As the All Blacks underlined their class once more by winning the Rugby Championship, it was a happy weekend in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 for some, but one to forget for others.
The manner of their 34-13 triumph underlines the fact that, a year out from the World Cup, the All Blacks are the team to beat. Bearing in mind they were being piloted by their third-choice fly-half, with Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden both temporarily out of the picture, Steve Hansen’s team look like a formidable force. Dominant up front and with fluent team-work creating tries for Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Julian Savea and replacement scrum-half TJ Perenara, New Zealand are in red-hot form. They haven’t lost a match since England beat them on 1 December 2012, so will be determined not to take their foot off the gas in their final Championship match against South Africa next Saturday.
London Irish had beaten Leicester at Welford Road just once since their first meeting in 1923, and that was 11 years ago. So, when Shane Geraghty lined up a penalty in the dying minutes of this weekend’s Aviva Premiership match against Leicester, with the scores tied at 19-19 and the unwelcome boos of the home crowd ringing in his ears, there was a lot riding on that kick.
But cool as you like, he found the target, to take Irish to a 22-19 win and to raise his personal tally of points in the game to 17. Geraghty was sin-binned in the first half, so it was an eventful afternoon for him all round.
Most of the plaudits for the Ospreys’ 19-14 win at Munster in the Guinness Pro12 on Saturday went to scrum-half Rhys Webb, who was Man of the Match, and his half-back partner Dan Biggar, who kicked 14 points in testing conditions at Thomond Park. But replacement centre Hanno Dirksen deserves as much praise as anyone for his tackle on Johne Murphy which stopped the home side from snatching a win at the death.
Dirksen sprinted across from the back of a ruck to halt Murphy and, with help from Andrew Bishop, the turnover was forced and the Ospreys were home and dry. Let’s have a big hand for Hanno please!
Frozen out in Russia
Uruguay must have fancied their chances of going into the home-leg of their Rugby World Cup repechage in two weeks’ time with a narrow lead over Russia after finding themselves 21-19 up and playing 13 men close to the end of the first leg in Krasnoyarsk.
But Russia showed just what a place at next year’s World Cup means to them as they held Uruguay at bay and created a penalty chance for Yuri Kushnarev to win the match 22-21.
It will still take some doing for Russia to protect that one-point lead in the return leg in Montevideo on 11 October, but the heart they showed on Saturday means Uruguay cannot take victory for granted.
There were no hat-trick heroes in the Premiership or Pro12 this weekend, but four players grabbed two tries each to take their teams to welcome wins.
Stuart Hogg sliced through the Connacht defence twice to maintain Glasgow Warriors’ unbeaten record on Friday evening, while on Sunda,y Hallam Amos helped the Dragons to their first win of the season with an interception try against Treviso and then a good, strong finish under pressure as the Welsh side won 33-15.
In the Premiership there was a Friday night double from Gloucester’s Mark Atkinson. He came off the bench for the fourth time this season and broke his Premiership scoring duck as his side beat London Welsh 46-10.
While Atkinson has just a handful of Premiership appearances to his name, the competition’s other double-try-scorer this weekend was playing his 161st game and scoring his 78th and 79th tries. Tom Varndell is in top form, with four tries under his belt already this season and he helped Wasps beat Newcastle Falcons 35-18.
While their golfing compatriots helped Europe beat the USA in the Ryder Cup this weekend, the rugby men of Ulster put in a below-par performance in Italy to slip to a 13-6 defeat at Zebre.
The 11th-minute sending off of prop Declan Fitzpatrick for punching Andrea Manici meant Ulster were in an uphill battle almost from the off, but having made ten changes to their starting line-up this week, perhaps they were taking victory over the lowly Italians too much for granted.
Fitzpatrick clearly struck Manici after a maul collapsed, but there may have been provocation. Take a look at the video and see what you think.
Leinster were in command against Cardiff Blues, leading 27-9 after an hour, but then a frightful fumble from Ian Madigan allowed the visitors back into the game. Cory Allen kicked and chased up the right and Madigan tracked back and collected the ball before the try-line, but let it slip from his grasp as he slid over the line and Allen pounced to score the Blues’ first try in nearly four hours of rugby.
Galvanised by this, Cardiff rallied to 27-23 but ultimately Leinster kicked on to win, to the relief of Madigan.
Missing the point
Cardiff Blues, who hadn’t picked up a Pro12 point since their opening-day win over Zebre, looked set to leave Dublin with a welcome bonus point as they were trailing Leinster 30-23 as the clocked ticked past 80 minutes.
However, instead of kicking the ball to touch and settling for the narrow loss, the Blues went for the win and paid the price when outside-half Gareth Davies was caught in possession and stripped of the ball.
Luke McGrath raced in under the posts to make the final score 37-23 and left the Blues and Davies with a harsh lesson to digest. If they want to qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup, they will need to take every league point that is on offer.