Harlequins managed to get their domestic season back on track as they left it late to see off London Irish on Sunday. With both teams profiting from individual errors in the first half as Danny Care and Guy Armitage went over for Quins and Irish respectively, the vital moment came in the final minute when Quins centre Tom Casson touched down to help secure a 31-28 victory. Irish were appalled at the decision, given by the video ref, as Casson appeared to knock the ball on before grounding it. After multiple replays, it appeared inconclusive at best and even Casson looked surprised that it was given but after back-to back defeats, Quins were relieved to get the win. Both sides looked to play passing rugby and Quins second try was testament to that after some slick passing, including a deft offload by Matt Hopper which allowed Tom Williams to cross over in the corner. Irish will be disappointed to lose as Ian Humphrey’s boot notched 26 points and were denied in cruel circumstances at the death.
Northampton were finally knocked off the top of the table after a 16-6 loss to Saracens. Although the result was disappointing, it is the uncertain injury prognosis of key men Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes that will cause the greatest concern for both club and country. Neither managed to see the first-half out after succumbing to knee injuries and will now report to the England medical team to be assessed. While both men would be absent for Northampton due to the Autumn Internationals, it is England head coach Stuart Lancaster who is left with the biggest headache. Although Lawes has been absent for England since the Six Nations, it is the loss of Hartley that will cause the most problems. He captained the England side in the final Test of the South Africa tour in the summer and has developed into a key man for the side. His potential absence uncovers the fact that England have very little depth at hooker. With Lee Mears retired from international duty and Joe Gray and Rob Webber injured, it leaves Leicester’ uncapped Tom Youngs as the only senior option. London Irish’s David Paice is likely to be called up from the Saxons as cover. Neither has the experience of Hartley, and Lancaster will be hoping he can return quickly to face the examination by the Southern Hemisphere tourists.
When England announced their squad for the Autumn Internationals, some were disappointed that Gloucester’s young fly-half Freddie Burns wasn’t included. After this weekend, those calls will have become louder. Burns was brilliant against Leicester on Saturday, and helped his team record a 27-21 victory after weathering a Leicester assault when down to 13 men. Against the probable England No10 Toby Flood, Burns managed to adapt to the blustery conditions much better. His talent was highlighted with two kicks of the highest quality, the first a hanging kick off and the second a perfectly weighted chip allowed winger Charlie Sharples to score with not even a minute on the board. It was just the sort of attacking invention that England has lacked in the back line for a number of years. Another man who hasn’t received the international recognition his talent deserves, James Simpson-Daniel, offered a timely reminder of his ability with a moment of pure inspiration to help secure victory. Simpson-Daniel set off on a mesmerizing 40 metre run, leaving a number of Leicester defenders clutching thin air before offloading to Akapusi Qera to score the decisive try. If he can stay injury free, which has been a problem throughout his career, then he represents a proven alternative to the young tyros in the England squad.
Sale Sharks miserable start to the season continued on Friday night with a 23-16 loss to Worcester. Fly-half Danny Cipriani got his starting spot wish in the hope he could ignite their season but was upstaged by his veteran Worcester counterpart, Andy Goode, who scored 18 points. Despite scores from Mark Cueto and Nick MacLeod, Sale were punished for not making their possession count by a fine solo effort from David Lemi and Goode. Sitting bottom of the table and winless after seven games, talk about the recruitment of former All Black coach John Mitchell is intensifying. Chief executive Steve Diamond insists that he will work alongside head coach Bryan Redpath but it is clear that despite a talented squad Sale are missing something and need to rectify it soon to avoid being cut adrift at the bottom of the table.
Two tries each from wingers Christian Wade and Tom Varndell helped Wasps beat London Welsh 29-19. With both in blistering form, they were the real difference between the sides and Wade will be looking to push on from his England Saxons place to reach the elite squad. With England choosing three wingers for the Autumn Tests, Wade must have just missed out but Wasps will be grateful to have him available during the international them throughout the Autumn Internationals. After a miserable season last year, Wasps have regrouped and become more stable off the pitch and look a much tougher prospect. With the dynamic duo of Wade and Varndell on the wing and only a few players on international duty, Wasps will be looking to build on this victory and make a charge up the table.
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