Premiership: Exeter Chiefs continue to dominate as Semi Radradra stars for Bristol


Stuart Hogg celebrates scoring for Exeter against Sale
Stuart Hogg (left) scored the third of Exeter’s four tries against Sale

With some old rivalries renewed this weekend – including a star-studded London derby at an empty Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – the Premiership has been continuing its comeback following the coronavirus lockdown.

Here are some of the highlights from round 15, plus a look back on the return of the Pro14.

Who is stopping Exeter?

Exeter have been in the last four Premiership finals but, while they won in 2017, they have been denied the big prize three times by Saracens.

So, with Sarries out of the picture this season, it is no surprise to see the Chiefs topping the table after round 15.

But Rob Baxter’s side are in ominous form for the rest of the league. Not missing a beat post-lockdown, Exeter have taken 10 points from a possible 10, including Friday’s impressive second-half dismantling of Sale Sharks.

Even more ominously for their rivals, the Chiefs seem to be getting better, scoring tries in a range of ways, from Luke Cowan-Dickie’s remarkable close-range effort to Sam Simmonds and Stuart Hogg finishing off slick attacking play.

“The challenge is going to be ourselves now,” explained Baxter afterwards, with the Chiefs travelling to second-placed Bristol Bears on Tuesday for the first round of midweek matches.

On the other hand Sale, much-fancied ahead of the resumption, may have blown their top-four chances already.

“Unless we get our act together in the next three weeks, then we are out of the top four,” said Sharks boss Steve Diamond.

Rotation, rotation, rotation

Bath's Josh Matavesi runs through the Leicester defence
Josh Matavesi’s delightful solo run set up the pick of Bath’s tries after the break against Leicester

The games now come thick and fast, and already teams have started to chop and change their line-ups to deal with the relentless schedule.

Leicester made 10 alterations in all as they folded at home to a resurgent Bath, with the Tigers’ lack of squad depth and quality laid bare, as was the task of Steve Borthwick’s rebuilding job at Welford Road.

Elsewhere, Wasps and Worcester both made a whopping 15 changes for their contest at Ricoh Arena as Lee Blackett’s side continued their march up the table.

While it is good to see a number of Premiership teams being forced to field young, English players – and the rotation is completely necessary for player welfare reasons – the league has never been a developmental competition; a source of pride up until now.

Clearly these are unprecedented times, but seeing two second-string line-ups challenges Premiership Rugby’s assertion that finishing the 2019-2020 in full was necessary to “protect the integrity of the competition”.

Superstars start to fire

Two of the biggest summer signings, Manu Tuilagi at Sale and Semi Radradra at Bristol, endured frustrating debuts when the league resumed.

It was a different story this weekend, with Tuilagi getting much more into the game, making one trademark burst to set up a try for Tom Curry. Radradra was even better, scoring a try, setting up two, and carrying for 130 metres as the Bears won at Gloucester.

For a league that struggles to permeate the sporting public’s consciousness when running alongside the Premier League, superstars like the Fijian not only bring the X-factor, but also more eyeballs and ears to the sport.

Semi Radradra celebrates scoring a try for Bristol Bears
Fiji international Semi Radradra joined Bristol Bears from French Top 14 side Bordeaux this summer

Opportunity knocks for Edinburgh

The Pro14 made its return on the weekend, meaning rugby union is thankfully now back up and running across both Britain and Ireland.

Edinburgh’s comeback win against Glasgow caught the eye, as Richard Cockerill’s side clinched their last-four place. Crucially, this will be at Murrayfield against Ulster, a golden opportunity for Edinburgh to land a major final for the first time since the Challenge Cup in 2015.

Last year, Edinburgh coughed up a wonderful chance to reach the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup when losing at home to Munster. Are Cockerill’s side now ready to take the next step?

“In the semi-finals we’ll be the least fancied for sure, and that’s fine, because we probably deserve to be,” Cockerill said.

“But if we have got everybody fit and available – which we pretty much should have – then I’m very confident that on any given day we’re good enough to win any game.”

Elsewhere, Scarlets established themselves as the leading Welsh side by dispatching Cardiff, while it was business as usual for Leinster, who went 14 from 14 this season, and stay on course for an historic unbeaten campaign across both competitions.

However, they will underestimate Saracens in the Champions Cup last eight at their peril. Battered and bruised after the salary cap saga, Sarries are going down fighting. That meeting in Dublin on 19 September is shaping up to be the highlight of the season.

Robertson for the Lions?

The shock revelation from Scott Robertson – the all-conquering coach of the world’s best club side The Crusaders – that he wants in on the Lions tour next summer was met with a flurry of excitement in this part of the world, with Warren Gatland urged to sign him up immediately.

There is no denying Robertson is a supreme operator, who was unlucky not to get the All Blacks top job last year. But should the Lions be looking at coaches based in Britain and Ireland first and foremost?

Stuart Lancaster, Steve Borthwick, Andy Farrell, Gregor Townsend, Stephen Jones, Steve Tandy, John Mitchell, Matt Proudfoot and Mike Catt are just some examples of coaches based at home – with international experience – who would justifiably feel aggrieved if the Lions hierarchy scoured the world rather than their own doorstep.



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