It has been a weekend full of talking points, with records broken, landmarks reached and no shortage of controversy to boot.
Branded “too old” and “past his sell-by date” by Newcastle Falcons boss Dean Richards last month, David Lemi carried on proving Richards and any other doubters wrong when he wrote his name in the Premiership Rugby record books at the weekend by scoring the competition’s 10,000th try. And it was a peach, as he kicked and chased from his own half, beating the Exeter Chiefs defence with a mixture of pace, guile and strength.
The Samoan wing might be 32, but he is still shining in a Worcester Warriors team that is all but doomed to relegation after this 38-33 defeat. Sadly for them, his second try late in the game was not enough for his team to claim a priceless win. Next season Lemi will be playing for Bristol and is sure to continue troubling defences whether he is in the Aviva Premiership or the Championship.
Never ending story
Another Premiership landmark was set at the weekend, when Steve Borthwick set a new record for appearances in the competition.
The 34-year-old Saracens captain played his 263rd Premiership game, beating George Chuter’s record of 262. He has started 256 of those matches, clocking up over 20,000 minutes of playing time.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall paid tribute to Borthwick, saying: “All the captains I have been involved with lead by example, are great motivators or are able to change things around on the pitch. But Steve is all those things. It is unbelievably rare and he is probably the first in my experience who has everything and can do all those jobs. We are going to have a big hole in our organisation when he leaves.”
Andrew Trimble has been in storming form this year for Ulster and Ireland but that has not been reflected in the try-scoring statistics, as he had just one RaboDirect Pro 12 try to his name before this weekend.
The wing’s figures are looking healthier now as he ran in a hat-trick of tries in Ulster’s 58-12 win over Connacht – a victory which lifted Trimble’s team above Munster into second spot in the Pro 12, giving them a chance of a home semi-final.
Not content with scoring a treble, Trimble also made a try for Tommy Bowe with a good break.
There is nothing so exciting to watch in rugby as a fast-running, free-flowing move which creates a try, and two Scarlets combined in just such a memorable score on Saturday. Jordan Williams dashed out of defence, passed to Liam Williams who made some more ground up the left and offloaded superbly back to his team-mate Jordan Williams, who duly finished a fine try.
With the new European Rugby Champions Cup now confirmed, the Scarlets know they need to hang onto sixth spot in the RaboDirect Pro 12 to qualify, as the better of the two Italian sides will take the seventh qualifying spot, no matter where they finish. The Welsh region managed to stay ten points clear of seventh-placed Edinburgh with their 27-20 home win over Zebre and Liam Williams was named Man of the Match.
Friend and foe
Rugby prides itself on the fellowship between players from different clubs and Bryan Habana produced a shining example of that this weekend when his Toulon side played Begles Bordeaux.
One of his opponents, Jefferson Poirot, injured his right leg during the game and Habana wrapped his arm around him and gave him a shoulder to lean on to help him off the pitch and into the changing rooms. What a classy response from the great South African wing.
Glasgow Warriors became the first team to beat Munster at Thomond Park this season, taking the game to their Irish hosts with three first-half tries and then battening down the defensive hatches to secure a 22-5 win.
Jonny Gray, Sean Maitland and Man of the Match Josh Strauss scored the Warriors’ tries and everyone contributed to the critical defensive effort which kept Munster at bay. The win means Glasgow are in a strong position to qualify for the RaboDirect Pro 12 semi-finals and could even sneak up into second spot and thereby gain home advantage.
Head coach Gregor Townsend was delighted with his team, saying: “I’m very proud of them. I never won here as a player so to come here and produce a performance like that is very special. The scramble defence really pleased me, bodies on the line certainly saved at least two tries.”
Knoyle boils over
A bit of fisticuffs is not uncommon in rugby, but Gloucester scrum-half Tavis Knoyle stepped over the mark of what is acceptable when he laid into Bath No 8 Leroy Houston during Saturday’s West Country Derby.
It was late in what had been a torrid game – see below – but however riled a player is by what has gone before, or what is happening now, they have to exhibit better self-control than Knoyle did.
Caught at the bottom of a collapsing maul, Knoyle may well have taken a blow to the head, but he retaliated in the strongest fashion, chasing after Houston and aiming punches at his head. His assault on Houston sparked a mass brawl, after which Knoyle was quite rightly sent off.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Gloucester v Bath derby games are always passionate affairs, with both sides giving it their all for the local bragging rights. Nothing wrong with that, but Saturday’s game at Kingsholm degenerated into a farce with two Gloucester players being sent off and a total of five players being sin-binned, three from Bath and two from Gloucester.
To make matters worse, a teenage fan threw an empty soft-drink bottle towards officials and players in the tunnel area from the grandstand at the end of the game. He was at Kingsholm with a tour group, accompanied by school teachers, and has admitted the act and apologised, but it all added to a bad-tempered end to the game, with many fans joining in a chant against referee Tim Wigglesworth and booing him.
Knoyle (see above) was the second player to be sent off, with prop Sila Puafisi received his marching orders earlier in the second half for a horrible high tackle on Nick Abendanon. Bath’s Matt Garvey had been sin-binned for a slightly less severe high tackle on Gareth Evans in the first half.
Huia Edmonds was shown his yellow card for driving through a player in the air at the lineout, while Mike Tindall, Carl Fearns and Dave Attwood all got their temporary marching orders for cynical offences at the breakdown.
It was probably the busiest afternoon referee Wigglesworth has ever had in charge of a game and while some critics say he shouldn’t have been so quick with his cards and penalties, I feel he was punishing the offences he saw and more blame should be laid at the door of the players than the officials.
For the record, Bath won 18-17, thanks to a late penalty try.
Two Irish players wasted try-scoring opportunities by dropping passes this weekend. Conor Murray squandered one chance in Munster’s 22-5 loss to Glasgow Warriors, although given the final score-line, it didn’t have a direct effect on the result.
Perhaps more important was Dave Kearney’s mishandling of what should have been a try-scoring pass from Jimmy Gopperth when Leinster were trailing the Ospreys 19-13. The Irish side won a penalty from the subsequent lineout and kicked it, but as they eventually lost 25-19, a try from Kearney could have made a big difference.