6 Things We Learned in the Aviva Premiership This Weekend
The second round of the Aviva Premiership threw up one or two surprise and gave further confirmation of who will be the teams to beat this season, or not in one or two cases.
Three teams remain winless after two games—Gloucester, Wasps and Worcester—with only the Warriors among the teams predicted to struggle this season.
There was good news for England boss Stuart Lancaster as a few of his young charges had another decent outing, while perennial challengers Leicester actually look vulnerable for the first time in a long time.
Here are six things learned from the second weekend of action in the Aviva Premiership.
Leicester's Depth May Not Be so Deep
Leicester are better equipped than most at coping with international call-ups and injuries and, for the last decade, have seemed to make light work of star players being absent.
Attracting quality players to provide cover has long been a trait of the Midlands giants, but after going down at Bath it appears they may not quite have the squad to cope this year.
The Tigers were outplayed in the first half of their 27-20 defeat at Bath, and while they came back in typical fashion after the break, it was not with the usual confidence that so often in the past has turned defeat into victory.
The Premiership champions are missing a host of players to injury—including British and Irish Lions quartet Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Geoff Parling—and their second choices were unable to match Bath.
At the heart of Bath's victory was fly-half George Ford, who left Welford Road at the end of last season after tiring of being a bench warmer. The England hopeful landed five penalties and a conversion to consign his former club to defeat.
Yarde Has to Start in England's Autumn Internationals
England head coach Stuart Lancaster has a number of tricky choices ahead of the autumn international series, but one of the more obvious is to continue the selection of Marland Yarde.
London Irish's flying wing was on the scoresheet for the third time this season after he claimed a brace in the 20-18 victory at Worcester.
By all accounts the Exiles were fortunate to leave Sixways with the win, but they will always have a chance when try-machine Yarde is in this kind of form.
England have struggled to cross the whitewash in the last year, and Yarde may well be one of the missing pieces in their offensive game.
Saracens Are the Team to Beat
It's obviously early days in the season, but the signs are that Saracens will be the team to beat this year.
The North Londoners are one of three teams with two wins from two—along with Northampton and Bath—but already there is a look about them that they are going go one better than last season and reach the Premiership final.
They will miss injured centre Brad Barritt over the next couple of months, but they have a deep squad, are well coached and have a certain back-rower called Billy Vunipola who is ready to leave his mark on the opposition—quite literally.
This Season Will Be Ultra Competitive
While it may be possible to predict the teams likely to be contesting for honours come the end of the season, the other end of the table appears less predictable.
Obvious strugglers Newcastle made amends for losing their first match back in the Premiership by winning at Sale, while London Irish also picked up a victory at Worcester that kept the Warriors winless.
Things will improve for the other winless side Gloucester and Wasps, but if any of these three slip up next weekend then a tricky year potentially awaits.
As it stands, there is little separating five or six clubs who could slide into a relegation battle if things do not go their way over the next few weeks.
Brad Barritt Injury Opens Up England Slot
Ligament damage in his foot has ruled out England's Saracens centre Brad Barritt until the beginning of next year.
England's midfield was always going to be a difficult in terms of selection for the autumn internationals, and Barritt's injury at least makes things a little less complicated for Lancaster.
The head coach now has to decide between going for the more orthodox and experienced Billy Twelvetrees or opting for rugby league convert Kyle Eastmond.
Bath's Eastmond had a terrific tour of Argentina, while Twelvetrees' form last season earned him a call-up to the Lions tour as an injury replacement. It's still a tough decision as both have their merits, but Barritt's injury at least narrows down the options.
Tom James a Quality Signing for Exeter
With the high-profile moves of George North, Billy Vunipola and Alex Corbisiero dominating rugby transfer headlines over the summer, the arrival of Tom James at Exeter slipped under the radar somewhat.
But the Wales winger could prove to be one of the stand-out acquisitions of the season after he grabbed a brace on his home debut in the Chiefs' 30-26 victory over Wasps.
The 10-times capped James switched from Cardiff Blues over the summer, and Chiefs' head coach Rob Baxter thinks there is more to come from the powerful winger, as reported by the Guardian.
There is a danger of underestimating Tom. He's a thinking rugby player. The more Tom settles in, the more he will do. We've only scratched the surface with him so far. We still have some of the best line breakers – the guys who statistically beat the most players – to come back in.