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.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!!
Saracens: Having dominated the top of the Premiership table for so long, finding Saracens in a position trying to chase down top spot is very much unusual. Those who thought the reigning Premiership and European champions were on the wane should take note of Sunday’s remarkable demolition of Bath. Putting over 50 points on a top six rival takes some doing. The team effort for Alex Goode’s try was exemplary too, as they lay down a marker ahead of facing Glasgow Warriors.
Treviso: Wow – who saw that coming? Just a third win of the PRO12 season for the Italians but what a win too, stunning the Ospreys in Treviso with a 13-5 victory that shakes up the top four picture dramatically while putting Treviso in pole position for a Champions Cup place next season ahead of Zebre.
Waratahs’ comeback: Dead and buried in Melbourne at half-time with Daryl Gibson’s future being fairly questioned after a dismal start to the year, the 2014 champions turned in one hell of a comeback. From 25-6 down at the break the ‘Tahs ran in tries from Ned Hanigan, Reece Robinson, Michael Wells and finally David Horwitz in the closing seconds to cap an almighty turnaround, potentially kickstarting their season.
Harlequins: Put the hammer down on Newcastle, racking up an impressive 53 points and scoring seven tries in a manner that Harlequins supporters will hope is a sign of how much quality this team really does have after an underwhelming season. But then any side welcoming back Danny Care, Mike Brown, Nick Evans, Tim Visser and Chris Robshaw should be able to dance with the best.
La Rochelle, Lyon and Grenoble: Three very different wins, with unique significance for each, but all highly impressive. La Rochelle have not lost a league game now since November 19, and the fact that they keep winning away from home, as was the case against Pau, is why they are being taken seriously as title contenders. Lyon meanwhile made light work of Bayonne with a 52-7 thrashing, keeping their top six hopes alive. And Grenoble’s 21-20 win over Castres, an upset, gives them hope of catching Stade Français.
Jaguares: Continuing to impress after landing a fourth win out of five this season against the Reds – what a scorcher of a try as well from Ramiro Moyano – and now Raul Pérez and his squad can rest up before embarking on a three-game tour of South Africa. Promising signs.
Maul stand-off: Some of you hate it. A lot of you love it. And while this bizarre clip from Friday’s ProD2 game between Narbonne and Vannes does point out a ridiculous quirk in the law book… watching the two teams play this one out was quite brilliant.
To summarise the rules; if Narbonne engage after Vannes set the maul up, then you have a maul. However if Narbonne do not engage and the Vannes players advance, then you have obstruction of the ball carrier. The referee decides the ball is unplayable, and opts for a scrum to Vannes.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 25, 2017
Sunwolves: Not enough in the tank to upset the Stormers in Singapore, but the Sunwolves are playing some phenomenal rugby. Saturday’s game showed more intelligence in attack, with smarter dummy runs and some quality tries. Kenki Fukuoka has been a revelation out on the wing and if he carries on troubling defences, a first win of the year won’t be far away.
COLD AS ICE
Bristol: Four games left to avoid the drop and Bristol’s fixtures are as follows: Exeter (a), Wasps (h), Saracens (a) and Newcastle (h). Relegation is not confirmed yet, but it seems wholly unlikely for Bristol to pick up anything more than losing bonus points from those first three fixtures, at a time when they need wins. In Friday’s loss to Gloucester, they just weren’t up to the standard.
Bulls: Competitive first half, terrible second half in Albany against the Blues. This is a talented group of players, spearheaded by Handré Pollard and Lood de Jager, which based on their start to 2017 are underperforming. That points the finger at Nollis Marais, the Bulls head coach. It doesn’t get any easier next week away to the Chiefs…
Force: Reports seem to suggest a different team is up for the Super Rugby chopping block each week, with the Force a favourite target in the past. Efforts such as Friday’s in Christchurch don’t do their cause any favours, proving to be little opposition for the Crusaders in another disappointing performance.
Aaron Mauger’s departure: Leicester’s brilliant win over Northampton was a season high for the Tigers that came at the end of a strange week for the club, announcing that Matt O’Connor was to return but more importantly that Saturday would be Mauger’s last game in charge, less than a week after winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup. The players’ outspoken reaction on social media, and subsequent performance, suggests this hasn’t been a popular decision. After the weekend, and the fact Mauger has had only a few months in charge, it becomes hard to understand why.
Bryce Heem’s red card take-out: Somehow Willie le Roux wasn’t seriously injured, bar his treatment for concussion. A red card for Heem was the right call and it will be interesting to see the outcome of his disciplinary hearing to follow, given there was a strong argument that was unsighted.
Bjorn Basson’s drop: Oh boy. For a Springbok wing this was one almighty howler from Basson on Saturday against the Sunwolves. Basson was over the line untouched after some smart attacking play, only to drop the ball and fail to apply downward pressure.