Saints and Sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Howlers and fouls grabbed some of the headlines in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 this weekend, but there were plenty of terrific tries and top tackles to enjoy too.
Rare hooker’s hat-trick
Exeter Chiefs No 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie became only the third hooker to bag a hat-trick in an English Premiership match when he crossed for three tries in the win over Harlequins this weekend.
He followed in the footsteps of Richard Kirke, who scored three tries in a game for London Irish in 1999, and George Chuter, who did the same for Leicester Tigers in 2004 (thanks to Stuart Farmer for the stats).
Cowan-Dickie’s first try was gifted to him by his opposite number Rob Buchanan, who overthrew a lineout a few metres out and the Chief caught the ball at the back and trundled over unopposed.
His second and third tries came either side of half time, both from driving mauls, and they gave the Chiefs an unassailable lead in a game they won 36-23. Cowan-Dickie had a terrific game, as did Henry Slade, who showcased his many skills at No 12.
The Scarlets slipped to their third Guinness Pro12 defeat of the season but Liam Williams did his very best to keep Ulster at bay.
Playing on the wing, Williams made a superb try-saving tackle on Craig Gilroy when the Irishman was in full flight, sprinting down the right wing. Williams chased across and barrelled him into touch with a perfectly timed and executed hit. Ulster were already 11-0 up at that stage and although they went on to win 19-8, it stopped them running away with the game too soon.
Worcester Warriors full-back Jamie Shillcock also earns plaudits this week for a try-saving tackle, this time on Semesa Rokoduguni. The Bath wing looked to have scored in the corner but Shillcock’s cover tackle stopped him from grounding the ball.
Wasps sting Bristol
Wasps scored ten tries as they trounced Bristol 70-22 in the Aviva Premiership, so they have to feature among the Saints, but it is tough to know who to pick out from an outstanding team performance.
Danny Cipriani had a terrific game, Elliot Daly was at his brilliant best and scored two tries (one after the ball had bounced back off the corner flag when Christian Wade had chased a kick from Cipriani). Wade’s dancing feet mesmerised the Bristol defence and he scored two tries, as did Ashley Johnson.
Off to a flier
Isa Nacewa played his first Guinness Pro12 match of the season on Friday and started his season in style, scoring 13 points in Leinster’s 33-20 win at Edinburgh.
It was the Kiwi’s 150th appearance for Leinster and he showed he still has what it takes at the age of 34, running in a try midway through the first half and kicking four conversions.
The Ospreys played some outstanding rugby in their 64-10 thrashing of Benetton Treviso, scoring eight tries, including some real beauties.
Sam Davies was in fine form, putting his strong-running backs through some tight gaps with well-timed passes, while Josh Matavesi didn’t get his name on the scoresheet but created so much from inside centre with some sublime offloads and scoring breaks.
Dafydd Howells gets the prize for finish of the day, diving acrobatically over a tackler to score in the left-hand corner and 18-year-old Keelan Giles came off the bench for the last half-hour to make his Pro12 debut, scored a memorable try with some magical footwork, and made 91 metres of ground from just four carries.
Wing with wow-factor
Cardiff Blues made it three wins on the bounce, beating Glasgow Warriors 23-19, and no one contributed more to their win than wing Tom James. He was looking for work all over the pitch, making breaks and consistently carrying across the gain line and ended the game having made 119 metres from 11 carries. If James continues this scintillating form, Warren Gatland will find it hard to ignore him.
Men behaving badly
There was plenty of niggle during Saracens’ 27-12 Aviva Premiership win over Northampton and Saints prop Alex Waller was involved in two of the key incidents, once as the villain and once as the potential victim.
Waller was sin-binned after 55 minutes when his side were 12-9 up because when Jamie George barged into him at the back of a ruck, Waller picked him up and tipped him onto his back. While Waller was in the bin George scored a try and Saracens earned a penalty try from a driving maul, so it proved to be a costly moment of madness from him.
Saracens wing Chris Ashton could be in far graver trouble as he was accused of biting Waller’s hand during the game. TV footage shows the two grappling at a breakdown, Waller putting his right hand across Ashton’s mouth and he claims Ashton bit him as he tried to wriggle free.
On Monday evening Ashton was cited for not one but two biting incidents, so once the judicial panel has examined the evidence and made a decision we will know how much of a villain the wing has been this time.
Newcastle Falcons set up a perfect drop-goal opportunity at the death in their clash with Leicester and were all set to turn a 13-14 deficit into a well-earned win.
However, replacement fly-half Joel Hodgson snatched at the kick from in front of the posts and skewed it wide of the upright. The final whistle blew and he sank down onto his haunches, knowing it was a costly miss.
Trio of errors
Darren Sweetnam made a horrible mess of a crucial try-scoring chance towards the end of Munster’s Guinness Pro12 clash with the Dragons and was lucky Cian Bohane was there to clear up after him and score what turned out to be the winning try.
With Munster trailing 16-13, Sweetnam sprinted down the right wing and was all set to finish off a flowing move by touching down in the corner, but he got back to his feet again in the in-goal are to try to get nearer the posts. Instead he spilled the ball as Hallam Amos hit him with a tackle, but luckily for the Munster wing Bohane won the race to touch down the loose ball and saved some of his blushes.
Colm O’Shea also made a costly error for Munster, sending a pass out to Dan Goggin when Amos had already predicted his intention and was waiting in the line to take the interception. The Welshman sprinted 60 metres to score the try but luckily for O’Shea it didn’t end up costing them the match.
Dragons replacement James Thomas is also on the naughty step for knocking the ball on when his team were hammering away at the Munster line in stoppage time, trying to grab a winning try. His error allowed the Irish side to clear the ball into touch and secure a 20-16 win.
Indecision proves costly
The Scarlets are still seeking their first win of the season and came close against Ulster, with replacement scrum-half Aled Davies failing to convert a terrific try-scoring chance when Ulster were 11-3 up. Steff Evans and Scott Williams put him through and into the 22 and he had the option to pass inside to James Davies or dummy and go for the line. He delayed the pass too long, then instead of backing himself he tried to send the ball across to Davies, only for Charles Piutau to intercept it and run out of danger.
Exeter Chiefs prop Tomas Francis was sent off in their win over Harlequins after clouting Danny Care in the back of his head with his shin. Francis was attempting to toe-poke a ball out of a ruck, but his shin connected with Care before his foot could reach the ball.
It was far from being the most well-earned red card you will see and if referees weren’t clamping down on players kicking through at rucks, he wouldn’t have been sent off at all. If officials continue to police the rucks like this, forwards will have to learn to be more careful.
Zebre have every reason to be cheesed off by the weather in their home town of Parma as their match against Connacht was called off at half-time due to a hail and thunderstorm. Zebre, who lost their first two Guinness Pro12 matches of the season and have a points difference of minus 59 had been 22-10 up on reigning champions Connacht at the time, so must have been anticipating a famous victory. Now they will have to start from 0-0 when the game is replayed.