Saints and comb-overed heroes
October 27, 2013
Samu Manoa was a star for Northampton © Getty Images
Round six of the Aviva Premiership has been and gone and one thing you cannot say about this league, is that it is boring. Wind, rain, blood, panicking, flourishing, it all happened in last weekend's top flight action; we look back at the key talking points in the Monday Maul
Saints go marching on
In the last two weeks, Alex Waller has dominated a pack full of British & Irish Lions and then got the better of Matt Stevens. He's, unofficially, the Saints' second-choice loose-head. He is the perfect illustration of the solid foundation on which the Saints are built as the academy graduates, Mike Heywood another impressive performer, are just as important to the club as their new recruits.
Despite being without a handful of England players, their North star and the odd injured fellow, they dismantled Saracens in a ruthless fashion which was last achieved by a team four and a half years ago. Yes Sarries were also under strength, but despite the odd flashes of brilliance, they were second best all over the field to Northampton.
And no one stood taller than Samu Manoa. Ben Foden, Sam Dickinson and Stephen Myler were all brilliant, but Manoa was at the centre of their endeavours. Physical but with a rugby brain, the American international loved putting Saracens to the sword and has been one of the Premiership's most consistent players over the past two seasons.
Relegation talk not premature for Worcester
A Tweet from Worcester News' Tom Guest caused a few eyebrows to be raised after Worcester's thrashing by Exeter on Saturday. Guest Tweeted: "I asked Ryan if relegation is a concern. DR: "To be talking about relegation - especially from a local paper - I think is pretty poor.""
Well, we side with Guest here. Talk of relegation is not premature for Worcester Warriors. They have just two points, are yet to win a match in any tournament and are a team low on confidence. Up next is Bath on Friday evening at Sixways and even the club have conceded that it is hard to get people through the door at their ground due to their recent form. Prices are cut and Ryan will have to instil some belief in his squad this week.
Season's can be turned around - look at Sale last year - but they had more proven winners than Warriors. Ryan is a top coach, no doubt, but things need to change, and fast, if Worcester are to avoid that slippery slope into the Championship.
Awards of the Weekend
The return of Cockers
It was great to see Richard Cockerill back in his rightful place, the stands, at Adams Park, although he probably didn't enjoy seeing his injury-hit Tigers side fall to age-old rivals Wasps. He's dutifully served his nine-match ban for his behaviour in the Premiership final and seems to have mellowed slightly. His pre-match quote of saying "we don't have a three-year plan at Leicester, we have a one-week plan" was quietly-spoken genius and he is a great asset to the Premiership.
The need for a powerful tight-five
Gloucester's backs are brilliant. Freddie Burns, Henry Trinder, Jonny May et al. can turn matches on their head. But they need a brutish pack to play off, something Gloucester do not have at the moment. Last season they were reliant on Nick Wood at loose-head and Jim Hamilton in the second-row. Yes Hamilton was sometimes not the most thoughtful of players or the most technically proficient, but he would have put the fear of life into the opposition and carried his team forward. He's now at Montpellier while Wood is suspended. In their absence, Gloucester's pack was atrocious against Bath on Friday as the home side dominated them in the scrum and in the set piece.
They lost five of eight scrums on their own feed, lost three lineouts and made just four turnovers compared to Bath's 19. Despite the depressing message, they do have promise in the pack. Elliot Stooke will be a top-class second-row and James Hudson will prove to be a quality addition. But in the short-term, Gloucester will surely look to strengthen their front-row and the sooner the better.
At the start of last week, England coach Stuart Lancaster released ten players back for club duty - 'impress me' was the message. Some did, some failed. On Friday night, Freddie Burns out-gunned George Ford but Matt Kvesic was dominated at the breakdown by Francois Louw and Carl Fearns, the latter's performance would have raised a smile on fellow northerner Andy Farrell's face. For Bath, Dave Attwood was superb in the second-row but conditions put paid to any chance of Kyle Eastmond showing off his array of skills.
Come Saturday, Luther Burrell did well for the Saints while Foden was brilliant at fullback and has probably played his way on to England's bench for Saturday's game against Australia. Alex Goode struggled at fullback for Saracens while Tom Johnson enjoyed a field day for Exeter against Worcester Warriors and played a key role in their fifth try. And on Sunday, Christian Wade was in the right place at the right time for Wasps' try.
First of all an admission, we are massive fans of Andy Goode at ESPNscrum. Yes he is ridiculed for being larger than your average fly-half but it is no coincidence that Bath and Leicester were both interested in his services before he signed for Wasps. Nor was it mere chance that he was sensational as Wasps beat Leicester in dreadful conditions at Adams Park.
A few weeks ago, Wasps fans took to Twitter to criticise Goode, it is doubtful whether they were piping up again after their triumph over Leicester. He's not fashionable, but he will win you more matches single-handedly than he will lose. He's one of rugby's last representatives of the amateur days, but we hope he continues playing for as long as possible. Someone who tells it like it is, loves a post-match beer - Corona is his preference - and enjoys the game. Exactly what rugby is about.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.