Who’s hot and who’s not: Statement wins and Louis Rees-Zammit delight while more controversy hits the Premiership

Colin Newboult
Jack Conan and Leinster impressed while there was more controversy in the Premiership.

Jack Conan and Leinster impressed while there was more controversy in the Premiership.

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!

Saints, Quins and Sale bounce back: It was interesting to see that two teams who looked completely off the pace last weekend hit back, and they did so in style. Northampton Saints and Harlequins were slow to get going after their Six Nations break – both shipping 50 points on the Premiership’s return – but they were much better over the weekend. Northampton comfortably defeated Saracens while Quins were hugely impressive in the opening 50 minutes of their encounter. Although Bath staged a staggering comeback at Twickenham Stoop, the performance was much more what we’ve come to expect from the Londoners. On Sunday, Sale Sharks also bounced back from a recent loss by putting in a ruthless showing against Exeter Chiefs, winning 41-5 in a result that saw England hopeful Tom Roebuck cross for three tries.

Bristol on the charge: Earlier in the season, the West Country outfit were written off and there were question marks over the future of their director of rugby, Pat Lam, but they are now just two points off the play-off places. Four successive domestic victories, which have included putting over 50 points on Northampton and Bath, has moved them up the table, and they are now very much in the play-off equation. Next up is a match with winless Newcastle Falcons before the games against Leicester Tigers, Saracens and Harlequins will decide their fate.

Crusaders finally win: After a record five losses in a row – their worst-ever Super Rugby run – the defending champions finally claimed a win. They deservedly overcame the Chiefs 37-26 and relieved the pressure on head coach Rob Penney. Johnny McNicholl starred, scoring two tries, while Chay Fihaki, Cullen Grace and George Bell also touched down in the Crusaders‘ triumph. They still have plenty of issues, including a massive injury list, but has the beast finally been unleashed?

Louis Rees-Zammit’s move: The Welshman’s decision to leave rugby has opened up a wider debate over the state of the sport, but we can’t see his move being anything over than a positive. We think it’s ludicrous to suggest that Rees-Zammit succeeding at the Kansas City Chiefs will spark a mass exodus from rugby union. However, what could happen is that the respect for rugby increases from American fans and it duly elevates the interest in the United States. Either way, we wish Rees-Zammit all the best and very much hope it works out for him.

Leinster dominate top-of-the-table clash: Few expected it to be quite so one-sided as the United Rugby Championship’s top two sides going into the weekend, Leinster and the Bulls, faced off at the RDS. Leinster were rampant, scoring seven tries in a 47-14 victory that sent a message to their title rivals that they are once again the team to beat. Their Ireland contingent were superb, notably Jack Conan at number eight, as the province extended their lead at the summit to five points, with the equally impressive Glasgow Warriors (45-3 at Scarlets) the next best.

COLD AS ICE!

Another Premiership controversy: After the TMO incident during Saracens’ victory over Harlequins (more on that below), there was another concerning officiating moment on Saturday when a Harlequins player returned early from the sin-bin. Lock Irne Herbst was yellow carded in the 64th minute but was seen back on the field seven minutes later, leaving Bath understandably furious. Once again, it was not the fault of the referee but those around him and should not really be happening. Mistakes happen but unfortunately these have been rather sizeable. Let’s just hope the lessons are learnt and they are not repeated.

RFU statement on TMO incident: While we’re discussing officials learning their lessons following errors, we have to say that the statement the RFU released after the Sarries-Quins controversy last week didn’t give us too much comfort. It raised more questions than answers, while their timeline of events didn’t seem to match what actually happened. Ultimately, if TMOs are able to hear commentary then it will always raise the issue of integrity, irrespective of what the governing bodies say. After the latest incident involving a Quins game, the RFU statement on Sunday apologised before saying the ‘usual process’ of reviewing games will take place. One expects it will be more detailed than usual.

Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie call: The official line from head coach Clayton McMillan was that resting the star fly-half at this point in the season was always the plan but, if that’s the case, then it was a pretty silly one. According to McMillan, McKenzie had a minor injury prior to the Highlanders game but that he ‘came good’ ahead of that clash, meaning that his rest week came in Round Six. However, surely, if the fly-half had sustained a slight issue, then it would have been better to rest him against the Highlanders to get him ready for the bigger clash? Whoever lined up at 10 versus the ‘Landers, the Chiefs were likely to win, especially at home, but against the Crusaders they needed their best player out there. And it ultimately cost them, with the Christchurch outfit kick-starting their season. The Chiefs, as well as the rest of the teams in Super Rugby, will hope that their error hasn’t set the Crusaders on their way to another title.

Cam Roigard injury: All Blacks and Hurricanes fans are holding their breath after the injury to one of the brightest prospects in the game. Roigard was stretchered off in the Super Rugby Pacific victory over the Highlanders on Saturday with what is rumoured to be a patella injury. He was taken to hospital for X-rays and it’s now a waiting game to see how serious the injury is. The All Blacks scrum-half is a special player and one hopes for positive news in the coming days.

Irish pundits on Luke McGrath incident: There was plenty of debate during and after the Leinster v Bulls clash as Leinster captain Luke McGrath was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on opposition wing Kurt-Lee Arendse. However, Irish pundits Ian Madigan and Alan Quinlan were critical of the Springbok and suggested he should have slid into the corner to avoid the contact. That didn’t go down well on social media with many feeling McGrath should in fact have seen red. After a couple of viewings and seeing this image, it’s hard to defend the pundits’ point, surely?

READ MORE: Sam Warburton on why Georgia and not South Africa should be added to Six Nations