Monday Maul
World Cup markers hammered home
Tom Hamilton
September 15, 2014
Danny Cipriani was sublime against Gloucester © Getty Images

It was a weekend where the Aviva Premiership saw one of the best performances by any player on a losing side while Harlequins were embarrassed in their own backyard and an openside put down an England marker. Monday Maul looks back at the talking points.

Champion of the world?

You will have to go a long way to see a better performance from a fly-half, let alone one on a losing side, than Danny Cipriani's showing on Saturday at Kingsholm. Sale Sharks will feel aggrieved at their loss, they outscored Gloucester four tries to three and were at one stage 17-3 ahead. But what Steve Diamond can feel thankful for was Cipriani's showing. He was sublime and played a role in each of their four tries.

For the first, Cipriani's neat grubber was dotted down by Tom Arscott and for the second, it was his break which led to Chris Cusiter cantering over. Come the third, Cipriani quick-tapped a penalty which saw Luke McLean eventually cross in the corner and for number four, he scored it to secure the losing bonus point. While England coach Mike Catt was 34 miles away at the Rec watching George Ford, he would have heard about Cipriani's showing. He was superb in attack but his performance in defence was also key. He came in for some heavy criticism for his profligacy in that area during his early days at Sale but he seems to have stepped up in that area.

As Monday Maul mentioned last week, the debate over England's fly-half options is likely to rage all season. The pretenders to the throne are all playing well at present. Stephen Myler did well against Wasps while Ford and Freddie Burns also shone. And all this while Owen Farrell is given a slow introduction to the season and watches the ageless Charlie Hodgson continue to defy Old Father Time to help guide Saracens to back-to-back victories.

The return of the wolf-pack

And while we are on the subject of Hodgson, it is only fair this week's instalment pays tribute to Saracens. Sitting next to me at the Stoop, a voice uttered "where have Harlequins gone?" as their quartered shirts blended into the crowd at the south stand end of the ground as they waited for Farrell to convert Chris Ashton's try. It was a fitting summation of Quins' performance. The Stoop faithful are not used to seeing their team out played on their old memorial ground turf, let alone witness them whitewashed 39-0.

The week's awards

  • Coach: Dai Young, Wasps
  • Team: Saracens
  • Try: Luke McLean's for Sale
  • Tackle: Mike Brown's last-ditch tackle on Duncan Taylor - it was a rare ray of sunlight in the deluge of the Stoop
  • Quote: "The players went over to the crowd to apologise afterwards because that's not us" - Conor O'Shea after seeing his team lose 39-0

It was an eerie experience to see Harlequins outplayed to that extent. Ever since Conor O'Shea took charge of the club, they have been proud of their organisation as a team and their potency in attack. Both areas let them down woefully against Saracens. They were hurt by Matthew Hopper's early injury as they were forced to put square pegs in round holes in the backs, but that should not do a disservice to Saracens. Their defence was immense with Will Fraser leading the charge, centres Duncan Taylor and Brad Barritt played wonderfully in tandem, the front-row was dominant while the bandaged Hodgson pulled the strings masterfully at fly-half.

The re-opening of the England openside debate

For the final few throws of last season, the rugby column inches were taken up talking about Steffon Armitage's performances for Toulon. On Friday night Andy Farrell was sat in the stands at the Stoop and saw Fraser outplay England captain Chris Robshaw. Fraser missed much of last season through injury but instead of feeling hard done by he has clearly used the opportunity to keep his rugby studies going. He was sensational against Quins and was the deserved recipient of the Man of the Match award as he made 10 tackles and four turnovers. With the World Cup looming ever closer, Fraser is putting down a marker to the England management.

The same goes for James Haskell. He has embraced the Wasps captaincy and was immense against Northampton as he chopped down anything in his path and also carried out a fairly unique pre-game warm-up routine.

A refreshing start to a coaching career

We have seen a couple of England's 2003 World Cup-winners jump into coaching and eventually have a rather chastening experience so it was great to hear Lewis Moody is now on the ladder, albeit at a low level. He is now director of rugby of Bradford-on-Avon who will play in Dorset and Wiltshire One this term.

"After watching the lads play and earn a very well deserved promotion at the end of last season, I started helping Dave George out with coaching and very quickly realised what I was missing," said Moody. "The enthusiasm, energy, commitment and teamwork the players showed in taking on the new ideas we introduced, made me realise I was ready to come back to the game I love."

Porous London Welsh

Good news London Welsh supporters, you scored four tries against Bath. The bad news is your team shipped over 50 points for the second game running. Premiership teams cannot survive on try bonus points and as Saracens proved on Friday evening, defence lays the foundations for victories. While London Welsh will have taken heart from their improved showing against Bath, their defence is a worry. Their first up tackling was poor - they missed 24 against Bath - and they must address this.

The buzz returns to Adams Park

The final word has to go to Wasps. From nearly going bust and getting relegated in the 2011-12 season, they have begun this campaign by coming within minutes of knocking over Saracens and then beating the champions. There is still much work to do at the club but they have a good crux of players, a great captain and a positive ethos.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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