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Aviva Premiership – Round 18 Roundup

A motivated Wasps side that really were ready to rock the boat and rumble travelled up the road to Franklin’s Gardens for the Friday Night Lights and what a fiery and controversial game this was.

With ten tries in total – Christian Wade and George North landing two a piece before George was knocked unconscious – and Wade going on to score a hat trick with a third in the final forty after his incredible fancy footwork. But with Wasps down to fourteen men before half-time when Nathan Hughes was red carded for causing North’s concussion, Wade’s hat-trick was all for nothing and it was a poignant turning point for the Saints.

A penalty try and one from Alex Corbisiero all added to the tally before half-time to put the home side in the lead going into the break. As if the first forty wasn’t electric or extraordinary enough, Ken Pisi and a pair of tries from the sensational Ahsee Tuala secured the bonus point win for the reigning Champions, 52-30, taking them now 10 points clear at the top of the Premiership table. But will it last?

There was an 84,068 record attendance at Wembley as the Aviva Premiership local derby between Saracens and Harlequins took centre stage, with Pixie Lott kicking off proceedings as it were. It was Jack Clifford who was the first score, less than a minute into the game off a charge down. But it didn’t take long for Saracens to step up and Wyles touched down under the posts. Sarries looked as dangerous as they ever did and when Ashton chipped and chased his own kick to score, it was game on. Ashton created his second try, flying down the wing to make it two from two and Wyles followed suit shortly after. A surge from the forwards also enabled them to put their stamp on things with Billy Vunipola driving over to take the final score to 42-14. Chris Ashton re-invents himself and Sarries commence their campaign.

It was a huge game at a windy Welford Road as the Leicester Tigers welcomed the enduring Exeter Chiefs. Knowing this would be a mammoth match and hungry for a top four spot this season, pulling out all the stops and illustrating their ability, Tigers performed well. The boot of Freddie Burns and Henry Slade traded penalties but it was Burns who kicked four from four in the first half alone. Exeter bounced back in the second with Thomas Waldrom and Will Chudley nudging over but Geoff Parling managed to maintain Leicester’s lead securing a second and the boot of Burns added the extras. But Tigers buckled at the breakdown and it gave way to a final push from the Chiefs who gained the losing bonus point from the boot of Slade. Final score at Welford Road, 25-18. Tigers are back… with a bang. But Chiefs are still just a point behind!

To honour St Patrick’s Day, London Irish put on a party at the Madjeski Stadium after their 22-21 victory – managing to keep Newcastle at arms length – but the Falcons clung on like an eagle to their prey. With two tries in nine minutes and two yellow cards in quick succession for the Exiles, they needed to focus and remain calm in a heated and eventful game. London Irish were lucky that the Falcons didn’t capitalise on this advantage but they did catapult themselves back into the game with full force, piling on the pressure in the second half to close the gap. Newcastle truly cranked up their physicality and I am sure they will rue neither forcing a draw nor stealing the win. But their performance highlighted their resolute and resilient nature. Overall four yellow cards were shown in this game. The take home message for both sides should be to focus on removing that element of ill-discipline and remain clinical. That said – what a thrilling game!

It was just as entertaining at the Kassam Stadium as London Welsh welcomed Bath. With new Head Coach Rowland Phillips watching eagerly, the home side pulled out all the stops. The Exiles performance was impressive, being only 7-10 down at half-time. I had envisaged a thrashing if I’m honest and I was pleasantly surprised by their drive and determination to hold out with a strong defence. But with Sam Burgess touching down early on in the second half, it was then Leroy Houston who secured the visitors winning bonus point; job done wouldn’t you say? Well yes, London Welsh were then definitely headed back down to the Championship but they weren’t going without a swansong, scoring in the final minutes to take the final score to 14-29. But Bath came away unscathed and now sit pretty in third place in the league table and have their hopes set on a home semi-final. With a good run in over the next few weeks, there’s every chance.

What a wet, windy and cold day at the AJ Bell on Sunday as Sale Sharks took on the Cherry and Whites and Mark Cueto made his 300th appearance for the club. But it wasn’t the competition I had hoped for with Gloucester putting in an ordinarily average performance. After their cronkingly fantastic performance versus Saints, it was a shame to see and made poor viewing at that! To be fair, the conditions made it an uphill struggle for both teams but the visitors still seemed out of sorts and lacked sparkle or finesse. If they could have given a little more umphh in terms of physicality, they could have taken the lead at half time but it remained 7-6. Danny Cipriani took charge in the final forty though, adding a couple of penalties and setting up Sale’s second try of the day to seal the deal for the Sharks, 23-6. And they could also still be in with a chance of that top four spot!

It’s official, with several teams still in contention and jockeying for position for the playoffs – we’ve never seen anything like it!

Round 18 Results:

Leicester Tigers 25-18 Exeter Chiefs

London Irish 22-21 Newcastle Falcons

London Welsh 14-29 Bath

Northampton Saints 52-30 Wasps

Sale Sharks 23-6 Gloucester

Saracens 42-14 Harlequins

Aviva Premiership Table

Pos

Team

P

W

D

L

BP

Points

1

Northampton Saints

18

14

1

3

9

67

2

Saracens

18

12

1

5

7

57

3

Bath

18

12

0

6

8

56

4

Leicester Tigers

18

12

1

5

5

55

5

Exeter Chiefs

18

11

0

7

10

54

6

Wasps

18

9

1

8

10

48

7

Sale Sharks

18

10

0

8

7

47

8

Harlequins

18

8

0

10

7

39

9

Gloucester

18

7

1

10

7

37

10

London Irish

18

6

0

12

9

33

11

Newcastle Falcons

18

4

1

13

8

26

12

London Welsh

18

0

0

18

1

1

By Rhiannon Chandler-Day

@RhiannonCDay

You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk

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