Aviva Premiership - Round 2
Stamps, red cards and tantrums
September 16, 2013
A good old-fashioned ding-dong at the Rec © Getty Images
Round two of the Aviva Premiership has been and gone and we have picked out ten talking points from the action-packed weekend of rugby.
Nick Wood can expect to take a few weeks out
His stamp on Jacques Burger in just the 73rd second of Sunday's game was an ugly incident and Wayne Barnes got the big call spot on to issue Wood with a straight red. The Gloucester prop was clearly shell-shocked by what he had done, with the BT cameras invading his personal space to see his reaction to his moment of madness.
He sat on the sidelines, head in hands and looked crestfallen. But despite his clear remorse and his efforts to immediately apologise to Burger, he will cop a hefty ban. IRB regulations say a mid-range offence for stamping sees an entry point of a five-week ban with a top-end incident seeing at least a nine-week suspension with a maximum of a year. We expect Wood will get a nine week suspension.
Dean Ryan's honeymoon is over
Worcester are two games into Ryan's reign and they have a pair of losses for their efforts. Saturday's game against London Irish was a match which the Warriors, you expect, would have harboured hopes of winning. And they came very close, within two points, but eventually Irish got across the line despite Warriors dominating much of the territory. For Ryan, he was left aggrieved at a decision which went against his team in the final stages of the game.
"For the second week in a row there has been some random refereeing. There is an element of ill-discipline but I believe we are not getting a fair crack and I was astounded by the award of the last penalty." Welcome back Mr.Ryan.
England fly-half spot is not a foregone conclusion
Wood's early red card on Sunday ruined any hope of a real contest between Saracens and Gloucester but despite their numerical disadvantage, Freddie Burns shone for the Cherry and Whites. He copped a number of strong hits from the opposition but kicked well and put his team in the right areas of the field. It was an impressive performance against Owen Farrell, one of four you feel who will feel some claim to the England fly-half berth.
Elsewhere, George Ford was a standout performer for Bath against Leicester while Toby Flood is currently nursing his dazed head following Dan Tuohy's forearm smash during pre-season.
Tigers have ridiculous strength in depth
The Tigers' injury list currently consists of, and take a deep breath before reading this: Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Toby Flood, Tom Croft, Miles Benjamin, Gonzalo Camacho, Rob Hawkins, Graham Kitchener, Matt Smith, Mathew Tait, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs. They also have Marcos Ayerza on international duty with Argentina. But despite their 13 absentees, they very nearly came away from the Recreation Ground with a victory. They were 21-3 down at half-time but pulled it back to within four points of the hosts but eventually collected a losing bonus point. The depth of their squad was evident for 80 minutes on Saturday and it will serve them well throughout the season.
Dean Richards' teams have lost none of their grit
While all the headlines were being made at the Stoop on Friday evening, Richards' Falcons side got their first win back in the top flight at Sale. It was a Newcastle performance based on character and defence with the Sharks leading the statistics in just about every area, other than the scoreboard. The Sharks made 152 passes to the Falcons' 42, 127 runs to Newcastle's 41 and an incredible 305 metres with ball in hand compared to the away side's 76. But the telling statistic concerns their kicks at the posts.
Sale had just a 50 percent success rate with Nick MacLeod floundering while the Falcons ended up with 83 percent of their nudges going through the posts. It is small margins like that which could help the Falcons stay in the Premiership.
Saints look the real deal
Danny Care said in the run-up to Friday's game against Northampton that his Harlequins side were happy being underdogs compared to the much-fancied Saints. But pre-match posturing only goes so far if your team fail to get the required win on the field. It was a scrappy match but the bounce of the ball went the Saints' way. Their stars got seldom chance to show off their flair in the deluge at the Stoop but they had enough grit and determination to get a key win which has cemented their status as title challengers.
Tom James is an inspired signing
What better way to mark your home debut than with two tries against Wasps. James grabbed one in each half for his new side the Chiefs and with the likes of Jack Nowell, Ian Whitten and Matt Jess in their ranks, Rob Baxter has some solid options at his disposal on the wing. But James did himself no harm in his efforts to adhere himself to the Sandy Park faithful with his two-score effort. It was a capture that flew under the radar amid George North et al, but it looks to be an inspired bit of business from Baxter.
Tom James is mobbed after scoring © Getty Images
Matt Banahan is back
A well known song from The Automatic went along the lines of "What's that coming over the hill? Is it a monster?" Well viewers of the Premiership, it is a Goliath in the form of England's forgotten man Banahan who is rampaging around the Cotswolds. The tattooed behemoth was superb against the Tigers and was back on the wing after flirting with outside centre last term. He tackled like a mad man, made incisive breaks and also grabbed a try. He has not heard from the England management since the 2011 World Cup and it is unlikely he will see Stuart Lancaster's number flashing up on his phone any time soon, but Bath will reap the benefits of a rejuvenated Banahan this term.
England No.12 spot up for grabs
With Brad Barritt out until Christmas, Lancaster will shuffle his pack when it comes to picking exactly who will start in the centres for England come the autumn Tests. Kyle Eastmond is widely regarded as the incumbent to the No.12 jersey but he was absent this weekend and Barritt's Saracens team-mate Joel Tomkins did his claims no harm with an impressive showing against Gloucester. Then there are the likes of Manu Tuilagi who is yet to play this season, while Billy Twelvetrees is also in the mix. Northampton's Luther Burrell was the deserved Man of the Match for his performance on Friday night and will bring physicality and rugby nous to the centre berth while Anthony Allen is also Test class. That awful saying of a 'welcome headache' now, for want of a better phrase, applies to Lancaster.
Irish may just confound the doubters
It would take a man braver than me to put their rented flat on just who will be relegated from the top flight this season. All the projected candidates apart from Worcester have a win to their name and Irish opened their tally at the Warriors on Saturday. Ryan's misgivings over officiating apart, the Exiles have four points to their name and they will stay with them for the rest of the season. Marland Yarde continues to show his Test credentials on the flank while the other members of the Irish effort appear to be happy to put their bodies on the line for the sake of their team.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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