Sports

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

How long can Worcester allow Ben Te’o to twiddle his thumbs in the stand, could a rare defeat now galvanise Saracens and Sale would surely love Robert du Preez to stay on

Wasps’ Lima Sopoaga is tackled by Bath’s Max Wright; Saracens’ Owen Farrell ; Vereniki Goneva, the Newcastle winger, is held up by Gloucester captain Ed Slater. Composite: Rex/Shutterstock/Getty/PA

1) Te’o takes time despite Worcester’s plight

Worcester’s marquee player, Ben Te’o, got no closer to the pitch than the stand despite the importance of the match against rivals in the bottom half of the table. The England centre has played only 29 minutes in a Warriors’ jersey this season because of injury and the autumn internationals, and was given the previous two Challenge Cup weekends off. The club’s director of rugby, Alan Solomons, said that a lack of training time was the reason for Te’o’s omission and that he would be considered for selection at Saracens on Saturday – but he was needed against Northampton with Worcester lacking a target and too often playing behind the gainline off slow possession. It could be a sign of things to come, for supporters at Sixways with Te’o’s contract up in the summer and Bath among his suitors.

 Match report: Worcester 6-32 Northampton

2) Sarries’ rare stumble could see them kick on

Saracens have had so many good days in 2018 that the bad ones have to be seen in context. It is even possible their loss at Sandy Park, their first loss in 23 games, will be the jolt they need heading into 2019. “Maybe these sort of things come along at the right time,” suggested Mark McCall, their director of rugby. “In the past we’ve been able to use this as a catalyst for something better.” In the absence of Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Juan Figallo, nevertheless, a pumped-up Exeter exposed chinks in Sarries’ chain mail and also stirred the debate about Owen Farrell’s leadership under pressure following Brad Barritt’s first-half concussion. Farrell is a remarkable competitor but falling out with the referee – in this case Tom Foley – is never clever at this level.

 Match report: Exeter 31-13 Saracens

Saracens’ Vincent Koch is tackled by Exeter’s’ Luke Cowan-Dickie. Photograph: Bob Bradford – CameraSport/CameraSport via Getty Images

3) Tuilagi teaser offers headscratching moment

An interesting moment for the geeks. Manu Tuilagi lies motionless after a tackle. The referee stops play, fearing concussion. Tuilagi bounces to his feet and says he’s fine. So the referee penalises him for not rolling away. But the doctor checks anyway, and the referee lets Quins kick for goal. If the doc had then decided Tuilagi was knocked out, the ref ought to revert to the original decision of scrum. Luckily, Tuilagi was ruled OK, so the constitutional crisis was averted. Then there was another moment for the geeks. Quins scored with a second left on the clock. In search of a bonus point they declined the conversion, so the game could be restarted.

 Match report: Leicester 35-24 Harlequins

5) Sopoaga’s omission says lot about Wasps’ faith in him

Dai Young will know only too well that patience is required with Lima Sopoaga, who has failed to make any real impact since his high-profile arrival from New Zealand. Having said that, it cannot say much about the faith he has in the All Blacks fly-half that it was not until there were fewer than 20 minutes remaining that Sopoaga was put on in place of Billy Searle to chase the game against Bath. Searle was rewarded for his performance the previous week against Toulouse in which, in attacking terms at least, Wasps impressed. Here however, he struggled, as did Craig Hampson at scrum-half, and if Dan Robson was judged not ready to start after so long out it seemed odd that Sopoaga was not given the No 10 jersey; stranger still that he sat on the bench for so long.

 Match report: Wasps 14-24 Bath

Lima Sopoaga (centre) came off the bench in Wasps’ defeat by Bath. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

6) Newcastle’s visit to Bristol takes on relegation significance

All of a sudden the foot of the Premiership table resembles what we might have expected as 2018 nears its end. Bristol and Worcester, widely tipped as the two sides most likely to be scrapping it out to avoid relegation, are now in the bottom three while Newcastle are 12th after coming out on the wrong end of a nail-biting finish against Gloucester. Newcastle’s tough fixture list at the start of the season is often presented as a mitigating factor but Falcons supporters will be feeling increasingly uncomfortable, even if the director of rugby, Dean Richards, continues to stay calm with 12 rounds of the season to go. Having said that, Sunday’s trip to Bristol takes on added significance after this weekend’s results.

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