Who’s hot and who’s not: Saracens excellence, Zach Mercer shines and Worcester Warriors owners’ faulty moral compass

James While
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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.


Saracens: Rebranding is all the rage these days, but in terms of changing the core product, none have done it with quite the aplomb of last season’s beaten Premiership finalists, Saracens, who ran in seven magnificent tries against the reigning champions, Leicester on Saturday. It’s the ambition that appears to have changed for Sarries; no longer satisfied with defending leads and owning scoreboards, their glittering international stars are playing offloading, running rugby with accuracy, pace and vision. In the forwards, BT Sport unofficially ran out of superlatives to describe the brilliant Samoan flanker Theo McFarland, who played a game from the Gods themselves. But quietly, in the backline, Elliot Daly had a match of rare and brilliant influence, with Owen Farrell looking like a man liberated since his return from injury. With Hugh Tizard and Ben Earl also impressing, the watching Eddie Jones can only hope that he can capture their stunning form into international honours this season.

La Rochelle: Whilst Premiership and URC rugby appears to be struggling for financial solidity despite continued investment, putting clochards on chaises appears to be a specialism of the mighty champions of Europe, La Rochelle, as yet again they played to a sell-out crowd. Removing adjustments for Covid-19 influenced games, Saturday’s win versus Racing 92 saw the coastal town fill their stadium for the 70th consecutive Top 14 or EPCR weekend, a remarkable feat. In simple terms, that’s 70 matches x 16000 tickets which means something like 1.1million fans have watched the European Champions in that period (stats courtesy of Matt Hardy, CityAM). The born entertainer Teddy Thomas crossed for La Rochelle’s first against his former club and you can be sure with signings like that, the Stade Mardel-Deflandre will be filled for years to come.

Zach Mercer: Yep, we know he’s Kingsholm bound and yep, we know Eddie Jones is desperate to engineer him back into the England squad, but his improvement and form were endorsed by his peers this week as he grabbed the Top 14 Player of the Year award for 2021/22. The leggy number eight promised much in his time at Bath without ever quite nailing down an international place but now is delivering on every stage he treads with Montpellier and it’s time we saw him again in the biggest theatre of all – Test match rugby.

URC table-toppers: It’s pretty much business as usual at the top of the URC table as the two pacesetting teams, Leinster and the Bulls, took their respective seasons to a perfect three wins. Leo Cullen’s charges took the honours against avowed rivals Ulster in a thriller at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday, whilst Jake White’s troops soundly beat beleaguered Connacht at Loftus Versfeld in a match which the home side dominated for long periods. It’s too early to say right now, but it looks odds on that these two giants of their respective rugby nations will again be amongst the contenders for the Championship come May.

Entertaining Premiership clash: Harlequins and Northampton provided those heavy of belly after a Sunday lunch with a good workout for the heart rate and stress levels as they put on a fabulous display of attacking rugby at the Stoop. It was a shame one side had to lose, but Saints will be cursing their self-inflicted errors on the goal-line, where poor handling in the last movement saw them blow at least three clear tries, as they lost in the dying moments 35-29. But Quins are in sparkling form and they know how to play high-risk rugby better than any other team around and the tries from Caden Murley and Luke Northmore were truly special. Of course, the ultimate beneficiary will be England Rugby; with Murley, Tommy Freeman, George Furbank and Northmore in scintillating form, the issues Eddie Jones had in the back three and centres appear to be disappearing in front of him. Let’s hope he picks them.


Worcester Warriors co-owners: Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham drop off any form of measurable temperature scale as they take this week’s lack of said-awareness award to go with their rather faulty moral compass. In a remarkable statement released on Friday night that showed their absolute contempt for players, employees and fans, their wild blunderbuss of arrogant vitriol fired shots hither and thither in a rant that was bordering on irrational. Not content with publicly insulting the loyal staff and players, the beleaguered and loyal Worcester fans copped a lashing from Whittingham and Golding too. Planet Rugby columnist and Warriors Forwards Coach Nick Easter described their comments as ‘laughably pathetic’ and the England legend went onto describe the outburst as “rubbing emotional salt into financial wounds- that demonstrates a complete contempt for all at Warriors.” Four days ago, this was a matter of business; now it’s deeply personal and the sooner rugby (and business in general) is rid of this pair of obnoxious chancers, the better.

Bundee Aki and Connacht: The Ireland centre received an eight-week ban after he was found guilty of charging into a ruck without binding onto another player in Connacht’s Round Two URC clash with the Stormers in Stellenbosch. His dangerous clean-out of Stormers wing Seabelo Senatla has left the wing on the sidelines for a lengthy period with shoulder and pectoral muscle injuries. It was also said that following his dismissal Aki had “not shown expected standards of conduct or respect” towards the match officials. Meanwhile, Friday’s loss to the Bulls sees the Irish province languishing at the foot of the table with no wins from their three matches played so far this season and follows similar results against Ulster and the Stormers. Connacht have zero points on the table and will be hoping to get their season up and running against Munster at home on Friday.

Bath: Bath owner Bruce Craig brought Johann van Graan in from Munster as the West Country outfit’s head of rugby amid plenty of fanfare, but as Bath sit rooted at the foot of the Premiership table courtesy of a first half pasting by London Irish in a game that the Exiles won comfortably 47-38, it appears that they need a miracle bigger than the parting of the Red Sea to sort out the issues down at the Rec. Despite their huge player assets and international player stocks, nothing seems to go right for a side that was once the best in Europe. Their loyal fans deserve better than they have been given, but fixing the issues, which are almost two seasons long now, seems to be a labour of Hercules himself.

Cardiff players: In the URC on Friday night, the Lions took a trip down to play Cardiff and soundly slapped the home side on the pitch 31-18. One would think that’s bad enough in itself, but reports of Cardiff player behaviour on a ‘social night’ out at The Grange on Penarth Road the following day has sent the Welsh club spinning to defend their reputation, as bar staff at The Grange allege verbal assault and much more. A post by one of the bar staff on Reddit suggested they were threatened with violence when the players were asked to leave the bar, going on to claim that “after leaving the premises individuals went out and bought eggs before returning and throwing them at tables and the floors.”

READ MORE: Sunday Social: Rassie Erasmus is back, Saracens avenge Premiership final loss and Women’s World Cup approaching