Round 17, or ‘Derby Week’ as it could have been more accurately called, did not disappoint in the Gallagher Premiership this past weekend.
Northampton Saints sealed bragging rights over local rivals Leicester Tigers, downing them 29-15 at Welford Road, whilst Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors picked up what could prove to be four crucial points each in their wins over Sale Sharks and Bristol Bears respectively.
We have run the rule over all the action and put our XV of the week together below.
The full-back was one of the few Quins players not to concede a penalty at the Olympic Stadium, where the side from Twickenham coughed up an eye-watering 17 indiscretions in total. Brown was his usual ultra-reliable self at the back dealing with Saracens’ kicking game and he found joy more than once on the counter-attack. It was a clean performance and one that the watching Eddie Jones will have taken note of.
- Tom Collins, Northampton Saints
Collins had a hand in all three of Northampton’s tries on Friday evening, finishing two off himself as well as setting up teammate Cobus Reinach for Saints’ other score. He demonstrated his pace, footwork and awareness in a comprehensive attacking performance in the first half, before delivering defensively after the interval and keeping Jonny May relatively quiet.
- Rory Hutchinson, Northampton Saints
Another masterclass in the 13 jersey from Hutchinson, who is one of, if not the most in-form player in the Premiership at the moment. Just as he has done in recent weeks, he mixed up his game superbly at Welford Road, combining a dangerous running threat with an ability to link up the midfield with the duo of Collins and Taqele Naiyaravoro on the outside. His array of passing on the gain-line was a difference-maker for Northampton.
A similar story to Hutchinson here, with Atkinson shining in Gloucester’s win over Wasps courtesy of the versatility of his play in the midfield. He tested and exposed the Wasps defence multiple times as a carrier, as well as consistently being able to facilitate play outside of him with a good passing game on or close to the gain-line. Both he and Hutchinson have excelled in these dual roles this season and their presences in the centres have allowed their sides to play with multiple dimensions.
- Sinoti Sinoti, Newcastle Falcons
The Samoan brought a constant source of metres and territorial advantage on the left wing for Newcastle, whilst also making himself known at the contact area and in defence. In a tight game at St James’ Park, Sinoti delivered the little moments of excellence that allowed Newcastle to relieve pressure and get into positions from which the boot of Sonatane Takulua could punish Sale.
- Danny Cipriani, Gloucester
Nods to both Dan Biggar and Marcus Smith, who were very effective in their respective games, but it was another exemplary showing from Cipriani in the art of playmaking. His deft hands, defence-splitting passes and multiple involvements in the same phases were all too much for his former side to deal with as he guided Gloucester to 3rd in the table and pushed Wasps down into the bottom five.
- Cobus Reinach, Northampton Saints
An honourable mention for Takulua, whose unerring boot was pivotal for Newcastle in their win over Sale, but for overall performance, we have Reinach just shading it. The South African brought tempo, support-running and an unfailing awareness of where the space on the pitch was to Northampton’s effort at Welford Road. When the focus switched from attack to defence in the second half, he was also reliable positionally and as a cover defender.
Shock, @c_reinach scored again ?
That puts him joint top of the #GallagherPrem pile with a whopping 1??0?? from scrum-half ?
And @SaintsRugby can do no wrong ?
Comment below where you see them finishing in the table ? pic.twitter.com/NrCBT5y5Fe
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 23, 2019
The prop helped give Exeter a dominance at the scrum and smelled blood in the water after Henry Thomas had to leave the game early with injury. A penalty try from an Exeter scrum in the second half was the peak of the set-piece dominance exhibited by the side from the south-west. Hepburn also contributed significantly to denying Bath front-foot ball around the fringes.
George fitted seamlessly back into the Saracens XV after his productive Six Nations with England. He connected on all 19 of his lineouts and really stood up as a carrier. He ran a number of incisive lines that the Quins defence struggled to read and hold the hooker to minimal ground on without committing multiple defenders.
- Paul Hill, Northampton Saints
A strong showing from the tighthead, who is beginning to back up the early promise he showed when Jones made him a regular feature in the Australian’s early England matchday squads. He went well against former England U20 teammate Ellis Genge in the scrum at Welford Road and also offered plenty of enthusiasm and power as a ball-carrier, helping to lay the foundation for Northampton’s exciting back line to cut open the Leicester defence.
- Will Skelton, Saracens
A gargantuan performance from the appropriately-sized Australian second row. Skelton’s two tries proved pivotal for Saracens at the Olympic Stadium, whilst his carrying constantly put his side on the front-foot. Harlequins’ line-speed was effective at restricting space out wide for Saracens, but defensively they struggled to limit Saracens close to the ruck and that effort was spearheaded by Skelton.
- Chris Vui, Bristol Bears
Mentions are due for the work rate of both Alex Moon and Andrew Davidson this weekend, with the duo important cogs in their sides’ wins. Vui may have ended up on the losing side at Ashton Gate, but his carrying constantly tormented the Worcester defence, whilst his work at the lineout was another source of continuity and positive rugby for Bristol.
- Ted Hill, Worcester Warriors
The flanker’s early try was indicative of his game. He powered through the tackles of three Bristol forwards and used his leg drive to propel himself over the try line. The combination of his power and his footwork going in contact meant that he was regularly able to get Worcester over the gain-line and get the rest of his team moving onto the ball and able to build momentum and tempo.
- John Hardie, Newcastle Falcons
The Scottish international was pivotal in the repeated defensive stands that Newcastle had to make against Sale on Saturday afternoon. He had notable success going low and chopping carriers, before springing back to his feet and being ready to repel the next phase of attack. When he wasn’t tackling, he was spoiling any kind of tempo Sale were hoping to get at the breakdown.
- Ben Morgan, Gloucester
A strong game with ball-in-hand from Morgan, who put down a marker against England rival Nathan Hughes at Kingsholm. He offered the Cherry and Whites a physical presence close to the ruck, but he was also comfortable and effective further out, both as a carrier and as a playmaker linking with the midfield and back three.
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