Tactical tweaks make for intriguing game on rugby’s return to action
More effective mauling, decoy moves among the backs and mid-air acrobatics to keep the ball in play led to a refreshing Premiership restart
Jackallers were able to influence games but some referees were less stringent on technique
Mauling is a potent weapon again
Of the 29 tries scored across six matches this weekend, 14 came within two phases of a driving maul. Nine pushover tries, helped by big penalty counts, punctuated the round.
Two further five-pointers scored by Exeter Chiefs, both instigated by Luke Cowan-Dickie’s quick taps, arrived after their line-out had squeezed close-range penalties out of Leicester Tigers.
Bath’s mauling looked particularly powerful, yielding three tries. A recent refereeing directive has decreed that dummy jumpers should always move to the outside of the line-out rather than filling the tunnel between the teams.
Usually beginning in a “six-plusone” set-up, with Sam Underhill at scrum-half, Bath use this to load up their maul formation as quickly as possible.
A short throw from Bristol Bears caught Saracens off guard and led to a penalty try – one of three in round 14, all of which brought yellow cards to defending players – that decided matters at Ashton Gate.
Worcester registered a consolation against Gloucester with a trendy faux-drive. Sam Lewis, initially in the same role Underhill adopts for Bath, spun away from the pack and fed scrum-half Francois Hougaard, who slipped a pass inside to blindside wing Scott van Breda.
It was no coincidence that Harlequins, no doubt steeled by new line-out coach Jerry Flannery, won on Friday night after stunting Sale Sharks’ maul and scoring a pushover of their own.
When done well, the first-phase strike moves we have seen deployed are difficult to contain
Innovator: Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani set up a try with an intelligent cross-field chip