Who’s hot and who’s not: Northampton, Marcus Smith and Bulls impress while abuse of players and officials a stain on our game

Planet Rugby
Who's hot and who's not image 4 December 2023.jpg

Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara.

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.


Northampton Saints and Bath: There were some big results in the Premiership over the weekend, with Northampton Saints leading the charge with a lovely 18-12 win over Saracens at StoneX Stadium to shoot into the top four. Meanwhile, Johann van Graan’s Bath flexed their muscles with a dominant 41-24 win over Exeter in the West Country derby. Could the Premiership hierarchy be in the process of a shake-up?

Marcus Smith nails audition: With the fly-half spot at the upcoming Six Nations up for grabs in the Red Rose camp it was Smith versus George Ford over the weekend. The electric number 10 seized the day with a comprehensively brilliant showing that saw him ignite many an attack which led to tries on several occasions, powering Harlequins to a 36-3 win over high-flying Sale Sharks. Smith was also clean with the boot in an outing England boss Steve Borthwick would have been watching with great interest.

Tommy Reffell shines for Leicester: The Wales international was the Tigers’ hero as he crossed for a hat-trick of tries in his side’s emphatic 47-3 victory against Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road on Sunday. The 24-year-old flanker took the fight to the visitors from the outset and crossed for his first five-pointer as early as the 14th minute before adding another one in the latter stages of the opening half. He continued to impress on attack after half-time and was rewarded with his third try in the 52nd minute. Back-row partner Jasper Wiese was also in fine form as he too crossed the whitewash and was named as the official man of the match.

Bulls sparkle at home: The local derbies in South Africa started last weekend in the United Rugby Championship as the Bulls dismantled the Sharks 44-10 in Pretoria. Jake White’s side were clinical throughout and made excellent decisions while the return of their Rugby World Cup winners added a powerful edge. The Sharks had good periods but failed to capitalise and ultimately fell well short of their counterparts.

South Africa Sevens: The Blitzboks made an outstanding start to the 2023/24 World Rugby Sevens Series when they won the Dubai leg of the tournament for the fifth year in a row. South Africa beat Argentina 12-7 in a tense final after seeing off Fiji and Australia in their respective semi-final and quarter-final matches. What made the win extra special for South Africa is the fact that they achieved it without their head coach, Sandile Ngcobo, who did not travel to Dubai after he had surgery on an Achilles injury with assistant Philip Snyman taking over the coaching reins.


Personal attacks on Owen Farrell: The veteran Englishman dropped a bombshell this week that he would be taking time away from the Test game to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being. This comes after years of personal attacks on the fly-half, with his ban before the World Cup the most recent incident where he received huge backlash. Personal attacks and online abuse simply have no place in the game or society and iconic rugby players like Farrell must be celebrated.

More online abuse from Rugby World Cup final surfaces: It is not just players who are receiving online abuse as the TMO from the World Cup final, Tom Foley, revealed there were death threats aimed at his family. World Rugby also revealed that 2,000 threats were aimed at match officials during the course of the global showpiece. Once again, as mentioned, there is no place for online abuse and social media platforms need to work harder to hold people accountable.

More players join concussion lawsuit: Rugby World Cup winner Phil Vickery and Welshman Gavin Henson are among some of the new names revealed in the 295-strong list of players looking to sue World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union. The group is waiting until next year to find out whether the litigation order allowing the cases to be viewed together would be granted.

Ronan O’Gara facing another ban: The La Rochelle coach has been summed to a disciplinary hearing later this weekend just before the clash with Leinster. The hearing has to do with his actions towards match officials during his team’s 32-10 loss to Racing 92 last weekend. The Irishman has already had four touchline bans in his time with La Rochelle.

Newcastle Falcons: Alex Codling and his charges were like lambs to the slaughter in that clash against Leicester Tigers on Sunday. The Falcons opened the scoring via a Brett Connon penalty in the 11th minute but it went downhill from there as their hosts ran in seven unanswered tries en route to their emphatic victory. The result means Newcastle have now lost all eight of their Premiership matches so far this season and they are firmly rooted to the bottom of the table with just four bonus points amassed.

READ MORE: The 50 best rugby players of the year, part one: 50-41