Sale Sharks vs Saracens
The weekend started off with an incredible tight affair between two teams both knew a win would be crucial in the race for the top four. Saracens headed into the game without captain Owen Farrell who had only come back from injury in the teams previous game. Farrell suffered a concussion in last weeks game, ruling him out of Fridays affair.
It very quickly became clear that this was going to be a very cagey game. It was the home team who got off to the better start. Aj McGuigan’s replacement Robert du Preez nailed two penalties in the first twenty minutes to give Sale a 6-0 lead. The second penalty came with some controversy, as Faf de Klerk was hit very late after a kick by Alex Davies. Davies avoided any cards despite not using his arms in the hit.
Both players continued on, but it became clear early on how big of a miss Owen Farrell was. Elliot Daly and Alex Lozowski both missed penalties in the first 35 minutes that could have evened up the game.
But it was the carrying ability of Ben Earl who managed to ground the ball out wide to score just before half time for Saracens. The missed conversion meant Sale still had the lead heading into the second half.
Sarries took the lead thanks to two Alex Lozowski penalties, before du Preez knocked one over for Sale to cute the deficit to two points. But with seven minutes left on the clock, a line break from Max Malins put in Ben Earl who bowled over the defence for his second try of the game.
A brilliant line break from Luke James was followed up by a kick which just bounced out of reach of Aaron Reed in the Saracens in goal area. Sale continued to put on the pressure, but settled for a losing bonus point after du Preez slotted home his fourth penalty of the game with the clock in the red.
A big win for Saracens as they move fifteen points clear of fourth placed Exeter. Taking only a single point from the game makes the top four look much less likely for Alex Sanderson’s men.
Exeter Chiefs vs Bath
The first game on Saturday was the one that I flagged as a possible upset. Exeter were playing at Sandy Park, but when the team was announced it was clear they would be without internationals Henry Slade and Sam Simmonds as they were both rested. It looked like that could have cost them.
The Chiefs started out the game with the majority of the possession, but handling errors meant they couldn’t capitalise. It was the visitors who made the best start. Bath scored after 12 minutes thanks to Joe Cokanasiga going in under the posts. A Jacques Vermuelen score evened up the game.
But Bath dominated the next 20 minutes of the game. Bath went almost 60 metres to put Josh Bayliss in the corner, with Orlando Baileys penalty giving Bath the 15-7 lead. But things got even better for the away side as Cokanasiga went in for his second try of the game as Bath took a very surprising 22-7 lead.
But the last five minutes of the first half was a real turning point in the game. Tries from Dave Ewers and Patrick Schickerling meant Exeter were only a point behind Bath as the two teams headed into half time. There was some concern over the health of Joe Simmonds, but the Chiefs fly half passed his HIA to return to the field four minutes into the second half.
The second half started with a big let of for Exeter as Bath knocked the ball on over the line. This turned out to be a huge moment in the game. The Chiefs had a try chalked off before Billy Keast went over for the score. It meant the game was still in the balance heading into the last ten minutes.
But Exeter showed a bit of the team that got to the Premiership final last year. Late scores from Stuart Hogg and Santiago Grondona put the game away, with Exeter boosting their chances of a top four finish.
It was a tough game for Bath. They put in some good performances, particularly from Cokanasiga. But their defence let them down in the end, unable to get anything from the game. A very exciting fixture that gives the Chiefs all five points they need.
Gloucester vs London Wasps
Kingsholm was finally treated to some rugby in the second game on Saturday as Wasps travelled to Gloucester. It started off looking a lot like a game between two nervous teams. Neither team scored in the first 15 minutes.
But eventually, Gloucester took the lead thanks to a penalty from Adam Hastings. The visiting teams poor discipline continued in the first half, but Gloucester could not capitalise. In fact it was Wasps who came closest to a try in the first half. Alfie Barbeary went over, but was judged to be offside when he picked up the ball to make the break.
Another Hastings penalty and a yellow card for each team meant that Gloucester headed into the half with a 6-0 lead, with both teams starting the second half a front row down. When both teams returned to full strength, Paolo Odogwu charged down a kick and ran the length of the field to give Wasps the lead.
Further tries from Gabriel Oghre and Charlie Atkinson came either side of a Kyle Moyle try to leave the game in the balance heading into the final 15 minutes. There was more discipline issues for both teams, with Louis Rees-Zammit sent to the bin for a deliberate knock on. Despite being a man down, Gloucester drove a maul over the line which was awarded as a penalty try.
This levelled up the game and sent Dan Frost to the bin. The last five minutes turned into a thriller. Dan Robson nailed a stunning drop goal, with Jimmy Gopperth’s penalty giving Wasps a six point lead. But the Cherry and Whites fought to the very end. After pushing the ball all the way up to the Wasps 5m line, Gloucester’s line out was stolen and the game ended with Wasps taking an unlikely victory.
It is a great result for Wasps and Gloucester top four hopes take a big hit, particularly with Exeter and Northampton both having big wins.
Northampton Saints vs Bristol Bears
Two of the most attacking teams in the Premiership met up for an exciting affair at Franklin gardens. With both teams having some incredible international stars, we were expecting a great game and that is exactly what the fans were treated to.
Both teams started off positively, but Bristol scored a classic Bears try to open the scoring, with Semi Radradra going over after some excellent running from Harry Thacker. A Dan Biggar penalty closed the gap, with Tommy Freeman’s heel preventing him from scoring a sensational try.
But less than five minutes later, the Saints were over after an excellent move from a lineout put in Tom Collins for an easy score. More great work off a set piece put Rory Hutchinson in for the Saints to take a 17-5 lead. A Callum Sheedy score cut the deficit, but Lewis Ludlam made the score 24-10 as he carried three Bears defenders over the line for the score.
A Yann Tomas score meant we headed to the break with the Saints holding a seven point lead. While it looked like the second half could be a close affair, Northampton pulled away very quickly. With 20 minutes left, the game looked pretty much sealed.
Tries from Tom Collins and Tommy Freeman put the Saints out of reach. What also did not help in the second half was the Bears poor discipline. Two yellow cards within five minutes of each other meant that Bears were very depleted in the second half as the Saints carved them up.
First half try scorer Radradra put himself in the bin thanks to a pointless late hit on Dan Biggar. It just allowed the Saints to attack with lots of space available. A late Bristol try was in vain as Northampton took all five points and a big step towards the top four, while Pat Lam’s team still have a lot of work to do to be near the top again next season.
Worcester Warriors vs Newcastle Falcons
The last game on Saturday was a clash at Sixways between two of the bottom teams in the league, with Worcester and Newcastle both just playing for pride. Both teams had strong teams thanks to the end of the Six Nations.
But the game started with some not great viewing. Worcester fullback Noah Heward was injured in the first minute, a pretty serious looking injury. It was a big blow to lose the young fullback just a minute into the game. They were clearly impacted. Newcastle produced some brilliant free flowing rugby to score the first try of the game as George McGuigan crashed over.
After a long period of sustained pressure, Perry Humphreys went over in the left corner to make the game 5-7. But from there, Newcastle put on the pressure. A brilliant midfield 1-2 put through Brett Connon for the score. Just before half time, it was Connon who converted Adam Radwan’s try to give the Falcons a 21-5 lead heading into half time.
The home fans were hoping from a better show in the second half, but it just continued to be one way traffic. Another Connon penalty was followed up with a try from Louis Schreuder, that was set up by some heavy running from George McGuigan. Trever Davidson scored in the corner, with Jamie Blamire adding another with two minutes to go.
A 69th minute try from Ted Hill means that Worcester suffered a heavy 45-10 loss in front of their home fans. Not only that, but this result is the Falcons first win since November 6th last year. A great result for the Falcons and more disappointment for the Worcester supporters.
London Irish vs Harlequins
The single Sunday game featured two of the most attacking teams in the premiership, with Quins looking to secure top four while London Irish looked to extend an hope of that fourth spot with a good result.
It seemed like they could pull out that surprise result when the game started. Irish put the shaky Quins defence under a lot of pressure through the first 13 minutes of the game. They continually found space on the edges, with Paddy Jackson scoring out wide, adding the conversion to give the home side a 7-0 lead.
But it did not take long for the reigning champions to respond. Quins drove over from a lineout just three minutes later, with Jack Walker scoring the try. Both teams went back and forth in some free flowing attacking rugby. Ollie Hassell Collins thought he had restored the home sides lead, but the TV replay showed the winger dropped the ball just before it reached the line.
A pinpoint pass from Marcus Smith put in Cadan Murley to give Quins the lead, which they quickly extended thanks to Smith’s pass to Huw Jones on the other side-line. Thing got very quickly worse for London Irish as Nick Phipps was yellow carded for playing the ball on the ground just before half time.
A very clever training ground routine from the resulting lineout put in Walker for his second try of the game. It was more of the same after half time. With Irish still a man down, Danny Care powered over from close range, Care’s 79th premiership try, just three behind Christian Wade.
But it was a familiar sight for Care ten minutes later, as he was shown his fifth yellow card of the season for a deliberate knock on. Despite being a man down, Quins held out Irish and Andre Esterhuizen found a gap when Quins were attacking the home teams 22, scoring to extend the teams lead to 29 points.
A well-orchestrated counter attack from London Irish put in Van Rensburg for a consolation try for Irish. Quins were still putting the pressure on with only a few minutes to go. Eventually, a perfect pass from replacement fly half Will Edwards put in Huw Jones for his second try of the game.
It sealed a huge win for Harlequins, who are now only four points behind Saracens as they chase down a home semi-final. For London Irish, it leaves them ten points off fourth placed Exeter with three games left, meaning their semi final hopes are all but finished. So Declan Kidney’s men will be focused on securing European rugby for next season.