The Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 served up some scintillating rugby action this weekend, with some players in glorious form and others ending up shame-faced.
Everyone’s talking about George Ford and Danny Cipriani, but Henry Slade reminded the rugby world of his excellent credentials at fly-half when he scored 27 points in Exeter Chiefs’ 32-21 away win at Harlequins and guided them up to fourth in the Aviva Premiership table.
Slade’s try, two conversions and six penalties meant he equalled Gareth Steenson’s club record for points in a Premiership game and the 21-year-old’s all-round excellence earned him great praise from head coach Rob Baxter.
“Henry is up against some very good players in the England set-up, but he looks like the guy who is going to have the most complete package in the future. He kicked very maturely today, both at the posts and for field-position.
“Everyone knows he is a very good and strong defender and today he showed some real attacking quality as well. Ball in hand he glided in for his try, he almost looked untouchable.”
Slade wasn’t the only young, English back showcasing the very best of his skills this weekend. Elliot Daly produced some magical rugby for Wasps during their 23-23 draw at Newcastle Falcons. A brilliant show-and-go from the outside centre created a try for Rob Miller, then he fielded the restart on his own 22, broke up the left, executed a perfect one-two with Thomas Young and scored a try of his own.
There was more excellence from Daly in the second half when he broke the line again to set up a try for Guy Thompson. He made 92 metres in the game from six carries, beat seven defenders and also found the time to make 11 tackles.
Jamie makes his mark
Bath hadn’t lost a Premiership match at the Recreation Ground since Sale downed them 12-11 on 28 March last year, but Northampton – who haven’t been in the best form of late – took that proud record with a 21-13 win on Saturday.
Wing Jamie Elliott was the Man of the Match, making 128 metres in attack for the Saints and beating seven defenders. Plaudits also go to openside Callum Clark for his 16 tackles and eight carries and to hooker Mike Hayward who charged over to score the try of the day.
Back from the brink
Hats off to the Munster spirit. Every point counts in the chase for the Guinness Pro12 playoff places and Munster fought back from 12 points down with five minutes to play at Parc y Scarlets to draw 25-25 and keep themselves in contention for a top-two finish.
Late tries from Felix Jones and JJ Hanrahan, plus a last-kick conversion from Ian Keatley, broke the Scarlets hearts and reminded everyone yet again that only a fool writes off Munster in any game.
It was an eventful afternoon for Hallam Amos when Newport Gwent Dragons took on Connacht in the Pro12, as he showed his attacking skills and his strength of character.
The young wing cut into the line nicely to score a first-half try, but was the villain later in the day as his kick was charged down for a Mick Kearney to dive on and score. However, Amos had the final say when he danced through the Irish defence in the dying minutes of the game to make the final score 30-25 and earn a losing bonus point for the Dragons.
When Geoff Cross promised to shave off his extraordinary beard if £10,000 was pledged to the Wooden Spoon charity, he cannot have expected a single donor to take him half way to that total. However, world famous author JK Rowling pledged £5,000 to his Just Giving page, to give him a great start. Yes, I know she has plenty of money to spare, but I haven’t noticed any other Scottish millionaires dipping into their pockets for that kind of amount.
On his page, Cross says his year-old beard is going to get the chop after “an increasing amount of pressure from my wife”.
At the time of writing his fund-raising total was around £6,400, so if you would like to help Cross reach the £10,000 target, go to www.justgiving.com/DrX/
Aer Lingus to the rescue
Referee Nigel Owens almost missed the Leinster v Zebre match he was due to take charge of on Friday, when he turned up for his Ryanair flight from Bristol to Dublin with photo-id, but not his passport.
The airline wouldn’t let him fly without it, but Aer Lingus came to the rescue by flying Owens from Cardiff to Dublin instead.
Owens Tweeted: “Massive thanks @aerlingus for sorting flight to Dublin for me from Cardiff now after Ryanair passport policy debacle”. He did, however, make a point of saying he didn’t blame Ryanair and should have known their policy.
Newport Gwent Dragons lock Rynard Landman let his team down in a big way when he stupidly elbowed Connacht outside-half Jack Carty in the head in the 15th minute of their Pro12 clash and was deservedly sent off.
Carty had just kicked the ball down field when Landman struck him as he ran past. It was an utterly pointless piece of violence and with the Dragons already 10-3 down, it made it doubly difficult for them to get back into the game.
Roko in the wrong
A moment of stupidity by Semesa Rokoduguni cost his Bath team three points and contributed to their defeat by Northampton Saints on Saturday.
With Bath trailing 12-10 after 46 minutes, the wing – who was making his 50th appearance for the club – tidied up a chip through the defence by James Wilson. Rokoduguni was forced to run the ball into touch in the corner, and then he chucked it over the advertising boards to stop Wilson taking a quick throw.
That silly move meant Northampton had a penalty instead of a lineout and Stephen Myler kicked it to extend the lead to 15-10. Bath did not manage to get back to within one score of their visitors again.
Boos for the Blues
The Cardiff Blues team as a whole are in disgrace this week after losing 40-24 in Treviso, to an Italian side that had only won two other Pro12 games all season.
With unconfirmed news leaking out on match day that director of rugby Mark Hammett is leaving only six months into a three-year contract, things are clearly not right at Cardiff and former skipper Martyn Williams said on BBC’s Scrum V “it hasn’t been a happy camp” with Hammett in charge.
However, that is no excuse for the woeful performance of the team in Italy, as they conceded four tries in the first half.
Former Wales star Jonathan Davies called their performance “scandalous” on Scrum V, and said: “Irrespective of what’s going on, you are paid to do a job. You go out there and play to the best of your ability. Have a little bit of pride.”
They have days when they are the heroes for scoring the winning points, but a trio of kickers were rueing missed chances this weekend.
Tom Heathcote missed two penalties as Edinburgh lost 20-17 at home to Ulster and head coach Alan Solomons blamed his side’s kicking from hand, place kicking and lineouts for the defeat.
New Bath signing Tom Homer didn’t fare any better as he missed four penalties in his team’s 21-13 home loss to Northampton Saints.
Finally, Sam Davies failed to hit the target with a 76th minute penalty which would have given the Ospreys a draw at Glasgow Warriors. He couldn’t quite hit the target from around 43 metres out and they lost 19-16 and slipped out of the top four.
Leicester Tigers are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Aviva Premiership but their rugby isn’t exactly entertaining for the neutral at present. They are enduring their longest spell without scoring a Premiership try, as their 12-6 win at London Irish on Sunday took them past their previous “best” of 284 minutes, set in the 2009-10 season (statistics courtesy of Stuart Farmer).
Tom Youngs was the last Tiger to cross the whitewash in the Premiership, in the 16th minute of their clash with Bath on 4 January – 304 minutes of playing time ago.
In the doghouse
There’s a dog with a lot to answer for this week as Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni apparently needed 14 stitches on his nose after being bitten by a friend’s pooch. He may miss Italy’s clash with Scotland as a result. Must have been a brave dog, to take on Castro!