From a Lion mauling to a Shark attack there has been allsorts going on in the world of rugby last week. Let’s start with the Ospreys player who somehow thought it would be a nice idea to put his hand through the fence and give a lion a nice little stroke. Scott Baldwin – what were you thinking! Probably best not to laugh too much until we know what injury the lad has to his hand but it was the priceless reaction of his teammate you had to giggle at. After hearing Scott’s heart rending scream you can hear him on the video just inquiring politely – ‘Alright boy?’ I can imagine the answer to that question.
The next mauling was of my old team Gloucester in the shape of a thumping up in Sale. Sad to say it seems we are yet again in for another season of inconsistency from the Cherry & Whites. Sale are not easy to beat up in Salford but no-one likes to see a proud team like Glos receive such a hammering. Can they turn it around? They have a perfect chance to do that against Northampton this weekend back at Kingsholm. What we can’t do is write them off - nor any team that suffers a big defeat. Sometimes in a game the result runs away from you and unless you are suffering that kind of thrashing every week it does not define you as a team. What does is how they react on Saturday and I expect we will see that reaction.
As for the Premiership what I like is that it does have a new look about it. How fantastic so see Newcastle Falcons back up the top end of the table. They have a good squad and a shrewd coach in the form of Dean Richards plus an excellent academy that is able to soak up all the talent in the North East. With two of their key signings Toby Flood and Maximie Mermoz still to come in they look at least Top 6. Exeter Chiefs are on the menu this week with a beast of a trip down to Sandy Park. Should be a cracker of a game with the Falcons believing they have a chance. Exeter meanwhile showed Champion spirit to rescue a losing bonus point against a fired up Leicester at Welford Road. The Tigers were unbelievable in defence making dominant tackles all over the field. The lock Harry Wells caught my eye as just the sort of feisty forward Welford Road has missed over the past couple of years.
Worcester Warriors meanwhile make the short journey over to Bath desperately looking for some points. With the strongest league we have seen for years it has been very hard for them but I would not be too gloomy if I was a Worcester fan. They ran Wasps very close and have been away to some tough old sides. Against Sarries last week they showed lots in defence denying the visitors a try bonus. The mercurial scrum half Francois Houghaard should be back from South Africa and he does make that side tick. Bath must be cockahoop after their unexpected win against Wasps. Both sides were decimated by injuries so it was a pretty level playing field. With home advantage I still expected Wasps to nick it however Bath were brilliant in defence and closed down Wasps attacking space so effectively that they could not score a single try. Worcester will therefore find that tries could be the problem against Bath so will need kicking boots with them and some clever plans to find a way over the white wash.
Sunday’s game of Saracens against Wasps would have at the beginning of the season seemed a no brainer for BT Sport to cover. Not so sure now. Wasps seem to have more in the physio room than on the training pitch and with a smallish squad they are creaking badly.
Saracens are also depleted with injuries to key players but have much better strength in depth so it looks like Wasps will travel more in hope than expectation.
Saracens will undoubtedly have an eye on the start of the European Championship the following week with an away fixture against a completely rejuvenated Saints so I expect to see a few second/third string in the starting 23. I know Maro Itoje is a machine but he must need a rest and with injuries to their 3 starting back rowers the breakdown is an area I am sure Wasps will be studying keenly to look for some kind of advantage.
Final word for London Irish - the newly promoted team who started so brilliantly against Quins. Consolation if it is needed would be that they are staying in games and only Exeter has put them away. Tigers are looking ominously good as their backline is now clicking with Youngs playing out of his skin at the moment and enjoying playing with his England team mate George Ford. The Aussie Matt Toomua is also finally getting a chance to show the fans why he can command a big salary. He looks a superb signing. Another player I particularly enjoyed watching was the thunderous Greg Bateman who is bull dozing his way around the pitch. Brings joy to an old prop’s heart.
Twists and turns still to come I am sure in this league and of course that is why we love it and sport. Who needs predictability?