Wasps arrested their slide with an important away win at Bristol Bears, Northampton Saints blew Sale Sharks away early at Franklin’s Gardens and Saracens were able to regain top spot in the table, as a late flourish saw them snap up a bonus point win against Leicester Tigers.
We have rounded up the top performers from the round below, but do you agree with our calls?
- George Furbank, Northampton Saints
The Northampton full-back was a whirling array of knees and elbows as he proved a nightmare for the Sale defenders to track and bring down. Furbank’s ability to keep shifting the point of contact through a mix of incisive lines and good footwork meant that he was regularly able to break the first line of defence and get his side moving forward.
The wing showcased his blistering speed on the outside against Worcester Warriors and reminded anyone watching why it is the hardest thing to defend on a rugby pitch. The quicker than fast footwork was on show, too, drawing multiple defenders to him, which allowed Mike Brown to cruise over for a try in the first half of the game. Ahsee Tuala deserves recognition, too, and there wouldn’t be too many complaints if the entire back line of this XV were wearing the colours of Northampton.
- Rory Hutchinson, Northampton Saints
A nod to Piers O’Conor, who was in good form for Bristol, but Hutchinson was in a masterful mood at Franklin’s Gardens. The speed and flatness of his passes in the 13 channel regularly caught the Sale defence flat-footed and sprung Northampton carriers into space and big gains. He was moved inside to 12 after a Dan Biggar injury forced a re-jig of the back line, but he continued to impress in the tighter confines and capped his display with a well-deserved try.
- Piers Francis, Northampton Saints
Without doubt, one of Francis’ best performances in a Northampton shirt. He ripped into the game early as a second playmaker outside of Biggar, before moving into 10 when the Welshman left the field. His line-breaks, offloading and vision to put runners through holes with his passing were all excellent on Saturday afternoon. Saints’ pack delivered a platform, but it was the ruthless and clinical nature of their back line, with Francis spearheading that, that really stood out at the Gardens.
- Ollie Thorley, Gloucester
His time away in the England camp clearly hadn’t eroded Thorley’s chemistry with his Gloucester teammates, as the wing wrought his regular brand of havoc against the Exeter defensive line on Friday evening. Thorley ran with power and speed at Kingsholm, regularly evading contact and managing to find space, both in regular phase play and as a counter-attacker.
- Billy Searle, Wasps
Everything was going well for Wasps with Searle pulling the strings at 10, but a nasty-looking leg injury saw the fly-half depart just after the interval. He showcased in the first half his ability to make plays as a runner, as well an effective passing game on the gain-line, two of the key reasons why he has been able to win himself the starting spot at the club, despite the big-money addition of Lima Sopoaga. Wasps will be hoping the injury is not as bad as it looked on the pitch.
- Cobus Reinach, Northampton Saints
The South African’s support-running was excellent on Saturday afternoon, with the scrum-half grabbing two tries as he trailed the breaks of Lewis Ludlam and Francis. The tempo he instilled and the crispness of his distribution from the ruck was a key component in Northampton wrapping up the bonus point inside the first half.
A mention, too, for Danny Care, who was in almost-as-devastating form at the Stoop.
- Joe Marler, Harlequins
The Harlequins loosehead delivered a number of dominant tackles in a defensive performance that, whilst shipping 33 points to Worcester, was very effective for large periods. He scrummaged well against Nic Schonert, helped Harlequins sack the Worcester maul and was a constant irritant at the contact area, particularly clearing out and trying to deliver as quick ball as possible for the home side.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
The front rower was his usual livewire self at Ashton Gate, consistently offering himself as a ball-carrier. His powerful surges brought Bristol front-foot ball and territorial advantage, whilst his offload for Harry Randall’s try was impressive. A couple of throws went astray but for the most part the Bristol lineout went smoothly, whilst he played the entire 80 minutes, too.
- Vincent Koch, Saracens
The tighthead didn’t have his most influential attacking game, but he was pivotal in Saracens wearing down and surviving the early Leicester powerplay. He delivered line-speed in the defensive line and was frequently able to slow down Tigers’ ball at the breakdown, forcing the visitors to carry into a set defence.
- Will Rowlands, Wasps
Rowlands continues to step up in a relatively disappointing season for Wasps. The lock displayed his physicality in the tighter areas of the pitch, both breaking and defending the gain-line in attack and defence respectively. He gathered up a loose ball and galloped in for a rare long-distance try in the second half, a score which took Wasps beyond Bristol’s reach.
- Franco Mostert, Gloucester
A mention for Chris Vui, who was excellent for Bristol, but Mostert just edges him out, with an all-action performance against Exeter. The Springbok was everywhere on the Kingsholm pitch, influencing the game as a carrier, a tackler, a breakdown operator and with efficiency at the set-piece. He helped bring the solidity that in seasons gone by Gloucester have lacked and helped them survive their early profligacy with ball in hand.
An energetic performance from the second row, who was filling in at six in the absence of Sam Underhill, Taulupe Faletau and Tom Ellis this weekend. He carried strongly against Newcastle and along with Zach Mercer and Dave Attwood, kept Bath moving forward and giving them the foundation to launch their back line. An impressive outing that only reinforces his value as both a second and back row.
- Lewis Ludlam, Northampton Saints
The openside clearly relished his duel with Sale’s Ben Curry and was a constant pest to the visitors from the north-west, both as a ball-carrier and at the contact area. He burst through the Sale line and showed good awareness to set Reinach up for his first try and was one of the difference makers in delivering quick ball for Saints, which Chris Boyd’s side repeatedly turned into tries.
- Ben Morgan, Gloucester
Morgan carried with purpose and good effect all evening at Kingsholm, repeatedly denting the usually hard-to-breach Exeter defensive line. With Gloucester moving forward, thanks in large part to Morgan’s efforts, the Cherry and Whites were able to up the tempo and test Exeter. He capped his display by finishing off a flowing try from the break of Thorley, deep inside Gloucester’s half.
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