Berths
Stuart Lancaster released 10 players back to their squads this weekend, with the explicit understanding that their performances would go a long way to determining his lineup on the bench for Saturday’s clash against the Wallabies. Some, such as Tom Johnson, impressed. Others, like Matt Kvesic, did not. Kvesic has been out of form all year since joining Gloucester, and it seems as though his days of challenging for the openside berth may be at an end for the moment. Kvesic is an extremely young player, and growing pains are only to be expected. For someone that shone on tour to Argentina this summer, though, the early going has been nothing but a disappointment. Though teammate Freddie Burns put in a solid shift in a losing effort to Bath, expect Toby Flood and Owen Farrell to fill the fly-half spot for England for the time being, though Burns may get a run before the November Tests are through. Ben Foden absolutely shone for Northampton, as the Saints seemingly failed to put a foot wrong against the league leaders. Though the fullback was out of favor through the Six Nations campaign, it is difficult to see him anywhere but as part of the match day 23 on current form. Certainly he has an international pedigree, and is a known quantity at the back. Christian Wade did nothing to hurt his claims with a try scoring effort against Leicester, but as RugbyWrapUp correspondent Junoir Blaber notes, Lancaster seems strangely reluctant to let the youngster fully prove himself. Defensive shortcomings are a concern, as Wade was repeatedly burned on his one outing for the Lions, but his excellence can only be denied for so long, particularly given England’s difficulty finding a truly threatening wing over the past two years (and no, Chris Ashton doesn’t count).
Northampton, Manoa Shine in Winning Effot
Saracens were admittedly shorthanded. But Northampton had several stars out for international duty as well, and still managed to thoroughly embarrass the table topping side in historic fashion, as the Saints’ 41-20 victory marked the worst defeat suffered by Saracens in four and a half years. Samu Manoa was particularly prolific, and was singled out for praise in multiple outlets. The American flanker/lock continues to impress, and after being on many short-lists for Player of the Year last campaign, he can expect to find his name in the reckoning for multiple end of season awards if he turns in many more performances that resemble Saturday’s effort.
Worcester in Serious Trouble
Though Sale’s end of season form last year offers a cautionary tale for any pundit brave enough to predict the relegation race before the halfway mark, Worcester look to be in a rough spot after failing to pick up a single victory in any of their six Premiership matches this season. The side looked particularly brutal against Exeter on Saturday, falling 40-6 in a match that was hardly that close. The Chiefs were up 14-0 after 10 minutes, and the contest effectively over before many spectators had fully settled in their seats. For the good of the league, everyone hopes that the Warriors grow more competitive as the season wears on, but they have already begun dropping points to potential relegation rivals such as London Irish and Newcastle. A bad season could turn truly dismal before the calendar hits 2014, with the Warriors set to face Bath, Sale, Northampton, and Saracens before the New Year. Sale stands as the only realistically winnable match on that slate, though miracles have happened before. The Sixways will certainly be hoping for something of the sort.
Leicester Lose, Cockerill Back
Leicester dropped points at Adams Park, as the London Wasps saw off the challenge of the severely depleted Tigers with relative ease. Things were tense at the half, but the home side gradually pulled away. Andy Goode put in a man of the match display, and the unsung hero of the season thus far continued to impress. Richard Cockerill marked his return to the bench with a loss, a point that will be sure to rankle the Leicester manager. David Mele continues to have difficulty adjusting to the Premiership, and many more shaky displays may have the scrumhalf left off the bench, as Cockerill has proven to be impatient in the past with any player not seen as living up to the Tiger’s high standards. Thus far, Mele has been saved by Leicester’s uncharacteristically thin squad, but the Tigers certainly do not possess an unlimited supply of patience. Things must get better, and quickly for Leicester if they hope to maintain their hugely impressive run of 9 straight Premiership finals. Though the Tigers put many in the mind of the San Antonio Spurs with their consistent treatment of the regular season with something approaching disdain, this approach can be dangerous. Currently, the Tigers sit fifth. Though you’d have difficulty finding a bettor to go against their side in the playoffs come season’s end, at some point their run will cease. Welford Road won’t be sweating just yet, but 2 defeats and a draw out of 6 matches is not an ideal return.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.