Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Roko-Houdini up to his tricks at Bath, Ugo Monye's stray dart, a Sea of Blue in Perth, the All Blacks unearth a No 6 to fear, lineout woes and why Schalk Brits lost his cool
Two rounds played and only three teams in the Aviva Premiership still have a 100% record. Of those, Wasps and Newcastle won on the road without being at their best, while Bath produced a grandstand finish to defeat European champions Saracens, 31-21.
Todd Blackadder’s side was trailing 21-17 and down to 14 men because of injuries when they won a scrum 40 metres out. Rokoduguni took the ball at first receiver, wrong-footed Ben Spencer, sidestepped the sweeper and touched down for a brilliant try that very few players are capable of.
A few minutes later, a length-of-field interception score – following a similar effort at Leicester – secured victory as Sarries threatened to snatch the spoils.
Ugo Monye dubbed the Bath winger “Roko-Houdini” and “a complete phenomenon” and at such times it seems ludicrous that the Fijian-born soldier has won just two England caps. In truth, his defensive game remains fallible and it’s probably right that others are deemed ahead of the 30-year-old at national level. Probably.
Talking of Monye, the ex-England wing was responsible for the funniest moment of the weekend – better even that watching Michael Cheika’s reactions in the Wallaby coaching box – during the Worcester-Wasps match.
A Sam Olver clearance arrowed straight into the BT Sport commentary position high above the Sixways pitch and was caught by Monye. After a few seconds, he lobbed the ball down to the pitch and we saw him hurriedly apologise to someone below.
Shortly after that, a replay showed why he had contritely held his hand up… Monye had managed to hit Jack Singleton square on the back of the head just as he was about to throw in at a lineout. The Worcester hooker saw the funny side. Eventually.
Good to see so many home fans make their point at the drawn Australia-South Africa match in Perth.
Western Force’s axing from Super Rugby having been confirmed by the High Court, thousands of the franchise’s fans wore blue instead of Wallaby colours for the Test at NIB Stadium. It’s reckoned only about 15% of the crowd donned green and gold, and the Sea of Blue made a powerful protest at the ARU’s handling of the Super Rugby issue.
Best try of the weekend? Charlie Walker’s for Harlequins was right up there, along with Rokoduguni’s first for Bath and a beaut from the training ground scored by Exeter’s Henry Slade.
But pipping them all was replacement scrum-half Nick McCarthy’s late try against Cardiff Blues that brought Leinster a bonus point. It featured great hands by Devin Toner and Isa Nacewa before McCarthy latched on to Jack Conan’s inside offload.
Write Jerome Kaino off at your peril but the 81-cap flanker, omitted from recent All Blacks teams after reports of an extramarital affair, has his work cut out.
Liam Squire was excellent in the back-to-back wins against Australia and on Saturday it was the turn of Vaea Fifita to produce a star turn at blindside flanker.
Fifita has a winger’s pace but also a high knee action that makes tackling him devilishly difficult. Lured to the Hurricanes by Murray Mexted after he spotted him playing for a Tongan schools side, the now 25-year-old Fifita conjured an eye-popping burst to mark his first Test start with the try that brought New Zealand level against Argentina.
A similar left-flank gallop set up a Damian McKenzie try that was chalked off for a forward pass.
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In all, Fifita ran 113 metres and beat ten defenders in New Plymouth and his performance did as much as anyone to preserve the All Blacks’ unbeaten record against the Pumas after they had trailed 22-15 with half an hour to play.
“He’s a bit of a freak,” said Nehe Milner-Skudder of his team-mate – but will Fifita be given an extended stay in the No 6 jersey?
Argentina’s opening try by Nicolás Sanchez followed New Zealand’s failure to win a defensive lineout in the final play of the first half, and was part of a catalogue of lineout woes at the weekend.
It started on Friday night when Sale Sharks lost eight of their own throws in the first half against the Falcons, leading to hooker Cameron Neild being subbed off at the break.
Newcastle’s Calum Green, named as ‘One to Watch’ in Rugby World’s start-of-season guide, was Man of the Match after a lineout performance of intelligence and athleticism.
Sale’s 62% lineout figure for this season is the worst in the Premiership, but they aren’t alone in struggling. Gloucester, Leicester and Worcester all have similar issues, and Wasps conceded a try to Biyi Alo after Ashley Johnson’s throw failed to find the target.
Brits hard done by
It’s rare to see Schalk Brits without a smile but he was left furious by a decision that cost Saracens three points at the Rec.
The hooker found himself on the wrong side of the breakdown, a short distance away but crouched down so as not to impede the pass. Kahn Fotuali’i milked the situation anyway, deliberately passing low into Brits – an angle of pass that he would never have made normally and which would not have reached a team-mate.
No matter, according to referee Wayne Barnes, who awarded a penalty that Rhys Priestland slotted for a 14-0 lead. “That’s the law,” Barnes said, but even Bath fans could see this was plain wrong.
A trying day
There were two unappealing elements in the Wasps-Worcester game. One, the slowness with which Wasps went about their business when the ball was dead, which led to referee Tom Foley asking them to speed up.
It’s something Wasps also did in last season’s Premiership final but on that occasion was more understandable because it was a hot day and they were under the cosh.
Worcester’s verbals also grated, with excessive questioning of Foley’s decisions. The facility to march a team back ten metres for dissent is one of rugby’s smartest rules and I’d like to see referees use it more often to deter perpetual backchat.