Who’s hot and who’s not: Jack Willis’ jackaling, Women’s Rugby World Cup steals the show and Jamie George jinxed

James While
Who's hot and who's not image 10 October 2022.jpg

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 after the weekend.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

Jack Willis’ jackaling: As Northampton Saints visited Wasps, a side like Worcester that are troubled by off-field financial uncertainty, you would have expected nothing other than end-to-end stuff and that’s precisely what we saw as Saints scored in the last breath of the game to take the match 40-36 and to complete a full set of away wins in the Premiership this weekend. A Jacob Umaga red card was probably the difference between the two sides, but the standout performance was that of England flanker Jack Willis. Six massive turnovers, 24 tackles, two tries and a try assist were the outstanding statistics of this brilliant back-row and it was certainly no reflection of his personal effort that Wasps lost. He’s a man who must now get an extended starting run in the England side, notwithstanding the ability of the incumbent Tom Curry. For Eddie Jones it’s now a case of how rather than when – back-row tries are a premium at Test level and here’s a man who does that lot. Pick him now is the clear message.

Returning Top 14 flyers: World champion Springbok Cheslin Kolbe jetted into action after just 115 seconds of the Toulon v Brive in their Top 14 match as he crossed for his comeback try after an enforced absence of some 12 weeks courtesy of his broken jaw in July. Toulon thrashed their visitors 47-0 as a galaxy of world class performers put their foot on the gas pedal with some style. Flying Fijian centre Waisea Nayacalevu crossed for a brace, whilst two greats of the modern game, Charles Ollivon and Sergio Parisse both crossed the whitewash to destroy Brive. Continuing our French theme, England wing Christian Wade completed his journey from NFL to Top 14 as the former Buffalo Bill delighted all his considerable fan base as he crossed on his Racing 92 debut to record an impressive 26-13 win at Pau.

Women’s Rugby World Cup: After the tournament was postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the global showpiece finally kicked off over the weekend in New Zealand to the delight of that country’s rugby supporters. The opening day’s matches proved to be a rousing success as, for the first time, Eden Park was sold out for a women’s match. The official attendance figure at the venue was 34,235 which set a new world record attendance for a women’s rugby match and for a women’s sports event in New Zealand. The tournament’s first two days dished up plenty of excitement and rugby of a high standard with the likes of England, New Zealand and France making their intentions known on the opening day with impressive victories and there was a real humdinger on the second day between Wales and Scotland with the Welsh sealing a memorable last-gasp victory.

Eddie Jones’ back-row riches: As suggested in our Five Premiership talking points ahead of Round Five, Exeter Chiefs recorded an impressive win at Ashton Gate, hammering the hapless Bristol Bears 50-14. A shout out for the ever-improving Exeter Chiefs number eight Richard Capstick, as the youngster again impressed all who saw his towering performance, sealing his side’s win as he crashed over for a seventh Exeter try in the 72nd minute. Capstick offers so much to any side he plays within – a perpetual motion defender, a high quality lineout option and a powerful and pacey carrier – and the former U20 star is adding another layer of depth to Eddie Jones’ loose forward resources. We’ve already sung Jack Willis’ praises while one of the more established international flanks, Lion Tom Curry, put in another classy display for Sale, scoring in a crucial win against Leicester Tigers, and to cap it all, Ruan Ackerman’s Man-of-the-match display for Gloucester versus Bath shows that the Kingsholm man adds yet another versatile option for England.

Three Irish provinces: As if we needed reminding of the depth of Irish rugby, Leinster’s backline ran rings around the visiting Sharks, winning 54-34 in a thriller as Garry Ringrose delighted all that saw his brilliant display which he capped off with a brace of tries, with his Irish centre partner Robbie Henshaw crossing for another. It was fag-paper close at half time at 21-20, but the Leinster backline simply powered away in the second period. Unfashionable Connacht also reminded all of their threat as they disposed of Munster 20-11 after the Munstermen had led 11-5 at one point. It was a morale-boosting win for the Galway-based side as they lost their three previous URC games. With Ulster also scalping the Ospreys 47-17 – and moving in to second spot in the standings – it was a memorable weekend for these three Irish sides.

COLD AS ICE!

Bristol Bears: Focusing on the colder side of things, there’s some basic structural issues for Pat Lam’s team. Bristol’s defence simply couldn’t cope with the width of the Exeter attack, hampering themselves by continually playing a prop and a nine in the wide channels of a narrow defence. It was basic schoolboy stuff and that defensive structure, combined with an absolute paucity of punch in carry and some atrocious handling decisions, left the Bears totally clawless. To make things worse, Bristol skipper and England vice-captain Ellis Genge, carded for a head-shot in the first half, spent the entire match debating scrum calls with referee Christophe Ridley, conceding 10 metres on three occasions. Ridley came very close to issuing Genge with a second yellow card as the great prop’s passion and desire to win possibly got the better of him. There’s no doubt Genge is one of the best props in the world and an inspiring leader of men, but you can fulfil neither of those functions if the ref forces you to sit on the bench for a substantial period of a match.

Jamie George jinxed: Earlier in the week on Monday, Saracens’ medical team announced that their world class hooker, Jamie George, has sustained a severe foot/ankle injury and is out for a minimum of eight weeks, including England’s crucial November Test campaign. Known to all in the game simply as Jinx, no English hooker offers such a complete game, with rock solid set-piece work and thunderous carries as the Saracen and his form this season has been absolutely outstanding. Fingers crossed for the well-loved big fella to return.

Leicester Tigers: The salary cap reduction seems to be hurting Leicester Tigers more than others. Now without departed England stars Ellis Genge and George Ford, they are struggling with control of set-piece and gainline and lacking in territorial focus. Most worryingly, the Du Preez brothers and Tom Curry beat them up at the breakdown, and at half-back, Raffi Quirke put in a commanding performance to completely overshadow fellow England scrum-halves, Jack van Poortvliet and veteran Richard Wigglesworth as he made one and scored another in a memorable win for Sale. Leicester Tigers, the current champions, are now three losses from five games and getting turned over by perennial under-achievers Sale Sharks at Welford Road has turned an early season problem into an emerging mid-season crisis.

Munster, Scarlets and Zebre Parma: The one Irish province who did not register a win over the weekend was Munster as they suffered that defeat to Connacht which means they currently occupy 12th spot in the URC standings. Munster have won just one out of their four matches played – against Zebre – and their head coach, Graham Rowntree, was seething at the litany of second half errors by his team. Rowntree knows they need to improve quickly. “It’s the annoying thing, what’s killing us is us – our control of the ball, our accuracy and our discipline,” he said. “We’ve got to be better with our ball retention in that area of the field but I can’t fault the energy and the effort from the lads – we’ve just got to be more accurate.” Meanwhile, Scarlets and Zebre are bringing up the rear on the URC table and are the only teams yet to rack up victories after their latest losses to Cardiff and the Stormers.

Worcester Owners: Not often that anybody makes this feature for successive weeks but that’s exactly what Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham have achieved. The Worcester Warriors owners are becoming amongst the most despised pair of clowns within the sport. Seemingly unable to attend the court hearing in Worcester over their winding up petition last Wednesday due to stress, Goldring made a Lazarus-like recovery to be spotted at Worcester races the following day. For those that don’t know the geography of the city, the distance between the two locations is less than 50 metres, with (appropriately) only a used car dealership separating the areas. Reports suggest that once he was recognised by the midweek punters he chose to beat a hasty retreat from the racecourse, as the locals started to heckle the shamed businessman. Let’s hope he lost his shirt, just as his former staff and players at Warriors appear to have lost theirs, as the RFU announced a full suspension and relegation of the proud club, with all games at Sixways cancelled until next season at the very earliest.

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