Top Stories: Gallagher Premiership Round 12
After a weekend of Premiership Rugby action that precedes an agonisingly long five-week break, we review the top stories from the twelfth round of Gallagher Premiership action.
Diamond's Old School Trumps The Best
Steve Diamond has come under ample helpings of slack over the last seven days for his old school methods, but the Sale Sharks' boss's methods seem to have been vindicated. Felling the reigning Premiership Champions is no easy feat.
The fact that Sale managed to both take their own brand of rugby to the field whilst getting the better of Saracens on the gainline and ruffling enough feathers to put the visitors off their stride is a performance worthy of praise; and potentially season-defining.
With the Curry brothers, captain fantastic Jono Ross and the durable Ross Harrison leading the charge, Sale have a steady platform to survive the international window and supply a backline saturated with stardust.
The only question remains, can the Sharks capitalise on the momentum Diamond's old school pack are providing when fly-half Robert du Preez returns to South Africa at the end of his short-term deal?
Wacky Finish Masks Poor Showings All Round At Sixways
Headlines surround the rather peculiar finish in Worcester that saw visiting side Bath finish with just eleven men left on the field of play, but neither eventual winners Worcester or 99th-minute heartbreak victims Bath can take significant promise away from their performances.
Bath dominated the scoreboard in the first-half off the back of Worcester's indiscipline. Four penalties from the boot of Freddie Burns and fortuitous field position for Zach Mercer's 32nd-minute score - following a lineout steal for Josh Bayliss from a poor Warriors set-piece - were the sole sources of points for Todd Blackadder's charges; failing to register a single score in the second 40.
Indiscipline proved infectious during the second-half, with Worcester now benefitting from their opponent's indiscretions. Having to wait until your opposition are down to 11 men and not the initial 14 to score the winning try may be the difference between relegation this year.
A near-priceless victory for Solomons' charges, but they are far from being out of danger. Equally, Blackadder will have spent the last few days pondering his side's complete disciplinary capitulation after having presented themselves as firm favourites at the break.
Ford Master Class Sheds Light On Cipriani Factor
There are few points to be made following Leicester's Welford Road victory on Saturday, only that the battle of the fly-halves proved a telling narrative. George Ford was back to his puppeteering best, though admittedly aided by a dominant pack smarting after coming off second best at the Rec the previous weekend.
Equally, the 'Cipriani Factor' has become a self-fulfilling prophecy over the last fortnight. Gloucester and Italy openside Jake Polledri described Cipriani's presence to something akin to having a coach out there for the full 80 minutes; a description never more appropriate than Saturday’s showing. Gloucester's accuracy has dropped markedly during the former Wasps man's absence.
Despite seeing a number of forwards return to fitness, this seems to be an issue creeping into the pack; seeing a notable drop in precision to a unit previously boasting booming form.
Bears Continue To Defy Expectations
Plenty predicted Pat Lam's Bears to have enough star power to avoid immediate re-relegation during the latest pre-season debates, but you'll struggle to find a single fan that backed the Premiership returnees to go toe-to-toe with the all-conquering Exeter Chiefs pack.
Restricting the Chiefs to just two tries throughout a full 80 whilst holding their own up front in a much-changed pack is not an achievement that can be allowed to go under the radar. Furthermore, this is the second time in five weeks that the Bears have come within moments of turning over the 2017 Champions in the final throws of a game, seeing one potentially controversial refereeing decision deny them a home victory over Exeter on the 1st of December.
With Newcastle and Worcester struggling to fully extract themselves from the bottom of the table, Lam's pre-season goal of achieving Champions Cup rugby with a sixth-place finish may not be as outlandish as first thought.
Gustard's Charges Hit Purple Patch
A rough ride to start his debut season in a leading role for former England defence coach Paul Gustard has eventually profited calmer waters. The emergence of the Premiership's latest star, blindside flanker Alex Dombrandt, has gone some way to guiding Quins' recent success, but Gustard's system as a whole must take the lion's share of the credit.
Defensive systems can take time to bed in, and a reliable system whilst playing without the ball has allowed Harlequins' thrilling backline to do what they do best. Summer signing Nathan Earle is perhaps the man to enjoy this the most, with the constantly excellent Joe Marchant coming a close second, back to threatening as both a strike runner and a playmaker outside of England's most capped scrum-half Danny Care and All Blacks centre Francis Saili.
Meanwhile, Dean Richards' Newcastle seem bereft of ideas when it comes to climbing out of the hole they find themselves in. Caught in contention for relegation after achieving semi-final action last season seems to have hit the Falcons hard and it's difficult to see exactly what areas the league's most northern outpost must address to escape their current predicament at the bottom of the table.
Have Wasps Just Saved Their Season?
Things were beginning to look ugly for Dai Young and co last week after racking up yet another defeat in a concerning losing streak. Injuries, financial question marks and significant rumours surrounding the departures of both key players and wider squad members will have done nothing to aid the Coventry side's morale.
Yesterday's home victory over an in-form Northampton Saints could be the most significant result of their season, ending a five-game losing streak and providing both fans and players with a much-needed mental lift. Two weeks of Champions Cup action and three further weekends of Premiership Cup fixtures is a long time for unrest and internal discord to fester, a home victory may well have saved Wasps' season's hopes.
Ali Stokes' team of the week
1. Ross Harrison
2. Rob Webber
3. Dan Cole
4. Gerbrandt Grobler
5. Jonny Hill
6. Alex Dombrandt
7. Thomas Young
8. Zach Mercer
9. Ben Youngs
10. George Ford
11. Bryce Heem
12. Sam James
13. Joe Marchant
14. Cooper Vuna
15. Jonah Holmes