The Gallagher Premiership called time on its first block of fixtures of the season this past weekend, as all 12 teams now turn their attention to European competition for the next two weeks.
A Danny Cipriani-led Gloucester pulled off a very impressive 35-21 victory over Wasps at the Ricoh, as the fly-half made his former team pay for letting him go, whilst Leicester Tigers took the spoils in the East Midlands derby at Twickenham, beating Northampton Saints, 23-15. Elsewhere, Worcester Warriors were rampant at Sixways, beating Bristol Bears, 45-7, adding further excitement to the relegation battle that will play out in the Premiership this season.
As ever, we have rounded up the top performers in the competition from the past three days, but do you agree with our calls?
- Jonah Holmes, Leicester Tigers
The full-back excelled with his decision-making and execution in challenging conditions at Twickenham. He set up both of Leicester’s tries with good counter-attacking play and did not look at all fazed by the rain and wind at HQ, competently passing, offloading and dealing with high balls, whilst others struggled to keep hold of the pill.
- Charlie Sharples, Gloucester
Sharples was fizzing at the Ricoh and was fair value for the two tries he picked up. Running back inside against the grain, Wasps struggled to pick up the veteran wing defensively, whose footwork and eye for a gap were key in the Cherry and Whites picking up the away win over their playoff rivals.
- Elliot Daly, Wasps
Daly was the standout player in an out of sorts performance from Wasps. His positional kicking was precise, he threatened with the ball in hand and his ability to move through the gears was difficult for Gloucester to contain. Gloucester had a stranglehold on possession and field position for much of the game, but Daly shone in the limited opportunities that Wasps got.
A mention, too, for Worcester’s Francois Venter, with the outside centre showing off his defensive instincts in a rampant win for his side against Bristol.
This will make Eddie Jones smile ??????
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) October 7, 2018
- Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sale Sharks
Nods to Kyle Eastmond, Ryan Mills and Alex Lozowski, but the South African was pivotal for Sale at the AJ Bell. His direct carrying gave Sale better penetration than they’ve had for most of the season so far and his ability to draw in defenders to the tackle area let the Sharks thrive in subsequent phases. He wasn’t a one-dimensional sledgehammer, either, with his pace, footwork and offloading also impressive against the Falcons.
- Santiago Cordero, Exeter Chiefs
Cordero’s ability to make the first one or two chasing players miss continues to be vital to Exeter in this young season. His counter-attacking allowed Exeter to exert a territorial advantage, particularly in the second half, and with Jack Nowell lined up opposite him, it was a case of Bath having to pick their poison when kicking the ball away to the visitors at the Rec.
- Danny Cipriani, Gloucester
A fitting performance to celebrate winning the Premiership Player of the Month award for September, the fly-half was in complete control at his old stomping ground. Cipriani’s play on the gain-line was ruthless as usual, ghosting towards holes on multiple occasions, only to make a pinpoint pass and send a runner free, having drawn defenders inside to him. He also created Ben Vellacott’s try with a perfectly weighted kick inside off his left foot, whilst running at full-tilt.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) October 7, 2018
- Francois Hougaard, Worcester Warriors
Hougaard was extremely sharp at Sixways and the Worcester attack flowed around him in a relentless first half. His quick tempo, accurate distribution and proclivity to keep phases alive, Hougaard was an energy that Bristol just could not deal with defensively. In a more even second half, he stood out with his defensive work and an efficient kicking game, which saw Worcester survive multiple Bristol forays into their 22, maintaining the large margin of victory they built in the first half.
- Ben Moon, Exeter Chiefs
The game at the Rec on Friday night played host to perhaps the two best pure scrummaging looseheads in the Premiership, and it was Moon that came out of the contest with his stock boosted the most. He had a lot of joy at the set-piece against Henry Thomas and though he didn’t need to get through a mountain of work in the loose, he provided his side with a solid platform when Bath had threatened to head into a potentially significant lead early in the game.
- Jamie George, Saracens
Another flawless performance at the lineout, as well as proving to be a creative threat in loose play. George didn’t run Quins ragged, which is partly due to their efficient defensive display, but he was frequently looking for space to run into it and mixed it up well with some strong carries in the tight, keeping Quins honest around the breakdown.
An honourable mention goes to George’s opposite number, Max Crumpton, who turned in a strong display of his own.
- Joe Heyes, Leicester Tigers
The man Heyes replaced in the 73rd minute, Dan Cole, also showed up well at Twickenham, but it’s a mark of the seven-minute spell Heyes put in that he warrants mention here. The 19-year-old crumpled the Northampton scrum on three occasions after coming on, as well as tidying up loose ball, with the game still in the balance. There are tightheads who did more this past weekend, but none who operated as effectively as Heyes, albeit in a short cameo.
- David Ribbans, Northampton Saints
Ribbans fronted up physically at Twickenham and though his side slipped to defeat, he was a thorn in Leicester’s side throughout. He carried strongly around the fringes, tackled powerfully and frequently, and was a disruptive force defensively at the mauls.
- Gerbrandt Grobler, Gloucester
An all-South African engine room, with Grobler continuing to make his mark down at Kingsholm. It was a performance not too different to the one Ribbans put in, with Grobler’s impressive physicality key to Gloucester picking up the win at the Ricoh. His carrying found soft spots in Wasps’ fringe defence and he was a brick wall on the gain-line defensively.
- Marco Mama, Worcester Warriors
Mama was a spark plug for Worcester at Sixways. He danced his way to a try with some exceptional footwork, caused all kinds of problems for Bristol at the contact area and carried and tackled strongly throughout the game. Zach Mercer was also in fine form for Bath, but Mama just edged him out, such was his contribution in Worcester’s heavy win.
- Chris Robshaw, Harlequins
A mention for the impressive Tom Curry up at the AJ Bell, but it is Curry’s international teammate who stole the show at the position this week.
Not only was Robshaw tireless in defence, something which we have all come to expect from him, he was frequently making tackles on the gain-line that were throwing Saracens’ ball-carriers back, denying the likes of Mako Vunipola, Will Skelton and George Kruis the front-foot ball they usually thrive on providing around the fringes. His 30 tackles were tied for the most in the match and given that very few of them were passive tackles, the fact he missed none over 80 minutes is quite the achievement.
- Billy Vunipola, Saracens
It was a gargantuan performance from the bullocking N8, who was frequently Saracens’ go-to man to carry off of nine. He clocked up a quite extraordinary 28 carries against Quins, the last of which saw him cross the try-line for a much-deserved score. He was clean dealing with the high balls, too, and despite all of his recent injury struggles, looked in top physical condition at the Stoop.
In other news: World Cup-winner Mike Tindall picks his preferred England midfield ahead of the autumn internationals.
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