Following a dismal start to the Premiership season with seven losses in as many games, Sale re-jigged their coaching line-up. After much speculation, Bryan Redpath was removed from his director of rugby position, and despite confusion as to whether or not he had left the club, he is now the club’s head coach. Chief executive Steve Diamond has returned from the boardroom to fill Redpath’s former role and the changes had the desired effect on the pitch as Sale registered their first win against London Irish. In a 21-9 victory, Sale recovered from the loss of Richie Gray and Cameron Shepherd before kick-off and scored two well worked tries in the first half from Nick MacLeod and Johnny Leota. The second was a great show of power from the centre after a neat inside pass from fly-half Danny Cipriani. Sale looked a much more cohesive unit with Diamond instructing his forwards to retain the ball and the backs offering a threat when given the opportunity. Irish never really got going, with their set piece suffering from the international absence of hooker David Paice and will now be looking over their shoulders as Sale moved within four points of them in the table.
Usually a volatile and spicy affair this Midlands derby suffered with a number of big name players missing. Despite Northampton including Calum Clark, the flanker who broke Leicester’s Rob Hawkins arm last season, in their starting line-up there was a distinct lack of fireworks. Leicester managed to grind out a 16-12 victory, not through class but simply because Northampton were even worse. With Toby Flood among those missing on international duty, the Tigers gave 19-year-old fly-half George Ford a start. Unfortunately for the talented youngster he endured a poor afternoon with the boot, missing five of his nine kicks. He did have a hand with the only try of the game, releasing winger Niki Govena to barrel his way through the Saints’ defence and offload to Matt Smith who touched down. After the game Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill refused to criticise Ford for his wayward kicking, instead highlighting his contribution with the ball in hand. Northampton, who have lost two on the bounce against fellow title contenders, did secure a losing bonus point but Jim Mallinder will be demanding improvement even if they are missing some of their star names over the next month.
Gloucester visited the Stoop on Saturday evening buoyed by their win against Leicester last week to face a depleted Harlequins team. Despite missing stars such as Danny Care, Chris Robshaw and Ugo Monye, Quins were able to start Mike Brown, released by England, and a fit again Nick Evans. In a thrilling game Quins ran out 28-25 winners and the fact that they came off the pitch disappointed with not securing a bonus point speaks volumes about the winning mentality director of rugby Conor O’Shea has installed. Both teams look to attack and unleash their potent backlines but it was Quins insistence of playing from anywhere that allowed them to score three first half tries. Brown and Matt Hopper scored well worked tries while Sam Smith intercepted a wayward Martyn Thomas pass to run in from over half way. Gloucester will be disappointed that they didn’t challenge Quins more as only the reliable kicking of Freddie Burns kept them in touch before a late Billy Twelvetrees score. It gave them a losing bonus point but showed them that they still need to take that next step to be challenging for honours at the end of the season.
Saracens returned to domestic form grinding out a 29-24 victory over Wasps on Sunday. Sarries seem to have a real aversion to scoring tries in the Premiership, despite their try bonanzas in Europe and relied on Charlie Hodgson’s boot to secure the win. Alistair Hargreaves charge down and try aside they lacked attacking invention, and while it won’t endear themselves to rugby purists, it does produce results. Sarries joined Quins at the top of the table but will be sweating on the fitness of influential hooker Schalk Brits who came off injured. For Wasps a losing bonus point was probably the least they deserved as they contributed to an entertaining game. Tom Varndell scored his seventh try of the season early on and Charlie Davies showed great strength to bundle his way over minutes from time. Wasps have improved dramatically since last season and will take much encouragement from their battling display. With youngsters such as Joe Launchbury, Christian Wade and Joe Launchbury establishing themselves within the first-team they will benefit from close games such as these in the long run.
London Welsh pulled of a remarkable win against Bath despite trailing 9-6 until the final two minutes. The Exiles needed to respond after Sale registered their first win of the season on Friday night and did in thrilling fashion. A Gordon Ross penalty levelled the scores in the 78th minute and winger Nick Scott ran in from 70 yards in the final seconds to seal an unlikely victory. With most pundits tipping London Welsh to go straight back down, their third win of the season put them eight points ahead of bottom placed Sale. It is imperative that they don’t get complacent after extending the gap, especially as they aren’t badly affected by international absences over the coming weeks.
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas