We’re now four rounds into the new Aviva Premiership season and the league standings are starting to take shape.
Here are five key conclusions we can draw from the weekend’s club rugby action in England.
1. Wasps worthy leaders
Wasps’ spot at the apex of the Aviva Premiership is thoroughly deserved after two superb wins in the East Midlands against Leicester Tigers and now Northampton.
And all this without Kurtley Beale, Willie Le Roux and James Haskell. Purist rugby doesn’t usually lead to success in the Premiership, but Wasps’ exuberance looks the strongest challenge to Saracens’ pragmatism for years.
2. Jimmy Gopperth in the form of his life
The high-profile arrivals of Danny Cipriani, Kyle Eastmond and Kurtley Beale were meant to limit Jimmy Gopperth’s game time with Wasps, but the Kiwi has been instrumental in the Coventry club’s perfect start to the season.
Accurate place-kicking has not only given Wasps an insurance policy to complement their extravagant rugby, but also allowed Cipriani to focus on playmaking.
The 33-year-old’s pace was also on display at Franklin’s Gardens, finishing off a wonderful length-of-the-field try. And it’s worth remembering that Gopperth is excelling not in his preferred position of fly-half, but at inside-centre.
3. Saracens are human
We were beginning to wonder who would be able to beat Saracens. As such, Harlequins deserve enormous credit for their win at the Stoop, which ended their opponents’ 13-match winning streak. For Sarries to not score in a half of rugby is extraordinary.
Not that Mark MacCall is worried. The Saracens director of rugby told the BBC:
“It’s disappointing to lose, it always is. It’s our first set-back in a while and over the last couple of years, we’ve always responded well to these types of situations. But, we gave ourselves a chance in the second half, which is encouraging”.
Watch out Bristol.
4. Bath’s squad is light, Leicester’s strong
Bath were missing several key players to injury in their heavy defeat at Welford Road but, more importantly, it goes to show what Todd Blackadder will have to work with during the international blocks. Without Luke Charteris, Taulupe Faletau and Jonathan Joseph, Bath really struggled. The onus was placed too much on George Ford to dictate play, and the No. 10 had an off day on his return to Leicester.
The Tigers, in contrast, who have Manu Tuilagi unavailable, are developing an enviable set of options behind the scrum. Matt Tomua will arrive following the conclusion of the Rugby Championship, and Richard Cockerill had no qualms about taking off South African World Cup-winner and high-profile recruit JP Pietersen for what was merely a tactical variation.
5. Newcastle Falcons’ gradual improvement
For the past couple of seasons, Newcastle Falcons have been difficult opposition at Kingston Park, but whipping boys on the road. So Saturday’s 18-13 win away to Gloucester, their first triumph outside the north east since 2014, is big news.
With Bristol facing Saracens on Friday, a win at Worcester for Newcastle could ease relegation fears just five games into the season.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena