Oh, Danny boy
October 7, 2013
Leicester and Northampton produced a belter of a game © Getty Images
With the dust now setting on another weekend of Aviva Premiership rugby, the Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points.
Those troublesome centres
Just who will play in the centres for England come November 2 when Stuart Lancaster welcome the Wallabies to Twickenham? Well after the weekend's action, the solution is not becoming any clearer. Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph failed to pick apart a resolute Sale defence and at times resembled flies in glasses of orange squash - running on the spot with nowhere to go.
On Saturday, Luther Burrell provided plenty of physicality for the Saints against the Tigers but went off injured in the latter stages of the game - Jim Mallinder allayed any fears over Burrell's state post-match but then again the coach has said in the past he is not always completely honest about his players' fitness.
And then on Sunday, Billy Twelvetrees was solid if unspectacular against Exeter. So if I were a betting man, it will be Twelvetrees at inside centre and if Burrell really is fit, then he will be wearing the No.13 jersey come November 2.
The battle of the hookers
One of the many subplots in the intriguing East Midlands derby was the match-up at No.2 - Dylan Hartley against Tom Youngs. While Hartley had the summer off after being banned for his comments in the Premiership final - he allegedly called referee Wayne Barnes a "f*****g cheat" but claims those comments were directed at Youngs - the Tigers hooker enjoyed a series win with the Lions. Both have since laid praise at each other's respective doors but conceded neither would be cooking a Sunday roast for tother any time soon.
While Rob Webber has performed well, the England No.2 shirt is a straight shootout between Youngs and Hartley. And on Saturday, Youngs edged it. He hit all his targets in the lineout and the Leicester scrum got the advantage on their Saints counterparts. Hartley was ferocious in the loose but you have to say, on Saturday's evidence, Youngs will be starting for England come the autumn Tests.
Saints are heading in the right direction
It is testament to Mallinder's Saints that they looked gutted to come away from Welford Road with just two points when it seemed they had finally broken their hoodoo against the Tigers. They haven't tasted victory against Leicester in the last nine games but will harbour hopes of getting that albatross of their backs when they welcome the Tigers to Franklin's Gardens later in the season.
Worryingly for the Saints, Tigers coach Paul Burke said afterwards there is still more to come from his Leicester side while he felt Northampton had hit their peak. Burke has clearly been learning from the Cockerill Phrase Book of Post-Match Posturing but the Tigers showed plenty of heart to battle back after being 10 points down heading into the final 10 minutes of the match. The Saints aren't quite there yet but they will be there or there abouts come the end of the season.
The not so fearsome Warriors
Perhaps most worrying for Worcester is the form of their relegation rivals. Newcastle are yet to harness their home advantage - a factor many tipped to be crucial to any hopes of survival at the start of the season - with both their wins coming away from Kingston Park, the second of which coming at Sixways on Saturday. London Irish are also confounding the doubters with some impressive performances.
So while everyone else is making the right noises, Worcester are floundering. Five games in and without a win, it's hard to see them breaking their woeful run any time soon. They do have good players and in Jonathan Thomas they have an inspirational skipper. But there are barely any signs of cohesion at the Warriors and coach Dean Ryan admitted after their 16-11 to the Falcons that they were low on confidence.
"I know what everyone is writing about us - and after five games we probably deserve that - but we have just got to get back to work and look at being a little bit better," Ryan said. But they haven't got limitless time to find that solidity lying seven points adrift at the foot of the table.
Who will beat the special ones?
Five games down, five wins and Saracens have a six point lead at the top of the Premiership. They have superb strength in depth and despite making hard work of beating a well-organised Wasps side, they managed to rest a host of players and still get the victory. It is hard to see just who will beat Mark McCall's men as they set the early season pace. The rest of the Premiership will hope the Heineken Cup comes as more of a hindrance to Saracens than a continuation of their form.
From a personnel point of view, it was great to see openside Will Fraser back on the field after his lengthy lay-off. Do not rule out seeing him in the white shirt of England come the Six Nations.
Oh, Danny boy
Praise be; Cipriani is back in the headlines for all the right reasons and not due to his off-field shenanigans. He was superb against Bath playing a tactical game which kept the West Country side at bay. Any talk of England call-ups is very premature but English rugby should rejoice at seeing Cipriani playing well. He outshone the much-fancied George Ford but as long as they keep on putting in match-winning performances than Lancaster has real depth to pick from at fly-half.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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Salary caps, Saints, sinners and scrums - Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from an eventful weekend