The Premiership’s derby weekend is in the books, with the bragging rights on five regional rivalries settled, at least for now. The weekend’s action had the added edge of going out to beat the noisy neighbours, with the fixtures providing everything from narrow one-point wins to one-way try-scoring.
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We were treated to two matches under the ‘Friday night lights’, with the Somerset and Northern derbies kicking off the weekend’s fixtures. Bath secured a narrow 20-19 win over Bristol Bears, with England centre Ollie Lawrence continuing his fine run of form back in blue, black and white. Newcastle looked out of their depth against Sale Sharks, and continue to search for their first win of the Premiership season. A rampant Sharks side did not relent in the 40-22 win, and are back at the surface as league leaders.
The East Midland’s derby was a milestone match for Ben Youngs, as the Leicester Tigers scrum-half ran out for a record setting 28th derby-day match against Northampton Saints. The Tigers achieved the win at Welford Road, as the 26-17 triumph wrote the latest chapter in this storied Premiership rivalry. This was followed by Saturday evening’s London derby, which saw a ruthless Saracens side run riot on Harlequins at the Stoop. Sarries were not hindered by the pre-match injuries to England stars Ben Earl and Elliot Daly, as Owen Farrell’s remarkable performance inspired the North Londoners to victory.
Rounding off the weekend’s matches was an exhilarating contest down in Devon, as Exeter Chiefs secured the win over Gloucester by the skin of their teeth. A penalty in the last kick of the game was expertly slotted by Henry Slade, which handed the Chiefs a one-point lead for the 25-24 win. Slade’s classing showing at Sandy Park is one of our five picks for the weekend’s top performers, as England hopefuls continue to impress in the Premiership, ahead of next February’s 2024 Six Nations.
Here are RUCK’s picks for the five England hopefuls, who impressed in Round Six of the Gallagher Premiership.
1. Ben Spencer – Bath Rugby
Last seen in the England fold back in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final, Bath scrum-half Ben Spencer has certainly stepped-up in recent performances in blue, black and white. Spencer had a stunning run out against Bristol Bears on Friday, and got the upper hand on his opposite man Harry Randall throughout the contest. With Ben Youngs stepping down from international duties, a vacancy has opened up in the England camp that both the Bath and Bristol scrum-halves are eager to fill.
Spencer distributed quick-ball at a rate of knots against Bristol, with the Recreation Ground faithful delighted by their number nine’s work rate around the park. Spencer was a popular try-scorer as he crossed over after 17 minutes. The break away began through the red-hot Lawrence making a line-break, with the centre linking up to Cameron Redpath, who then off-loaded in contact to Spencer. The 31-year-old kicked into top gear from the Bristol 10m line, and showed electric pace to win the foot-race against Randall, before sliding into the corner.
Spencer has four tries to his name already this season, following the stunning hat-trick against Newcastle on the Premiership’s opening weekend. The scrum-half ran out a clinical display in the West Country clash, and was ever-present to provide the ammunition for Finn Russell at first receiver. An excellent performance, Spencer won the positional battle with Randall, and has certainly thrown his hat into the ring as an outside shout for the 2024 Six Nations.