In Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership, the teams at the bottom of the table picked up valuable points in the final week of the November internationals.
Newcastle Falcons saw off Bath, 16-8, at Kingston Park, Worcester Warriors managed a 20-13 win over Harlequins at Sixways and Sale Sharks edged a close one with Northampton Saints, winning 18-13 at the AJ Bell.
Even Bristol Bears, who made the trip to the Ricoh Arena to take on Wasps, secured two bonus points in a 32-28 loss, effectively turning defeat into a draw.
We have rounded up the top performers from the weekend’s action.
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Watch: Michael Cheika is not a happy man following the Wallabies’ loss at Twickenham.
- Jason Woodward, Gloucester
Exeter did a decent job of strangling Gloucester out of the contest as the game went on at Sandy Park, but Woodward was a constant source of counter-attacking and threat to the Exeter defensive line. His eye for the space between defenders kept Gloucester moving forward, despite his side in general struggling to live with Exeter’s line-speed and set-piece.
- Cadan Murley, Harlequins
A fine Premiership debut for Murley, who showed that, even at just 19 years of age, he is more than able to cut it at this level. His speed and footwork made him a handful for Worcester to deal with, whilst he showed all of the responsibility defensively you could expect of a young player, including reading a Perry Humphreys break and positioning himself perfectly for the intercept.
A nod for Alex Lozowski, who did extremely well out of position on the wing.
- James O’Connor, Sale Sharks
Possibly the Australian’s best performance of the season, O’Connor mixed things up nicely in Sale’s midfield against Northampton Saints. Offensively, he was able to hurt Saints as both a runner and a playmaker on the gain-line, threading passes to the likes of Denny Solomona and Arron Reed outside of him.
- Ryan Mills, Worcester Warriors
With Worcester conceding the majority of possession and territory to Harlequins on Friday night, this was a performance of defensive rigour, rather than offensive ability from Mills. Admittedly, he did still manage to grab a try that proved vital in delivering four points for his side, but it was his work in the defensive line that really stood out, managing to make aggressive, proactive tackles efficiently, and not sacrificing line-speed in order to do so.
- Ross Neal, Wasps
The former London Irish academy man helped fire Wasps into a dominant lead that, despite a spirited Bristol comeback, they would not relinquish. He grabbed two tries and replicated a lot of the physicality that Wasps had so struggled to live with against Taqele Naiyaravoro the week before.
- Max Malins, Saracens
In a game when Saracens were missing a plethora of internationals, Malins proved to be the perfect spark plug the reigning champions, pulling strings and creating opportunities against Leicester Tigers. His break, dummy and 30m pass for Alex Lewington was a mark of his class in the game and, as his previous appearances for the club have shown, he is a more than able deputy for Owen Farrell when the fly-half is with England.
- Francois Hougaard, Worcester Warriors
As mentioned before, Quins dominated the territory and possession battles at Sixways, but that didn’t matter, as Hougaard brought a tempo and clinical edge when Worcester were in possession that was enough to see them outsmart Quins’ ever-improving defence. When the South African is given any kind of space around the fringes and can get his running game going, his teams invariably go well around him.
An honourable mention for Saracens’ Ben Spencer, who was in similarly sparkling form at Welford Road.
- Nathan Catt, Bath
It was a flat, inefficient and demoralising Bath performance up in the north-east on Friday night, with the lineout also going astray, but if there were one positive area for Bath fans to be cheerful about looking back on it, it was the scrum. Catt was the spearhead of that impressive unit, turning the screw on Jon Welsh, and many Bath players may still be scratching their heads as to why they went for the posts, and not a scrum, when they were camped right on the try line.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
How do you not pick a hooker who grabs himself a 16-minute hat-trick, as well as a 60m intercept? Thacker has been excelling in a ‘finisher’ role for Bristol and he was unlucky that his second half cameo at the Ricoh Arena couldn’t bring his side anything more than two bonus points, but it essentially turned a loss into a draw, in terms of points in the table. A mention, too, for Newcastle hooker Kyle Cooper, who was very efficient against Bath on Friday evening.
- Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers
The Leicester tighthead is not one to be cowed by Kyle Sinckler’s heroics with England, turning in a display at Welford Road which showed he still has plenty to offer England. He scrummaged well and was a potent carrier around the fringes, negating much of Saracens’ impressive midfield blitz. It was a real captain’s display from the prop in the second half, as his side put together a spirited fightback.
- Calum Green, Newcastle Falcons
The lineout wasn’t flawless from a Newcastle perspective, but Green helped ensure it had a solid advantage over the Bath unit, both as an attacking jumper and a disrupter on defensive throws. He made plenty of hard yards through the game, too, and was one of Newcastle’s busier defensive operators, helping negate the possession and territorial advantages that Bath had.
- James Gaskell, Wasps
Gaskell helped keep the Wasps lineout running smoothly and made his presence known with the ball in hand at the Ricoh. He kept his side on the front-foot and that allowed the likes of Lima Sopoaga and Neal to flourish in Wasps’ high-tempo attack.
- Gary Graham, Newcastle Falcons
In a Falcons side that likes to play at pace and move the ball quickly from side to side, Graham provides some necessary muscle up front. The power of his tackling on the gain-line was a major factor as to why Bath were unable to get their attacking game going and the ensuing the frustration they felt.
- Sam Lewis, Worcester Warriors
A tough call, that could have easily gone the way of Wasps’ Thomas Young, but Lewis was influential in delivering a valuable four points for his side. He was an immovable limpet at the breakdown, tackled powerfully throughout the contest and popped up with some strong carries. It was a jack of all trades type of performance from the Welshman, who had success in everything he attempted at Sixways.
- Jean-Luc du Preez, Sale Sharks
Some notable performances from Zach Mercer, Matt Kvesic and Tom Willis, but the amount of work du Preez got through at the AJ Bell, in his Premiership debut, was something else. It seemed as though the South African was always around the ball against Northampton, carrying, tackling and influencing the breakdown throughout the contest.
Watch: Eddie Jones and Dylan Hartley speak to the media after England’s 37-18 victory over Australia at Twickenham.
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