COVENTRY, ENGLAND – Wasps made headlines for the right reasons during their Coventry debut, but all was not well in England this weekend. A salary cap fracas threatens to engulf the Premiership. RugbyWrapUp looks back at the weekend’s talking points from Round 10’s action.
Hartley Red Mars Extraordinary Northampton Victory
Following his red card in the 2013 Aviva Premiership final, Stuart Lancaster declared that hooker Dylan Hartley was on his “last warning” with regard to disciplinary offenses. After being named club captain, Hartley had a spotless 2013-14 season, leading the Saints to the Premiership crown in a legendary final against Saracens. Now, Hartley finds himself in hot water after a swinging elbow led to a straight red card in the 16th minute of the most recent East Midlands derby. Leicester’s Matt Smith did seem to make a bit much of the contact, but the fact remains that Hartley, a player with known disciplinary issues, swung his elbow with intent. A red was really the only viable option, and with Hartley’s past, the question is not if the RFU will come down, but how hard. Northampton responded magnificently to going down 14 men, and actually dominated the match. The Saints had 70 percent possession overall, and managed to beat Leicester for width despite being a man down in the backs. Richard Cockerill admitted that his team had played poorly. The Tigers astoundingly kept the ball in the forwards or kicked away possession during their few moments with the ball. A seesaw battle saw the lead exchanged four times in the second half before Jamie Elliott’s try in the 76th minute put Northampton ahead for good, 21-19. Stephen Myler then converted to extend the lead to 4. Northampton’s scrum was under massive pressure early on, but the introduction of Gareth Denman and Ethan Waller in the front row turned things around for Jim Mallinder’s side. This is a match that Saints supporters will use to taunt their neighbors for years to come, and it was well-deserved.
London Welsh Disappoint Again
Nobody really expected a competitive match at Allianz Park on Saturday. Bottom dwellers London Welsh haven’t played competitively yet this season. However, the magnitude of their capitulation on Saturday was extraordinary. The Exiles shipped eleven tries to Saracens, going down 78-7. Saracens had secured their bonus point by the 31st minute, but they refused to let up. Mako Vunipola crossed twice more, while Richard Wigglesworth completed a substitute’s hat trick in the second half. Owen Farrell knocked over 10 penalties, but the big takeaway was the growing gap between the Championship’s top sides and the Premiership. The Exiles actually won 19 of their 23 matches last season, and finished with the highest positive point differential in the league. However, they have been so far outclassed that it is worth asking if the system of promotion and relegation is viable. Having a second tier is desirable and necessary. It might be a better solution in future years for the bottom placed side in the Premiership to play a home and home “relegation match” against the Championship’s top side.
Exeter and Sale Get Physical in Salford
Sale secured a 18-11 home victory over third placed Exeter, but may have lost Danny Cipriani to a leg injury. Cipriani shone once more, scoring a try and creating another, but he was forced to leave in the 59th injury after his injury suffered during the try. Thomas Waldrom brought Exeter back to within seven points with a 71st minute try, and Exeter finished the final ten minutes of the match a man up. However, they were unable to take full advantage and the match ended anticlimactically. The losing bonus point kept the Chiefs in playoff position, and Waldrom’s try marked his continued reinvigoration under Baxter. After two years spent on the fringes of Leicester’s squad, Waldrom has certainly worked himself back into the Saxons’ picture, and may push Ben Morgan or Billy Vunipola for a squad spot if either is injured or falters badly in form ahead of the World Cup.
Harlequins Win Ugly at the Stoop
Harlequins went into the half down 7-3 to the Falcons, before rallying for a 15-7 victory. Tim Swiel proved that his shakiness in front of goal was nothing more than first match jitters, going five for five with penalty kicks. Newcastle’s try came through Alex Tuilangi, and their backs caused Harlequins problems all afternoon. Positive signs for the Falcons included increased fluidity, including ten clean breaks and twenty nine defenders beaten. However, with their flair came sloppiness. Quins forced 20 turnovers, and managed to create pressure at almost every ruck.
Bath Beat Gloucester in Derby
Bath continued to prove that they are in the playoff hunt for the long haul, dominating Gloucester in a 39-16 victory at Kingsholm. George Ford continued his impeccable form with six penalties and converting three tries, collecting a total haul of 24 total points. The 23 point win was Bath’s largest ever away victory in the West Country derby, and they will take great satisfaction in their scrum dominance and flowing back movement.
Wasps Enjoy Move to New Home
30,000 supporters welcomed Wasps to Coventry and took in a record setting 48-16 victory over the London Irish. Andy Goode scored a Premiership record 33 points, kicking an astonishing 8 penalties, scoring a try, and converting two more. The match was still competitive at the half, with the Exiles behind by only 2 point, 18-16. All of Wasps’ tries came through their backs, with Andrea Masi, Joe Simpson, and Elliot Daly contributing to the score sheet. Wasps will be encouraged by the first match attendance, but the key to their sustained financial well-being is converting first-time attendees to season ticket holders. Realistically, 10,000 per season puts a Premiership club on very solid footing. From that point, all Dai Young’s team will have to worry about is the optics of a 30,000 seat stadium that is 1/3 of the way full. The Irish are intimately familiar with this problem playing in the Madjeski Stadium in Reading. All caveats aside, the first match was a triumph for the Wasps boardroom, but spare a moment to think of the supporters left behind in London.
In case you missed our Rugby Wrap Up Radio launch, here it is. If you can’t listen now, please download and listen at your leisure. Use the play below for either choice.