The Gallagher Premiership returned for its seventh round of the season on Friday night, after a five-week absence due to the Heineken Champions Cup and Premiership Cup competitions.
Northampton Saints’ 36-17 victory over Wasps was perhaps the pick of the results, with Chris Boyd’s faith in the club’s academy players paying off and then some against last year’s Premiership semi-finalists. Gloucester also caught the eye with their 36-13 humbling of Leicester Tigers at Kingsholm, whilst Saracens survived their raft of international call-ups, narrowly beating Sale Sharks, 31-25, at Allianz Park.
We have rounded up the top performers from the weekend’s action.
- Charles Piutau, Bristol Bears
Piutau just sees off Jason Woodward, who was excellent against Leicester on Friday night, but the former All Black reminded us all just why Bristol were happy to invest so much money into his signing. A quick tap penalty saw him break the deadlock for his side and establish a lead, a lead which they would not to relinquish until the final moment of the game. His counter-attacking ability was one of the key differences between the two sides on Sunday, bringing that extra little bit of composure and execution that kept moves alive and stretched the Exeter defence.
- Taqele Naiyravoro, Northampton Saints
A little bending of our own rules, here, as Naiyaravoro shifts over from the left wing, as one of the two standout performances by wings this weekend, despite neither donning the 14 jersey. The former Waratah ran rampant against Wasps and so much of Northampton’s positive play came off the back of one of Naiyaravoro’s big breaks, including a debut try for outside centre Fraser Dingwall. In short, Wasps had no answer for him.
- Nick Tompkins, Saracens
An energetic, balanced display from Tompkins, who contributed strongly to Saracens’ potent offensive first half, as well as their defensive efforts in what proved to be a tight game with Sale. His defensive decision-making was particularly impressive, with the attacking talent the former Junior World Championship-winner has to offer being long-established.
- Toby Flood, Newcastle Falcons
Drafted in at the last minute due to an injury to Johnny Williams, Flood showed that he is still one of the most composed operators in the Premiership, despite being on the back foot all night. His defensive work was particularly good, with his tackling and pilfering work at the breakdown denying a Quins side that had their foot on Newcastle’s throat for most of the match.
- Ollie Thorley, Gloucester
The 22-year-old grabbed two tries at Kingsholm on Friday night, the second of which is a top candidate for try of the season. His pace and work rate tormented Leicester all night and numerous defenders were left clutching at thin air over the 80 minutes. He made his presence known defensively, too, chasing back and putting in a try-saving tackle when the game was still in the balance.
- Robert du Preez, Sale Sharks
Not the expansive and incisive masterclass we have come to expect in the Premiership week in, week out, but the South African’s old school orchestration nearly brought Sale what would have been an extremely valuable away win. He played the territory game well, kicked accurately at goal and was capable of creating openings with the ball in his hand when the opportunities presented themselves. He and Bristol’s Callum Sheedy were neck and neck this week.
- Charlie Mulchrone, Harlequins
The best thing you can say about Mulchrone’s performance is that he completely negated the absence of Danny Care. The scrum-half brought energy and tempo around the fringes, exposing Newcastle’s defence when it wasn’t set or had left holes close to the ruck. His distribution was also strong and helped the Harlequins back line prosper with quick, accurate ball.
A mention, too, for Andy Uren’s display against Exeter, with the Bristolian also showing many of the things which distinguished Mulchrone’s display.
- Yann Thomas, Bristol Bears
A busy performance in the loose backed up by a solid scrummaging display, admittedly against an Exeter side missing both Tomas Francis and Harry Williams. Thomas made a couple of big breaks during the game and showed the handling skills to keep the phases going when he was inevitably caught by faster defenders.
- James Hanson, Gloucester
The stereotype of Leicester as a well-drilled, unrelenting pack that can squeeze games out of a side on their own is long gone, but they are still a formidable prospect, especially with a lack of international call-ups this season. Hanson had the Gloucester set-piece ticking over very smoothly at Kingsholm, giving the foundation for the Cherry and White back line to up the tempo and really put Tigers to the sword on Friday night.
- Jon Welsh, Newcastle Falcons
The Scottish tighthead gave a good account of himself in an otherwise disappointing Newcastle performance at the Stoop. Lewis Boyce is a bright prospect at loosehead, but Welsh gave him some valuable scrummaging lessons on Friday night and although it wasn’t enough to get Newcastle into a winning position or even a losing bonus point, it was a duel won for the Falcons.
- Dave Attwood, Bath
The first half of an all-Bath second row, Attwood brought his trademark physicality to the party against Worcester, as the Bath pack suffocated and outmuscled the men from the West Midlands. Displays like this will do Attwood no harm in a contract year, nor is it likely to decrease interest from the Top 14.
- Elliott Stooke, Bath
The recent England call-up was busy at the Rec on Saturday, shouldering the responsibilities of keeping Bath on the front foot. The lock got through a mountain of work on the fringes, either picking and going or taking the ball as first receiver, and had plenty of success against Worcester’s defensive line. He also helped disrupt the Worcester lineout, which fell off significantly in the second half, and capped his performance with a well-earned try late in the game.
- Alex Dombrandt, Harlequins
A Premiership debut to remember for Dombrandt, who looked very comfortable with the increased levels of expectation that come with the step up from the Premiership Cup. He sniffed out and snagged an intercept, which saw him gallop home for a try, but it was the power he brought in his carries and tackling, invariably winning the gain-line with and without the ball, that also stood out.
- Lewis Ludlam, Northampton Saints
Ludlam has quietly been having a very productive season, as he attempts to establish himself as Chris Boyd’s number one option at openside. He was involved all over the pitch against Wasps, stepping up as one of Saints’ primary ball-carriers, as well as bringing good line speed and aggressive, proactive tackles at the gain-line.
- Josh Bayliss, Bath
The openside-turned-number eight just pipped a savvy display from Harlequins’ James Chisholm to make the cut, ensuring a healthy number of the pack selected this week were from Bath. Bayliss carried consistently well against Worcester and was also influential providing quick ball at the contact area when Bath were in possession.
Watch: Eddie Jones and George Ford react to England’s nervy win over Japan.
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