Saints and Sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Which players were the heroes for their teams in the Aviva Premiership, Guinness Pro12 and Champions Cup matches, and who needs to make an extra effort next time?
Munster put Racing 92 to the sword in their rearranged European Champions Cup clash, trouncing their hosts 32-7. The whole Munster team did their late coach Anthony Foley proud – the match had been postponed from the weekend of his death in October – but CJ Stander was the stand-out performer.
The No 8 was everywhere in attack, carrying 23 times, making 63 metres and beating four defenders. He found the time and energy to make eight tackles as well. None of his Munster team mates made it into double-figures for carries and Stander was deservedly named Man of the Match.
Michael Rhodes and Alex Lozowski
Saracens had to play for 70 minutes against Exeter Chiefs with 14 men after having Richard Barrington sent off, but managed to eke out a 13-13 draw, thanks partly to magnificent defence from flanker Michael Rhodes and fly-half Alex Lozowski.
With his Exeter team leading 10-3, Don Armand charged up the right from outside the 22. Chris Wyles attempted to tackle him into touch but Armand was still set to score, only for Rhodes to dive in and knock the ball out of his hands at the last second.
Lozowski had already made a terrific try-saving tackle on Thomas Waldrom and he put in another big hit on Sam Hill. Lozowski also controlled the game well in attack for Saracens, outshining the Chiefs’ Gareth Steenson who unwisely set himself up for a drop-goal from almost halfway with three minutes of the match remaining. If had waited a few more phases, an easier chance might have been created.
An honourable mention must go to Jack Nowell for scoring a terrific try. The Chiefs wing leapt up and stretched out his right hand to gather a kick from Steenson then dived and reached to touch it down in the corner. It was a piece of confident skill any winger would be proud of.
Wing Tommy Seymour was on fire in Glasgow Warriors’ 29-15 Guinness Pro12 triumph over Cardiff Blues. He wasn’t among the try-scorers but Seymour helped create two tries for full-back Peter Murchie in the second half. For the first he cut a terrific line from the Blues’ ten metre line and sprinted up to the 22 and from there Glasgow turned the pressure into a try.
Just seven minutes later Seymour burst through the defence again, this time from the 22, scorching from right to left and allowing Murchie to finish off the move.
Seymour’s pace, timing and judgement were too much for the Blues and Scotland fans will hope he carries this form into the RBS Six Nations next month.
Ashley Beck scored the bonus-point try for the Ospreys in their 29-7 trouncing of Connacht, thanks to a fine floated pass from Dan Biggar, but Olly Cracknell was arguably the most influential player for the Welsh region.
The blindside seemed to be all over the pitch in this win, which enabled the Ospreys to go top in the Pro12. He carried the ball in the lead-up to Dan Baker’s opening try, then scored one of his own two minutes later with a powerful break from the 22. Cracknell was involved again in the build-up to the Ospreys’ third try, which Nicky Smith scored.
Steve Tandy’s team are not short of back-row riches, but the 22-year-old is standing up to be counted.
Vereniki Goneva and Joel Hodgson
Newcastle Falcons scored two tries in the last eight minutes of their Aviva Premiership clash with Bath to come from 22-10 down to win 24-22. Fly-half Joel Hodgson played a big part in their fightback, sticking to the game plan, kicking out of hand well to put Bath under pressure and converting the last two tries to make sure the Falcons’ efforts resulted in a win.
Vereniki Goneva was also outstanding. He picked up from a ruck inside the 22, charged through a gap and stepped Anthony Watson to score Newcastle’s first try, and he helped create their match-winning score with a terrific break up the left wing. Goneva battered his way through Semesa Rokoduguni and Watson and from the subsequent pressure position Ben Harris crashed over for the try.
Jason Woodward and Louis Picamoles
Northampton beat Bristol 32-26 but Bristol’s Kiwi full-back Jason Woodward almost earned the visitors a memorable win at Franklin’s Gardens.
With his team trailing just 21-16 after 51 minutes, Woodward got the ball inside his 22 and dinked a kick up the left wing for Tom Varndell to chase. The wing gathered it and Woodward sprinted up in support, so he was on hand to take a well-timed pass from Varndell as they crossed the Northampton ten-metre line. From there Woodward easily outpaced Luther Burrell and scored the try which put Bristol 23-21 ahead. Sadly for them they couldn’t hang on, but Woodward is making Bristol a force to be reckoned with.
Louis Picamoles is among the Saints for a fantastic charging run which set up Tom Wood’s try. The Frenchman handed off and barged through no less than five defenders to open the door for Wood.
Brad Barritt and Ian Tempest
Saracens prop Richard Barrington was sent off for knocking out Geoff Parling with a high hit in the early stages of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs. But Parling’s head only hit Barrington’s shoulder because Brad Barritt had already walloped the Chiefs lock with a swinging left arm, so how Barritt stayed on the pitch for the remainder of the game is anyone’s guess.
Referee Ian Tempest looked at the video replays and as soon as he realised Barrington’s shoulder had done the most damage he just dismissed Barritt’s part in the incident. Barrington deserved to be sent off, but Barritt should have gone too – and the England centre looked mighty relieved to get away with it.
Annoyingly for Exeter, Barritt went on to play a major part in the 13-13 draw, as one of Saracens’ outstanding players on the day.
The Newcastle fans took a bit of stick on social media on Friday evening for noisily jeering George Ford as he lined up a penalty kick. However, for me the greater sinner was the PA announcer at Kingston Park, who kept shouting out during passages of play.
“Let’s turn up the volume…make some NOISE” he hollered, as Newcastle attacked the Bath line. I might be old fashioned, but I tend to think that if the Falcons supporters aren’t inspired enough by the excitement on the pitch to cheer and shout of their own accord, it is a pretty sad state of affairs. I wish the PA guy would stick to announcing scorers and replacements and leave the players to whip their supporters into a frenzy.
Bristol scrum-half Will Cliff has done plenty of good work for his team in the past but he made a costly error during Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton.
With 54 minutes gone, Bristol had just taken a 23-21 lead and needed to consolidate. Stephen Myler kicked the restart long into the Bristol 22, Cliff tried a clearance kick but JJ Hanrahan was far too close for comfort and the Northampton centre charged the kick down, collected it and scored the simplest of tries. That put the Saints back in front again and Bristol were unable to seize back the initiative.
The Bath prop’s hair style has evolved in recent months from a standard “high and tight” to something a bit more outlandish. A top-knot now sits on the back of his head and the back and sides are shaved almost clean. Time to make an appointment at the salon of shame, I feel!