Individual Player Watch: Ashton, Dombrandt and Strettle
Round 11 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby is in the books and a host of stars left their mark on the final set of fixtures in 2018.
Northampton Saints got the festive schedule off to a flying start with a seismic victory over Exeter Chiefs on Friday night.
And the league’s top sides were not safe on Saturday, either, third-placed Gloucester Rugby going down to Sale Sharks and champions Saracens given a scare by Worcester Warriors.
Sunday provided two thrilling contests in which West Country clubs prevailed, Bristol Bears outlasting Newcastle Falcons and Bath Rugby beating Leicester Tigers.
Here’s a rundown of some of the key individual performances that formed the backbone of these results.
Player of the Week
Everyone knows Chris Ashton is a matchwinner but if you are Sale Sharks and Steve Diamond, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.
The Sharks outwitted Gloucester at Kingsholm in a consummate performance on the road, with Ashton to the fore.
He finished a move in the right-hand corner to give the visitors early momentum, while his fulminating clean break helped create Faf de Klerk’s eye-catching score.
A scintillating @SaleSharksRugby try! 🔥
Ashton, O’Connor and De Klerk combine beautifully to cross over for the visitors 👏 pic.twitter.com/Cet0wsIIX7
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 29, 2018
Ashton is now off the mark in Gallagher Premiership Rugby and after a delayed start to the season, is starting to terrorise defences once again.
Replacement of the Week
Saracens flier David Strettle, recently returned from a ‘boring’ injury lay-off, thrilled Allianz Park with a star turn off the bench in the win over Worcester Warriors.
The former England star was introduced in the 54th minute with his side’s lead slender, a single-point advantage at 18-17 meaning a tenth win of the season was far from a formality.
But in typically clinical fashion, Strettle sniped a decisive third try off Owen Farrell’s shoulder to assure Saracens victory.
Young Player of the Week
An infusion of youth has been the catalyst for the richest run of form in Chris Boyd’s tenure at Northampton Saints, culminating in a statement win over leaders Exeter on Friday night.
Fraser Dingwall – who only signed his first professional contract last month – stepped in for Piers Francis as a replacement on just six minutes and belied his years with a seamless display.
After the Saints scrum gave away a penalty try minutes before, they respond in emphatic fashion! 💪
19-year-old Fraser Dingwall spots the gap and touches down, and just listen to Franklin’s Gardens erupt! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/7xPrI2eab5
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 28, 2018
He bamboozled Ian Whitten with a sidestep to score his side’s third try in the 33rd minute, while a superb try-saving tackle on Ollie Devoto at the other end underlined his defensive maturity.
Powerplay of the Week
Alex Dombrandt’s recent record of crossing the whitewash meant many would have expected him to dot down in Big Game 11.
But not even the most ardent Harlequins fan would have predicted he would get on the scoresheet quite as early as he did against Wasps at a packed Twickenham Stadium.
With 49 seconds played, Dombrandt rolled off the front of a lineout maul, exchanged passes with Dave Ward and dived over for his fourth try in three games.
The young back-rower’s try paved the way for a vital victory that took Quins right into the Gallagher Premiership Rugby top four.
Skill of the Week
Fly-halves with the chutzpah to take on a risky grubber kick in the second minute of a game are rare, but Leicester Tigers star George Ford proved he is one of them against Bath.
With 90 seconds played at the Rec, Ford dropped the ball onto his right foot and set England team-mate Jonny May free, the winger bursting into the gap and diving over.
George Ford and Jonny May combine for a wonderful Leicester try 🐯 pic.twitter.com/VNYCuLyThV
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 30, 2018
Danny Care’s clever kick for Harlequins’ deciding try was almost equally impudent, but Ford’s bravery to take on the trick so early in the contest makes him the standout skillster.
World Cup Watch
There was plenty of encouragement for Eddie Jones in Round 11’s Gallagher Premiership Rugby action.
The Australian’s widest grin might have come in watching the indomitable scrummaging of Exeter and England duo Harry Williams and Ben Moon.
Moon, a bolter with the Red Rose during the November Tests, bullied the Saints pack at the set-piece and alongside Williams extracted countless penalties and collapses to build the pressure.
With Mako Vunipola in try-scoring form for Saracens, the Gallagher Premiership is proving the perfect petri-dish for competition for places in England’s front row.