We’ve only 4 words we can use to sum up the weekend past: rugger, rugger, rugger, rugger! After the summer soothed the bile and bitterness of the NZ tour, we are all ready for action, as you have probably worked out from our previews over the last weeks. So what did we make of it all?
Me, Sir! Me, Sir! Pick me!!
Ulster and Munster started well – showing much more hunger and cohesiveness than their opponents, and both deservedly winning. Kudos go to the new coaches in both cases, who selected callow sides and saw rewards. In Leinster’s case, the youngsters were eviscerated by the Scarlets, treating ball carriers like leprosy victims to be avoided at all costs. Connacht also lost to an inspired Welsh side, Cardiff doing the damage. So, does this all mean (as some have suggested) that Leinster’s much-vaunted depth is actually shallow? That Munster’s transition has happened already, in Rob Penney’s two week pre-season? That Nick Williams is the new Kieran Read? Errr .. no. All 4 winning sides have new coaches – the urgency that comes with that has played a major part in our view – it’s easier to hit the ground running when everything is up for grabs. Let’s withhold judgement on the provinces’ prospects for a while yet. That said, the manner in which the Munster backs got on James Downey’s wavelength was impressive and Laulala showed why he won’t be shoved out of the 13 jersey just because Keith Earls really likes playing there. More of that sort of thing.
Its the Messiah! Or maybe its Brian
So, Nick Williams has put his “lifestyle issues” behind him, and blasted would-be Glasgow tacklers asunder for the 50 minutes he was on the field. Jared Payne (admittedly not a complete newbie) looked high class. Rob Herring was solid and the lineout smooth. It’s been an impressive weekend for Ulster’s summer signings – long may it continue. Robbie Diack looked a new man and Lewis Stevenson was prominent, doing both seen and unseen work. It’s good news for the depth chart in Ravers, and certainly puts the commenters 1-0 up on WoC. That said, Niall O’Connor’s performance was below par to say the least (admittedly, he improved as the game went on) – you simply cannot have a fly-half standing so far back when you have so many strike backs on the field. We thought (and think) Ulster would not have the depth to cope of two fronts, but it was an encouraging start.
Told you so, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Oooooooooooooohhhh!
The most enjoyable game of the weekend was undoubtedly Wasps-Quins in the Premiership. Wasps went 40-13 up, helped by a blitz of tries from their pacy wings – but then Quins clicked into gear and hammered 4 quick tries, then winning with a last minute penalty from Nuck. Exeter hockeyed Sale 43-6 and two other sides won with try bonus points (Sarries, Leicester). Averaging more than 5 tries a game, it’s the new Super 14.
Bish, Bash, Bosh
In contrast to last season’s mess, Biarritz are flying high in the Top 14, topping the log with 3 wins and a bonus point – the Basques have resolved to take it seriously this year after last season, when they were scratching against relegation and only got back into the HEC through the Amlin Vase. Boring bosh-merchants Toulon, Toulouse, Castres and Racing Metro are all in play-off positions, but its Clermont who set Week 3 on fire, scoring 7 tries (the same as Toulon, Toulouse, Castres and Racing Metro put together) and conceding 3 to Perpignan in a 53-31 basketball game – we didn’t see it, but wish we had. More of Clermont, less of scrummage/drop goal contests please.