Zurich Preview - Week 2
September 7, 2001
After an opening weekend of surprises, most notably a rare defeat for the Tigers and a debut win for the Tykes, fans and hacks alike heralded last weekend as the best start the Zurich Premiership could have hoped for.
True enough, the results added to the after glow left by the resolution of the long running dispute that had blighted the top flight but are we set for a season of upsets or will normal service be resumed this weekend?
Last week's surprise package and many people's tip for an immediate return to Division 1, the Leeds Tykes, will be looking to go two from two at the Madejski on Sunday where they face London Irish. The Exiles also scored a notable win last weekend with victory at The Stoop over an apparently resurgent Quins side. Coach Brndan Venter brings in Neal Hatley, Richard Kirke and Rob Hardwick to replace the front row of Mike Worsley, Naka Drotské and Simon Halford in a squad rotation move.
Whether Tykes coach Phil Davies has managed to bring his side down to earth after their historic win is another thing. A victory was their first goal as they began their journey in the top flight and with that now out of the way it will be interesting to see if they go from strength to strength.
Quins entertain Bristol this weekend and will surley look to provide a better show for their returning fan base aftyer an awful display last weekend. Coach John Kingston will welcome back Lion Keith Wood with open arms and will be hoping that Zurich debutant scrum half Scott Bemand and fly-half Paul Burke can combine to convince us all that all the pre-season hope was not misplaced.
The pressure will be on at the refurbished Franklin's Gardens where the Saints and Bath will be desperate to get their season's back on track after drawing blanks on their first outings. The game sees the opening of the new Tetley's and Sout stands but don't be surprised if the west country men spoil the party. England youngster Ollie Barclay looks set to come in at fly-half for Bath after Matt Perry struggled in the No.10 shirt last week.
London Wasps travel to Welford Road where they must expect a backlash from the reigning champions who will still be seething form their last gasp loss to the Falcons last time out.
Suffering from an injury crisis so early into the season must be of concern to Wasps' director of rugby Nigel Melville who commented, "Probably the toughest game in the list, away to the league champions and we're struggling to find a back row that can walk, let alone play rugby. We still cannot complete the seven names for the subs bench, it's that bad." Rory Jenkins and Colin Allan make their full debuts as the London club look to plug the gaps for this huge test of the London club's premiership credentials.
Troubled Saracens must entertain the Cherry and Whites of Gloucester but the first appearance of Tim Horan is sure to boost the side. The dual World Cup winner takes over form Tom Shanklin in midfield, who replaces Brett Sparg on the wing, to partner Kevin Sorrell. Robbie Russell also comes in to replace Matt Cairns at hooker.
In the last, but no means least of this weekend's fixtures Sale and Newcastle go head to head with both keen to improve on their strong starts. The Sharks make one change from the side that won at Bristol last week with England Under-21 hooker Andy Titterrell coming into the front row alongside Kevin Yates and Stuart Turner and will be keen to end a poor run of results against the Falcons.
"There are still areas for improvement but we are working on them and taking it a game at a time," coach Jim Mallinder said, "Newcastle will be a big test because they beat us well on three occasions last season, but this is a new campaign and I know the boys are looking forward to playing in front of their own fans for the first time."
The Falcons, with the scalp of the treble winners already, will be keen to prove that the result was no fluke by sending another warning to the rest of the Premiership that they mean business. But it's been a while since that man Robinson sparked a few headlines so watch out, there could be more upsets in store.