Australia despite being in limbo at the moment still have one extremely powerful weapon in there slowly decreasing arsenal. That is the back row double act of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
Having two specialist openside flankers allows you a certain dominance at the breakdown. Both Pocock and Hooper are very good on the floor.
After years of having searched for a high quality, top class seven two have come along at once for England, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
Now in the back row it is fair to say that Billy Vunipola is almost certain to start at number eight for England in the World Cup the starting berth on the blindside is by no means nailed down which could open the door for England to copy the Australian model.
Using both expert pilferer Tom Curry and physical defender Sam Underhill could help lift England’s game to the next level and provide England’s backs with even quicker ball and possibly more chance and when you have the finishing ability of Henry Slade and Jonny May in your team the tries will come.
Tom Curry was England’s best player in the Six Nations. He offered himself up to carry, defended extremely well and was a nuisance at the breakdown, in essence he did the basics of being an openside flanker extremely well. At just 21 years of age the younger of the Curry twins (only be 90 minutes) has the potential to get even better and challenge the very best the game has to offer.
One performance thats sums up what Sam Underhill is all about is the excellent display he put on against New Zealand. Not only was his physical defence on full display, his breakdown expertise was put to good use and he turned Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett inside out (word has it Barrett is still searching for Underhill).
Coupling the insatiable appetite for turnovers of Tom Curry and the physical dominance of Sam Underhill could cause the very best back rows (Australia amongst them) some serious problems.
Saracens claimed a 37-34 comeback victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership final. Jamie George was the star man, backed up by the brilliant Maro Itoje, the masterful Owen Farrell, a committed Alex Lozowksi and the totemic George Kruis.
It was one of the greatest finals any supporter could have wished for, the early try for Exeter Chiefs a sign of what was to come.
Saracens managed to turn the irrepressible tide that had solely been behind the men in white at Twickenham.
Owen Farrell’s inch perfect kick for Liam Williams coupled with two touchline conversions following two first half misses was the mark of man that has come to personify the wolfpack, warrior spirit of Saracens.
Saracens bench with the likes of veteran scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, hat-trick hero from the semi-final Nick Tompkins, fast developing Nick Isiekwe and South African flanker Michael Rhodes further reinforcing the red machine.
This is not to take anything away from Exeter who know how they want to play and have become incredibly successful at it, their pick and go gameplan the blueprint for their first half barrage of tries.
This final was a mark of just how high intensity the Premiership is. The perceived notion that Super Rugby or the Top 14 is a higher quality competition can be scoffed at by anyone who witnessed the display put on by England’s two greatest sides on one of Saracens’ greatest days.
This club match was reminiscent of any test match with the level of commitment, physicality and pace on show. Club rugby is well and truly alive and kicking.
It will take something special to dethrone the English and European champions, they are now synonymous with success, the benchmark to which all others aspire to.
This was a show of what Saracens can do and the worrying part is their stars are still some way off leaving this dynasty that has dominated the domestic scene.
Both Bath Rugby and Wasps have had disappointing seasons compared with both clubs successful histories and strong squads.
The teams sit in 7th (Wasps) and 8th (Bath) just one point apart and both still hope to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup and could even make the play-offs.
Here are three head-to-head’s we think could decide the contest.
Anthony Watson v Willie le Roux
There’s no doubt about these two are world class. The return of Anthony Watson was one of the very few positives to come out of Bath’s 6-3 loss to Sale Sharks.
Watson’s electric feet would cause any defender problems, not only does he have pace to burn but is an evasive runner, he can step off both feet and he is certainly among England’s best finishers and he needs a big performance over the next couple of weeks to force himself into Eddie Jones’ World Cup plans.
The South African fullback is such a presence for the Coventry based club both on and off the field, like Watson is a very good attacking player. Le Roux is also a very good kicker and can be a vital part of Wasps exit strategy.
2. Dave Attwood v Joe Launchbury
The Bath lock is set to leave the Recreation Ground and head for the Ashton Gate at the end of the season and he is up against one of the most athletic locks in England’s top flight.
Attwood is much more than just a lineout option, he is often among Bath’s top carriers, he makes the hard yards using his pure power and raw aggression to get Bath on the front foot. If Bath win you can guarantee this man will have had a big game.
Joe Launchbury unlucky to be around at the same time as so many other brilliant English second rows. The towering Launchbury is everywhere in a match, he hits rucks, carries hard and tackles effectively. The all-action Wasp is a key part of what is becoming a very settled pack.
3. Ruaridh McConnochie v Marcus Watson
The second Watson on this list will take up his place on the right wing for Wasps, opposite him will be arguably Bath’s form wing in McConnochie.
Marcus Watson has had a good season and will certainly be a man Bath need to keep an eye on. Any loose kicks and Watson much like his brother is more than capable of punishing defenders. If he gets in behind nobody will catch the fleet footed Wasp.
McConnochie has played across the back three for Bath Rugby this season and has been excellent. I can’t recall watching McConnochie have a bad game this season and that has been a saving grace that has had Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni missing for very large portions of the season.
A key battle in the race for the top half. Will these battles within the war decide the contest? Let us know in the comments section!
The Premiership has been enthralling, pulsating and at times mightily frustrating, ruling the roost Exeter Chiefs and Saracens have raced away and have booked themselves play-off spots. Below them Gloucester took a giant leap to the play-offs as they staged a second half fightback to beat local rivals Bath at Kingsholm last weekend.
Below that there is still a fight going on to grab that all important fourth place and the final spot in the play-offs. Just six points separate Harlequins who currently occupy fourth place and the eighth placed Sale Sharks, sandwiched in between them are Wasps, Northampton Saints and Bath Rugby.
We take a look at the play-off chasing quintet below.
Currently: 50 points
Harlequins face a difficult run-in with a game against runaway leaders Exeter Chiefs first up after the European semi-finals. This is followed by a home game against the struggling Leicester Tigers before facing what could be a pivotal game against their closest followers Wasps away at the Ricoh Arena.
Harlequins certainly have the quality to stay and reach the play-offs but the run-in will do them no favours. Can Paul Gustard’s team hang on? We think they may just be the wrong side of the line.
Prediction: 55 points
Currently: 47 points
The most difficult run-in having to play Saracens at home before what is shaping up to be a hugely important match against Bath Rugby before finishing up their campaign at home to Harlequins to try and scupper their hopes.
Wasps have not fired as much as would expect looking at their electric backs and power packed forward unit. Their unfavourable run-in and crucially an away trip to play-off chasing Bath could be their undoing.
Prediction: 53 points
Currently: 46 points
Northampton have a fairly straightforward run-in if there is such a thing as they’ll play bottom two Newcastle (away) and Worcester (home) before the most difficult of tests with a trip to Sandy Park. Whilst we believe they have more than enough to blow Worcester away and claim the full five points we can’t see Saints getting the win at Kingston Park as Newcastle scrap for survival.
Plenty of grit and passion from Northampton and Chris Boyd has the makings of a very good side, the play-offs though look to be a bridge too far this season.
Prediction: 52 points
Currently: 45 points
Bath have been specialist of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory of many occasions. Worcester, Gloucester (twice) and Harlequins spring to mind in the league not to mention that loss to Toulouse (nobody needs to remind Freddie Burns). The trip north to Sale has claimed many victims in the past but a home game against Wasps and a final day trip to Welford Road should work in Bath’s favour.
I don’t think Bath will make the play-offs, too many mistakes and inaccuracy has plagued their season. They need to improve if they want to make the play-offs next season.
Prediction: 54 points
Currently: 44 points
The home advantage against Bath in a couple of weeks time is a key game for them as is the trip to ninth placed Bristol Bears. Sale Sharks finish up with a home tie against the resurgent Gloucester. We believe Sale could finish strongly and fly past all challengers picking up three all important wins.
Sale have not been the strongest of teams over the years but they look to have rediscovered some stardust with South African Faf de Klerk and the Curry twins they are a force to be reckoned with.
Prediction: 56 points
So there you have it Sale are our pick to make the play-offs. Whatever happens it will be close with so many pivotal match-ups the last three week is sure to provide more enthralling, pulsating rugby and definitely an infinite amount of frustration.
Bath Rugby will be losing Wales veteran, Rhys Priestland at the end of the season, and with just two specialist fly-halves contracted for next season Bath have been linked with three high profile names to replace the outgoing ten.
South African Handre Pollard, 50 cap All Black Aaron Cruden and most recently Gareth Anscombe.
It’s been a while since Bath had a clear first choice fly-half with the shirt being shared between the departing Priestland and Freddie Burns as Bath have lingered in mid-table and failed to live up to any sort of hype.
If Bath are serious about competing for the title Handre Pollard is their only option. The 24 year old international would be unavailable for the start of each season as he fulfilled commitments in South Africa but the quality he would provide for he rest of the season would offset this.
Pollard has kicked well in the past, a vital part of any fly-halves game, kicks can win games. Pollard would provide a safe pair of hands in that department.
Can you imagine the havoc Girvan Dempsey could cause if Blackadder handed him a resource like the Bulls star? Pollard is very good in attack, a master, he has pace and his passing game and playmaking ability make him dangerous, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel thrive outside him for South Africa. If he can replicate that with Bath’s selection of senior centres it could really set their game alight.
Pollard also is a strong defender, he doesn’t miss many tackles and he’s a physical tackler. Defence has been a focus for Premiership teams over the past years with the majority clubs seeing how well basing success on defence has worked for the ever improving Saracens.
The final thing that sets Pollard apart from Cruden and Anscombe is his age. Pollard is 24, three years younger than Ansombe and six years younger than Cruden.
The Springbok playmaker has his best years ahead of him.
South Africa are determined to keep him at home but with Bath’s large cash reserves, if they really want him they should be able to get him.
Our opinion, Bath should do whatever it takes to make him theirs next season.
Two of England’s best followed clubs meet this Sunday at the Recreation Ground for what is set to be a defining game for these two giants.
It’s first time that Leicester will have visited Bath’s home for three seasons as they have been Bath’s opponent for the annual ‘home’ game Bath have staged at Twickenham for the past two years.
These are two clubs that have dominated the domestic game in the past and have some seriously good players amongst their squads, they are both struggling to recover their form and class that made them two of England’s most well-known clubs.
Bath’s win over Wasps last weekend was a stark reminder of how good not just Bath but their fly-half (former Leicester Tigers player) Freddie Burns can be. Leicester’s tremendous performance to beat Harlequins another timely reminder of what the East Midlands club is capable of.
This rivalry is always a feisty affair and with both teams on 23 points and dwindling in mid-table and struggling for consistency a well fought win over their closest rivals could reignite the clubs chase for a play-off spot and a shot to win the Premiership when Twickenham stages the final on 1st June next year.
There are some big match ups to watch out for Tom Ellis, Sam Underhill and Francois Louw will take some stopping from Leicester’s trio Mike Fitzgerald, Brendon O’Connor and Sione Kalamafoni. Then there is the intriguing contest on the wing between England speedster Jonny May and the magician Semesa Rokoduguni. Then there is the best chapter in the battle between George Ford and Freddie Burns at ten.
It is sure to be a rip-roaring tussle between two English heavyweights and a chance at turning this so far bitterly disappointing season into a gallant run for the top four and a spot in the play-offs.
Central contracts seem to be a hot topic at the moment in Ireland and for some of Wales’ top performers the central contracts have made huge differences.
Central contracts mean stars in Ireland like Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony have their contract controlled by the IRFU. The IRFU then loan these players to the provincial sides.
This has a massive effect on player welfare, as we saw following the 2017 Lions tour, Ireland’s biggest stars were given time off from club duties when they returned, this allowed Ireland and Wales to have their best players fighting fit in European competitions and more importantly for the international sides the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals.
This was not the case for England’s Lions contingent who were straight back into action for their clubs. It’s been the same this season, England players racking up far more minutes than their Celtic cousins.
With player welfare being such a huge issue is it time the RFU should look to centrally contract some of their most prized assets and loan them back to their clubs?
The problem with that is that England’s clubs are rich and powerful, super rich owners like Bruce Craig (Bath), Nigel Wray (Saracens) and Steve Lansdown (Bristol) are pumping money into their clubs and they want to see a return on their investments by having their best players available each week.
There could also be an argument that the central contracts allow Ireland in particular to build depth. This was seen last summer, the young fly-half/ fullback Joey Carbery was struggling for game time at Leinster with two seasoned internationals, Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney ahead of him in the pecking order despite him being the obvious successor to Sexton.
The IRFU took the decision to move Carbery to Munster where he is first choice and has become a key part of the Cork based provinces assault on the Pro14 this season.
It is unlikely we will see the RFU centrally contracting their players anytime soon as there is still a less than perfect relationship between them and Premiership Rugby’s stakeholders. If it does happen it could be a move that benefits the national team in the future.