Rugby union: talking points from the weekend’s Premiership action

first_imgReuse this content Sale Share via Email Twitter Share on LinkedIn • Match report: Northampton 22-19 Gloucester4) Sale can dare to dream of return of glory daysAlmost 12 years have passed since Sale claimed their solitary Premiership title with victory against Leicester at a rain-soaked Twickenham. Not much has gone right since those heady days, but the new chapter being patiently written by Steve Diamond is starting to bear fruit. This latest success maintained Sale’s bid for a top-six finish and, dare it be said, a play-off spot. With Marland Yarde ineligible to play against his former club and Denny Solomona missing through injury, Sale were buoyed by impressive displays on the flanks by Will Addison and Byron McGuigan. Josh Charnley, who made a high-profile cross-code switch from Wigan Warriors more than a year ago, cannot even get into the team. Sale’s squad depth is increasing and is indicative of the desire of their owners to re-establish the club among the elite. Ross Heppenstall• Match report: Sale 30-29 Harlequins 5) Michael Rhodes’s scholarly display a boost for SaracensThe injury-enforced absences of Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje inevitably commanded attention during Saracens’ bleak run of seven consecutive defeats, but to watch Michael Rhodes in action against Wasps was a demonstration of just how much they missed the South Africa-born flanker. He, too, has been afflicted by injury this season but he was to fore for the visitors at the Ricoh Arena and pivotal in Saracens shutting Wasps out during the second half. Rhodes has made clear that he wants to play for England and head coach Eddie Jones has been in contact with the Durban-born 30-year-old in the past. Rhodes is not eligible until after England’s summer tour of South Africa but performances like these do his longer‑term hopes no harm at all. Gerard Meagher Pinterest Premiership 3) Gloucester need to rediscover their reliable waysGloucester wasted the opportunity to move to second in the Premiership when they blew an 11-point lead. The way they succumbed resembled the spluttering Gloucester of old rather than the more reliable model engineered by Johan Ackermann, proof of the head coach’s insistence that change is gradual rather than instant. There were mitigating factors, a stomach bug that had afflicted a number of players in the week and Alan Gaffney’s arrival at Northampton which ensured his players found fight where in previous weeks they would have been scrabbling around for the white flag, but decision-making remains an issue. They were throwing the ball around in their own 22 a few minutes from the end when they were nursing a four-point lead. Ross Moriarty’s imminent return will supply ballast, but it is the head rather than the body that will determine whether they will be in the top four come May. Paul Rees • Match report: Leicester 19-15 London Irish2) Dean Richards is making a big difference at NewcastleWhen the team leading the Aviva Premiership by 10 points find themselves losing 25-3 at half-time to the side in eighth place, the relentless competitiveness of the English league is hard to dispute. Dean Richards has instilled a harder edge into his Falcons squad, typified by England’s newest training squad recruit, Gary Graham. The unsung Graham, making only his fifth Premiership start, was the outstanding player on the field at Kingston Park until he limped off with a nasty-looking hip injury after just half an hour. With Sinoti Sinoti also back in eye-catching form and collective self‑belief improving, Newcastle fans will be hoping the speculation linking Richards with the vacant permanent job at Northampton Saints proves groundless. Robert Kitson• Match report: Newcastle 28-20 Exeter Read more Leicester Read more Support The Guardian • Match report: Wasps 15-38 Saracens6) Josh Adams is deserving of a first Six Nations call-upJosh Adams failed to make it seven consecutive matches in which he has scored a try for Worcester on Friday but that is unlikely to dissuade the watching Wales assistant coach, Rob Howley, with the Six Nations looming. Adams, 22, has nine Premiership tries, which is all the more impressive considering Worcester’s struggles and when you throw in Wales’s injury problems on the wing – both Hallam Amos and George North are out of action – it seems almost certain that Warren Gatland will hand him his first call-up for the Six Nations. Worcester were ultimately overpowered by a Bath side desperate for a victory after three straight defeats but Adams can hardly carry the can for that and his form is testament to how individual class can still shine through at sides struggling at the foot of the table. Gerard Meagher Facebook Twitter Sportblog Billy Vunipola stars on return as revitalised Saracens see off Wasps Eddie Jones shows faith in old guard as England regulars toil for their clubs 1) Manu Tuilagi still finding his way back to formBecause it is Manu Tuilagi, the question had to be asked, but if he were picked for England now it would be more on faith than form, notwithstanding the cheeky and acrobatic manner in which he leapt over a writhing mass of bodies to score Leicester’s third try in their victory against London Irish at Welford Road on Saturday. Tuilagi had also played a part in their second try, but that was more in the vein of a Keystone Cop. “We need to have a realistic view of Manu,” said Matt O’Connor, the Leicester head coach afterwards. “He’s missed a lot of footy over the last three years. It’s going to take him a bit of time to get back to where he was. Eddie [Jones] will see what his squad looks like injury-wise and make an assessment towards the back end of the Six Nations, I imagine.” Michael Aylwincenter_img Since you’re here… Share on Pinterest … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Pinterest features Harlequins London Irish Exeter Share on WhatsApp Newcastle’s Dean Richards has been linked with Northampton. Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images Revitalised Northampton give winning start to Alan Gaffney against Gloucester Facebook Share on Twitter Topics Read more Newcastle Worcester’s Josh Adams faces up to Anthony Watson of Bath during the Premiership match. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images Share on Messenger Share on Facebooklast_img read more