With three weeks gone in this Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 season, rugby fans have enjoyed 100 and 88 tries respectively in the two competitions. It's been a scintillating start, full of surprises, leaving some players purring with delight and others slinking off with their tails between their legs.
No one – not even the closest relatives of any of the Bath players – could have predicted that Mike Ford’s side would beat Leicester Tigers 45-0 at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.
It was an utterly astonishing performance from Bath, as close to perfection as you might expect to see. Yes, Leicester have more than their share of injury problems (which begs the question whether something is amiss with their training and conditioning), but they still had world class players on the pitch and the hosts just blew them away.
George Ford directed operations well, but my choice for Man of the Match would have been Bath lock Dave Attwood. He was quite simply everywhere, and ended the game bloodied but buoyant.
“It was a great demonstration of collective effort,” was Attwood’s accurate summary of the Bath performance. “To nil Leicester is a great achievement. This is a really proud day for the club.”
Come in No 9
Kieran Marmion played a starring role for Connacht as they beat Leinster 10-9 to make it three wins out of three so far in the Guinness Pro12. The scrum-half, who won his first Ireland caps in the summer, scored a terrific try, racing in from the 10 metre line, stepping Rob Kearney brilliantly on the way.
Man-of-the-Match Marmion also did important work in defence, helping hold up a potential Leinster try on the line. This was his 59th consecutive appearance for Connacht in the Pro12 and Europe and he is just getting better and better.
As for Connacht, they ended a losing run of 11 games against other Irish provinces and are now third in the Pro12 table with three wins out of three, ahead of Ulster, Munster and Leinster. West is best at the moment in Ireland.
Tom Arscott might have thought it was his birthday, as he was handed three gilt-edged try-scoring chances by his Sale Sharks team-mates and duly ran in a hat-trick which helped them beat London Welsh 46-8, but for Alex Lewington it really was his birthday and he too claimed a try treble.
The London Irish wing’s first score came when he chased a clever dink of a kick from Chris Noakes. The second and third both came from kicks by scrum-half Scott Steele, and on each occasion Lewington gathered, ran and finished, to give London Irish the lead against Saracens. Unfortunately for the Exiles, Saracens drove over with the last play of the game to snatch a 36-32 win and deny Lewington a perfect 23rd birthday.
The Ospreys were as on-song as the most accomplished orchestra in beating Edinburgh 62-13 on Sunday and the conductor was scrum-half Rhys Webb, who scored two of the nine tries, set up more for his team-mates and was duly named Man of the Match.
Webb’s first try, in the first minute, was a lovely run on the diagonal from the left side, just inside his own half. The second one required him just to dive over from one metre out. He has now scored four tries in three Pro12 games this season and is in the kind of form to give the Wales selectors plenty to think about.
Box of tricks
There was not much for Cardiff Blues fans to smile about as their team lost 26-9 to Ulster at the Arms Park, but some of the squad members who were not involved in the game provided a little light relief. The group, including Sam Warburton, were watching the game from a hospitality box and when the BBC Wales cameras picked them out to be shown on screen, they all threw themselves to the floor behind the furniture, in an attempt to hide.
The scoreline wasn’t funny for the Blues, but it’s nevertheless good to see that professional players still like a laugh. Follow this link to see the players’ disappearing act.
Glasgow openside Tyrone Holmes owes his team-mates a few beers or apologies after getting sent off thanks to a foolish piece of foul play against Newport Gwent Dragons.
Right under the touch-judge’s nose Holmes landed a couple of totally unnecessary and deliberate stamps on the shoulder of Dragons hooker Rhys Thomas. There was still well over half an hour to play but fortunately for Holmes, the 14 remaining Warriors rallied and won the game 33-13.
Leicester scrum-half David Mele was also given his marching orders this weekend, towards the end of their mauling by Bath. With the ball out of the ruck and heading for a different postcode, Mele rake the upper arm of Dave Attwood three times and was red-carded by Wayne Barnes. Leicester’s squad is injury-ravaged and now they look set to lose Mele’s services to a ban.
There is a balance to be struck between making sure rugby’s laws are interpreted consistently and fairly, and allowing referees to show some common sense and discretion. At the moment, too much weight is being placed on the former and referees are being exposed to unnecessary criticism as the IRB dictates what they should do in certain situations.
Matt Carley, who was in charge of the Gloucester v Exeter match on Friday evening, showed a yellow card to Ian Whitten for taking out Charlie Sharples in the air, and later to Matt Kvesic for a dangerous tackle on Tom Waldrom. The Whitten decision was a little harsh, as he was not looking at Sharples when the two of them leapt to claim a high ball. The Kvesic card was even worse, as the flanker was sin-binned for lifting the leg of an already horizontal Waldrom, resulting in the Chief landing face down, on his arms, not dangerously on his head, neck or back.
Tackles in the air and tip-tackles are potentially highly dangerous and, where appropriate, should be heavily punished. But referees have to be allowed to assess whether an individual incident deserved a yellow or red card, or no card at all.
Must do better
It will be an unhappy and uncomfortable week in the Leicester and Edinburgh camps after both were trounced in this weekend’s games. Leicester conceded five tries in their 45-0 drubbing at Bath and Edinburgh let through nine as they were thrashed 62-13 by the Ospreys.
For professional teams in their own league to perform so badly is verging on the unforgivable. A repeat is unthinkable. Both Leicester and Edinburgh owe it to their supporters to right the wrongs next weekend.