LONDON, ENGLAND – The second weekend of the Aviva Premiership season brought tries aplenty, and renewed the conversation about England’s fly half options thanks to a spectacular display from Danny Cipriani. Every week throughout the season, RugbyWrapUp will be reviewing the action, bringing you all the talking points in our after-action report.
Salary Cap Increase
There was huge news off the field this weekend, as the Premiership announced that the salary cap for clubs would be increased by £500,000. In addition, there will be additional “player exception” added to each team. The exception operates in a similar fashion to the designated player rule in the MLS, where clubs can designate an individual whose salary will not count against the cap. The additional player will have to be recruited from overseas, though the agreement does not exclude English players who are currently plying their trade overseas (looking at you, Armitage brothers). ESPN Scrum linked Bath to Will Genia. Whether the rumor is true or not, this signals the start of a new era in the Premiership.
Saints Stunned by Wasps
A week after the Saints looked unbeatable against Gloucester, the Wasps triumphed over the defending champions in an impressive display. Ashley Johnson was an attacking threat all game long, touching down for the try that put Wasps ahead in the fifty ninth minute. Before that, Stephen Myler had slotted three penalties for Saints, who struggled to get their offense going after scoring more than fifty points the week before. In the seventy third minute, Rob Miller effectively put the game out of reach with a penalty, putting the Wasps ahead 20-9 with seven minutes left. Ben Foden ensured that it remained a contest by scoring a try in the seventy eighth minute, but Wasps hung on to win their second match of the young season. Having Christian Wade and Tom Varndell on the flanks once more has re-energized Wasps attack, as opponents need to stay honest out wide, allowing Johnson and the other forwards to run rampant and set a real platform. Though it is too early to declare Wasps title contenders, they sent a clear message to the rest of the league; underestimate Dai Young’s charges at your own peril.
Leicester Perseveres Against Exeter
The Chiefs gave the Tigers fits in both of their matches last season, and Rob Baxter’s team proved to be a handful in the early going. The Chiefs went into the half with a 17-13 advantage after scoring two first half tries. Freddie Burns continued his revival, scoring eight first half points, eventually converting all three of his penalty attempts. He was also a threat going forward, moving further towards putting a miserable 2013 behind him. Ben Youngs was pushed over the line by Leo Ghiraldini in the fifty sixth minute, putting the Tigers ahead for good. The Tigers looked vulnerable against the Chiefs forwards, reflecting their extensive injury list. Though Tom Croft was initially pencilled in the starting fifteen, he was left out of the match day squad for the second consecutive week. Richard Cockerill’s legendary obfuscation regarding player injuries has left many supporters baffled about the status of the injured Tigers, with Miles Benjamin and Dan Cole among those whose return date is uncertain.
Harlequins Embarrassed at Home
What initially looked like the best fixture of the round turned out to be the most lopsided, when Saracens absolutely demolished the Harlequins at the Stoop. From the first ten minutes, the Sarries were off and running, when Charlie Hodgson renewed his reputation as “Charge Down Charlie” with a charge down try from near the halfway line. From there, things only got worse. Though Mike Brown added to his personal highlight reel with a try-saving tackle, the Sarries were ahead by sixteen at the half. From there, things only got worse. The Saracens defense came up huge time and again, repelling Quins’ attacks from inside the twenty-two. By the end of the match, Conor O’Shea was left to lament his team’s effort, admitting that his team had suffered a “big blow in emotional terms” and calling it the worst experience of his time in charge.
Best of the Rest
London Welsh continued to prove that money can’t buy happiness, capitulating to Bath by an astonishing 53-26 scoreline. It marked the second straight game that the Welsh gave up more than 50 points. Though their offense undoubtedly improved after another week of training together, the Welsh are well on their way to becoming the worst defensive side in Premiership history if they don’t shape up soon. Sale went down to Gloucester, 34-27, in what was probably the most entertaining contest of the weekend. Danny Cipriani had a helping hand in four of Sale’s tries, but it was not enough for the Sharks, who surrendered a halftime lead. In the final match of the weekend, London Irish hung on against a gritty Newcastle, defeating the Falcons 20-18. The result may look far more significant at the end of the season, when each side is scrapping for every point.