Who’s hot and who’s not: Northampton Saints claim derby spoils, fringe Springboks star and governing bodies in a mess

Jared Wright
Who's hot and who's not this week includes the wallabies, south africa, northampton Saints, Italy, New Zealand sevens, the RFU and WRU, Northampton Saints, Springboks

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 claim thunderous East Midlands derby: The Tigers have only lost once at home in the Premiership this season and Northampton have struggled recently, especially defensively, so it was a tall order for the Saints going into the game. However, Phil Dowson’s men were resilient and fronted up physically to a powerful Leicester pack. Although the hosts were missing Joe Heyes, Dan Cole and Ollie Chessum to England duty, Jasper Wiese was back from injury and they controlled matters in the early stages, but Northampton hit back. Their rearguard was stout and they scored a wonderful try as the Saints deservedly emerged with a 19-18 triumph at Welford Road.

Duane Vermeulen and Aphelele Fassi show Test credentials: There have been doubts over whether Vermeulen can still perform to his usual high standard and compete for a starting role in the Springboks squad. However, the veteran went some way to silencing those doubters with an outstanding performance against his former side, the Stormers. The 36-year-old was impressive in all facets of the game, winning three turnovers and making 13 tackles as Ulster smashed the visitors 35-5. Meanwhile, fellow Springbok Fassi produced a man-of-the-match performance in the Sharks’ 22-19 win over Edinburgh. The 25-year-old has been criticised for his defence over the years but stepped up against Edinburgh, making at least three try-saving tackles. His improvement on defence did not detract from his attack as he gained over 40 metres and assisted one of his side’s three tries.

Jack Carty reaches Connacht milestone: Hats off to the Connacht fly-half after he surpassed the legendary Eric Elwood as Connacht’s leading points score on Saturday. It’s quite the feat to pass the great Elwood, but one of the Sportsground’s favourites managed it against the Lions and fully deserves the honour. Still just 30 years of age, Carty will now look to build on his points total before he eventually retires.

New Zealand do the double in Sevens: Congratulations to the Kiwis who took home both the men’s and women’s titles in utterly dominant fashion at the Sydney Sevens. The former overcame South Africa 38-0 in the final, while the latter defeated France 35-0. The men’s side actually lost to the Blitzboks in the group stages but were absolutely unstoppable from thereon in, gaining revenge in the showpiece event. The women, meanwhile, went through the tournament unbeaten, where no one really got close. Well done to both teams, who showed their class over the three days.

Reward for Scott Baldwin’s hard work: Six years is a long time between Test caps, but Baldwin thoroughly deserves his recall to the Wales squad ahead of the Six Nations. He has been called in to replace clubmate Dewi Lake who sustained an injury against Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup. The 34-year-old has been churning out strong performances for the Ospreys, who have one of the best-performing packs in the URC. Baldwin will be out to add to his 34 Tests during the Championship, and his recall is just reward for his perseverance.

Injury boosts ahead of Six Nations: Having not featured since the Autumn Nations Series, Hamish Watson made his return to action in Edinburgh’s 22-19 defeat to the Sharks. It is a timely fillip for head coach Gregor Townsend, who is without Rory Darge for the start of the Six Nations, while Zander Fagerson and Darcy Graham are other injury concerns. In France, Gabin Villiere made a slightly earlier-than-expected comeback, featuring for Toulon in their 27-16 victory over Pau, and has immediately been called up to the France squad. Elsewhere, England boss Steve Borthwick saw Anthony Watson start for Leicester Tigers, and he has earned a recall to the Red Rose squad as an injury replacement for Exeter’s Henry Slade. Meanwhile, Henry Arundell came off the bench for London Irish, and may also play some part in the Six Nations over the next two months. They are all players who can add to the excitement of the tournament.


Rugby federations around Europe in an absolute mess: It’s not been a great couple of weeks for the sport, and as a result, those at the top of the respective governing bodies are quite rightly being put under pressure. Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Phillips resigned on Sunday after allegations of sexism within the governing body, while there has been backlash to the RFU’s change in the tackle law. There may be a vote of no confidence following a revolt by the clubs, with 200 of them rumoured to have joined forces. Meanwhile, in France, the FFR president Bernard Laporte finally stepped down after being convicted of corruption in December. There could be plenty of change in all three governing bodies over the next few weeks and months.

RFU continue to put their foot in it: Speaking of the backlash against the RFU, they released a statement apologising to the clubs, players and coaches, stating that their initial message caused “misunderstanding and confusion”. They have now also said: “We would now like the game to help us define how we describe a lower tackle height”, which rather suggests they didn’t consult the people who would be affected by the decision. It’s been an absolute mess all round from England’s governing body.

Cardiff thumped by depleted Leinster: Looking at the teamsheets before kick off and there was a feeling a possible scalp could be on the cards, due to how depleted the Leinster side was. Cardiff, in contrast, had the likes of Rhys Priestland, Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams, Josh Turnbull, Seb Davies and many more regulars in their line-up, but ultimately, they were thumped by a young Leinster line-up. Even the 38-14 scoreline in Dublin was generous to Cardiff as their two tries came in the closing 13 minutes of the game.

Saracens’ odd decision potentially costs Elliot Daly: There was hugely unfortunate news last week when the back’s return to the England squad was cut short following a hamstring injury. It was confirmed that he would be out for up to three months, preventing his participation in the Six Nations. However, one thing really confuses us, and that’s Sarries’ handling of the full-back during their clash with Edinburgh. It was quite clear that Daly was struggling early on with what appeared a hamstring issue, and yet he remained on the field until the second half, when he was eventually replaced. Although the medics obviously know better than anyone else, it is odd that he was deemed fit to continue and yet all of a sudden will spend 12 weeks on the sidelines. If he has worsened the injury by remaining on the pitch, then it is not great management from the club.

Wallaby duo’s unwise tennis game: Australia’s Nic White and Ned Hanigan went to watch tennis at the Australian Open last week and while there, they were interviewed by Stan Sports. The duo then participated in a game in which they fired tennis balls at a picture of referee Mathieu Raynal – the man in charge of their 39-37 Bledisloe Cup defeat last year. Of course, it was Raynal who penalised Bernard Foley for time-wasting, awarding the All Blacks a five-metre scrum which led to Jordie Barrett scoring the winning try. But ultimately, with referees constantly under necessary pressure and receiving death threats for just doing their job, it was an incredibly inadvisable, tactless and brainless thing to do, so Raynal deserves an apology from those two, as well as Rugby Australia.

Ivan Nemer confirmed as Benetton racist: It was revealed that the Argentinian-born Italy prop was the one who gave team-mate for both club and country, Cherif Traore, a rotten banana as a Secret Santa ‘gift’. The club have announced that Nemer has been suspended until the end of the season, but the question is why hasn’t he been sacked? The only reason we can think of is there would have been too many complications legally for them to dismiss him but, if not, then Benetton have made another blunder in what is a very sorry episode.

READ MORE: Sunday Social: Juggling with Finn Russell, heartfelt goodbyes, sevens madness and Wallabies tennis