With many leading players rested ahead of a busy international window, this stage of the Premiership season can inspire apathy in some but it is a crucial part of the battle for domestic honours in England with performances and decisions set to go a long way to defining each club’s season.
Flood the channel
The storm front set to batter the UK appeared to arrive a little early at Franklin’s Gardens where Northampton powered to a 41-20 victory over the previously unbeaten Saracens. Both sides were stripped of their international stars but Saints did not dwell on the loss with lock Samu Manoa the driving force in a Man of the Match performance. The USA international was a key figure in the opening try of the game for winger Jamie Elliott. The Saints’ superior lineout laid the foundation for the score and the home side’s decision to flood the channel after the initial defensive breach reaped rich rewards. Manoa’s power and some neat inter-play with his fellow forwards created the opening for Elliott to cross for a tone-setting five-pointer. Saints may have notched six tries – with the ever-impressive Manoa side-stepping Saracens fullback Alex Goode on the way to a richly deserved score – but their endeavour in defence was equally emphatic.
Batten down the hatches
The tries also flowed at Sandy Park where Exeter hit Worcester for six in a dominant 40-6 victory that carried the Chiefs into the top four but it was a resolute defensive showing that arguably decided this contest. A win-less and tooth-less Warriors side failed to capitalise on a swirling wind that blew largely in their favour in the first half with the Chiefs’ outstanding industry heaping pressure on their rivals and forcing errors in execution. With goal kicking a gamble in such unpredictable conditions, the Chiefs backed themselves with ball in hand and aided by a porous Warriors defence, that has already leaked 21 tries this term, they tore into the visitors with Phil Dollman and Gareth Steenson among those to make hay. But again it was the pressure from the Chiefs’ defence that proved a crucial stepping stone with three of their scores stemming from crucial turnovers.
Making numbers count
It will always be difficult for a fly-half to shine behind a pack that is being dominated by their opponents but Gloucester No.10 Freddie Burns showed it can be done in yet another clash that was blighted by the elements. His excellent display in the wind and rain at The Rec on Friday night may not have carried Gloucester to victory with his side’s indiscipline ultimately proving costly but he can be content at having outplayed his Bath counterpart George Ford. The most telling act in the showdown of two players looking to further their England claims came in the second half when Burns charged down a clearance by his rival before winning the race for a try. But Ford’s five penalties would prove decisive as Gloucester’s shortcomings came into sharp focus in the final moments. With Bath’s Anthony Watson in the sin-bin and less than a quarter of an hour to play, Burns made it a two-point game with his second penalty but his side were unable to make their numbers count against a resolute Bath defence.
Experience is key
London Wasps handed Leicester Tigers only their second defeat of the Premiership season – and denied them a match point for the first time since Round 4 last term – at Adams Park thanks largely to veteran fly-half Andy Goode. The well-travelled Goode, whose CV includes stints with Leicester, Saracens and Worcester in the Premiership, French side Brive and the Sharks in South Africa, delivered a Man of the Match performance to steer his side to a 22-12 victory and put his Leicester rival Owen Williams – making his first Premiership start – firmly in the shade. His game management in yet another game hampered by wet and windy conditions ensured Leicester struggled for a foothold in the game but his most telling contribution came with the game in the balance in the second half. With his side down to 14-men following the sin-binning of hooker Carlo Festuccia, a composed Goode orchestrated two key drives that resulted in drop goals that took the game away from the Tigers. Goode was quick to praise his forwards but there is little doubt that he was the main reason his side extended a winning run over Leicester at home that dates back to 2007.
Weather the storm
Sometimes crossing the whitewash is not quite enough to score a try with desperate but determined defence thwarting at least two tries in the latest round of Premiership action. Harlequins captain Nick Easter went very close to scoring in the opening moments of his side’s clash with Sale only for Sharks scrum-half Dwayne Peel to deny him with a last-ditch tackle. Peel’s outstanding effort failed to inspire Sale to victory at The Stoop but it was a different story at Franklin’s Gardens. Winger Jamie Elliot set the tone with a try-saver just short of the line on Saracens’ David Strettle but he was outdone by fullback Ben Foden who denied his Sarries counterpart, and England rival, Alex Goode a score with a superb tackle in-goal. His heroics added further fuel to a rampant Saints performance and Foden’s own showing with the result two tries that should ensure he plays a part in England’s opening autumn international next weekend.
Which players have impressed you and thrown their name in the hat for the upcoming November Internationals?