It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past week.
THEY’RE ON FIRE
Bath: After three successive defeats, this was an ideal way to respond. As bad as they were in aspects of their games against Sale Sharks and Wasps, they were equally as good against Worcester Warriors. Todd Blackadder’s men scored six tries as they completely dominated the Midlanders to move to within one point of local rivals Gloucester, who succumbed to Northampton on Saturday. With the West Countrymen in a strong position in the European Champions Cup, the Rec-based side are now also back on track domestically after that impressive 46-25 win.
Top 14 basement boys: Is there a more unpredictable league in the world than the Top 14? Brive, Agen and Oyonnax have been cut adrift at the bottom but they all somehow managed to pick up excellent results at the weekend. While the former’s 13-12 win over Toulon was perhaps not such a surprise, given the visitors’ inconsistency this season, Agen’s victory certainly was. Philippe Sella’s men thrashed Castres, a side that had won seven league matches in a row, 30-3 to move them further clear of basement-dwellers Oyonnax. Although Adrien Buononato’s team are now nine points from safety, they also impressed, drawing 38-38 with La Rochelle in what was an excellent day for the strugglers.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg: After becoming one of the breakout stars in 2016 and being a one-man wrecking ball for the Lions in Super Rugby, it is fair to say that Janse van Rensburg’s form dropped significantly in 2017. The centre was a notable absence from Allister Coetzee’s squad for the November internationals and, as a result, a short-term loan to Sale Sharks has followed. It seems to have done him some good, with the one-time capped Springbok gradually finding his feet and putting in some influential displays. The 23-year-old was particularly excellent against Harlequins, scoring two tries as the Greater Manchester outfit came from behind to win 30-29 and move up to sixth place.
Alan Gaffney: The Australian was an interesting, if slightly leftfield, appointment for Northampton, but his influence was immediate as the Saints ended a run of seven consecutive Premiership defeats. His players were excellent and showed impressive resilience to respond from going 19-8 behind to defeat play-off chasing Gloucester 22-19. Franklin’s Gardens, after weeks of discontent, finally found its voice and it will be interesting to see whether Gaffney and the Midlanders can build on this impressive result. A great start to the Gaffney regime.
Newcastle and Saracens: Impressive wins from both sides on Sunday as the Falcons beat Premiership champions Exeter at Kingston Park while Saracens continued their revival with a bonus-point win at Wasps. Saracens are closing in on their best form and this win over an albeit injury-hit Wasps will have done them a power of good heading into the Champions Cup. However it is the Falcons who made the statement of the round as Dean Richards’ charges beat a Chiefs side that was looking close to unbeatable in recent weeks, thanks in part to this try.
Sinoti Sinoti has just sent the Exeter Chiefs for a hot dog ??
What a try from Newcastle’s big Samoan ?? pic.twitter.com/MvvEL4R42u
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 7, 2018
Video credit: BT Sport
COLD AS ICE
Joe Marler: What were you thinking? First of all, as Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston was at pains to point out, his sending off offence should not see him hung, drawn and quartered, but it was just utterly stupid. He did not punch, gouge, stamp or spit on someone but to appear to put your shoulder into the head of a defenceless opponent at a ruck is dangerous and may well see Marler banned for a lengthy period. That could cause an issue for England head coach Eddie Jones, who may well have to do without one of his most consistent players.
Complete headloss from Joe Marler ??
He saw red as Sale edged past Quins… pic.twitter.com/eGl2pG21oN
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 6, 2018
Video credit: BT Sport
Ulster: Another worrying day at the office for Ulster, this time in Dublin. Credit must go to Leinster for their performance – Munster too while we’re at it for their win over Connacht – but this was men against boys at the RDS. Ulster were beaten 38-7 and it looked like they would be nilled for a long time, with Leinster head and shoulders above their rivals in terms of confidence and ideas. La Rochelle next…
Toulon: Fabien Galthie is a man under pressure. Their latest defeat, a 13-12 reversal at the hands of strugglers Brive, was their eighth loss in 15 Top 14 matches. They remain in the play-off places but Galthie’s men are not producing the type of performances their money-laden owner Mourad Boudjellal expects, with Toulon only one point ahead of Lyon and Bordeaux in seventh and eighth. That frustration has evidently seeped its way to the top having seen Boudjellal cop an eight-week touchline ban for criticising referees, according to L’Equipe.
Cheetahs and Kings: While most in the PRO14 were playing over Christmas and New Year, this duo had a rest. You could hardly call it well-earned either, given their inauspicious starts to life in the Celtic and Italian league, and they disappointed last weekend. In fairness, you can forgive the Kings in that they have been poor all season, but the Cheetahs have shown glimpses of excellence, so their defeat to Benetton was disappointing. Both sides faltered towards the end of the game, which is not what you’d expect from a fresh set of players.
Clermont: Their Top 14 season reached a new low on Sunday night as they suffered a 58-6 defeat at the hands of Racing 92. Yes, they named an under-strength side for the trip to U Arena, but to leak eight tries bordered on embarrassing for les Jaunards. That was their eighth loss in 15 league games and they are only eight points off the relegation places. Europe is clearly the focus for Clermont and they will hope to use their final pool matches to seal qualification and also as a springboard to take back into the Top 14 at the end of the month.