by Ben Coles
THE EUROPEAN break may have either been an unmitigated success or an unqualified nightmare for the UK’s elite sides, but there was no time to pause and reflect as both domestic leagues returned this weekend. Never short of drama, here are the winners and losers from Round Seven of the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect Pro12:
When the ball drops into your hands to score a winning try away from home and you blow it, your reaction will naturally be devastation. Harlequins centre Tom Casson made this very clear after he flopped over the try line with the ball under his chest before throwing it away in disgust. Except, Casson had scored. Trailing London Irish as the clock ticked into the final minute, Ugo Monye’s offload dropped backwards through Casson’s hands, before going forward off his knee. Try given, victory for Harlequins, heartbreak for Irish.
When you’re spurned by your country for upcoming internationals, what better response than to show them what they are missing out on. Freddie Burns did just that against Leicester Tigers on Saturday afternoon for Gloucester, first a sumptuously delicate chip leading to a try for seriously swift Charlie Sharples, then one better as he deftly dinked a ball over the Tigers defence and collected to dab down. What was even more satisfying for Burns is that he doing the business opposite England fly-half Toby Flood. The question seems to be, not if he will make his England debut, but when?
The incumbent Wales fly-half has been feeling the heat in recent months, with a disappointing tour of Australia behind him and Dan Biggar going from strength to strength with the Ospreys. However, on Friday night the Scarlets No 10 showed his big game temperament returning, having the last say in a gritty encounter with Edinburgh at Murrayfield by slotting a 78th minute penalty. A timely boost for both his reputation and confidence.
Leaving the RDS field at half-time, the Blues found themselves behind, a long way behind, 40-3 to be exact. Three second half tries, with two from Lions hopefuls Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert helped stifle the rout but Cardiff still came away from Dublin having been walloped 59-22, conceding nine tries in the process. It’s a result that sees Cardiff’s points difference for the season drop to -52, the second worst in the league after bottom club Zebre. Having failed to adequately replace the grizzled experience talismen Xavier Rush, Gethin Jenkins, Paul Tito and Martyn Williams last summer, the Blues are in a downward spiral.
Friday’s loss away at Worcester sent Sale to 0/7 in the Aviva Premiership this season, a miserable record that has left supporters disgruntled and DoR Bryan Redpath teetering on the brink. With 20-year old Ross Harrison and 19-year old Tommy Taylor in the front row, the Sharks lack of experience was telling as Worcester’s pack gained the upper hand and Andy Goode did the damage on the scoreboard. Eight points adrift at the foot of the Aviva Premiership, Sale have fewer points this season than Newcastle Falcons did at the same time last year. The visit of a rejuvenated London Irish side this Friday will be a must-win game.
Injuries are beginning to take their toll on Northampton’s season, with only one win now in their last four matches and England stars Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley and now Courtney Lawes all sidelined with injuries. Losing at home to Saracens and old boy Chris Ashton will have stung as Northampton dropped to 4th place in the league. A spicy Midlands derby against Leicester at Welford Road next weekend awaits.
Follow Ben Coles on Twitter @bencoles_Like Rugby World? Subscribe to the magazine for the latest comprehensive content.