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Rhiannon’s Final Round Premiership Review – Exeter just miss out as Sarries & Tigers qualify

I can’t begin to fathom how many rugby fans were on the edge of their seats on Saturday from 3.30pm onwards, probably hundreds of thousands watching and waiting in anticipation…

All eyes were on Welford Road on Saturday for the final round of Aviva Premiership action.  Admittedly, there was quite frankly no pressure on Northampton to secure the win but Exeter’s fate and Saracens admittedly, lay in the hands of Mallinder’s men.  On arrival at Welford Road, I realised I still get butterflies for this East-Midlands Derby.  It was a lava bubbling cauldron from the word go and an almighty roar ripped the roof off when Tigers ran out to 24,000 supporters. This rivalry always gets the adrenaline pumping and this game was no different. 

Jim had consciously decided to rest his first team men for the semi-final so it was half expected, when the Tigers sent Saints marching home with a 22-14 win, securing third place in the league.  Saints led 9-8 at half time, but a succession of scrums five metres from the Northampton line after the break proved the turning point, with two Saints props being yellow-carded.   And even though a win’s a win as Cockers described it and the Tigers’ victory capped an impressive recovery from their faltering start to the season, making the play-offs for 11 seasons in a row, I was more impressed with Northampton’s ambition and tenacity than Leicester’s set piece.  Don’t get me wrong it was good, but good enough to beat Bath at the Rec next week?   Ermm, well I won’t eat my hat – it’s too big – but I’m sceptical.

Leicester Tigers will play Bath at the Rec in the second-leg of the Aviva Premiership Semi-Final, KO 5pm.

As if one local derby wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, there was another free-flowing, entertaining encounter at The Rec where Bath beat Gloucester by 50 points to 30, their sixth win in a row.  Always a humdinger and this game was no exception, with a total of 11 tries. 

Ageless scrum-half Peter Stringer injected some real fizz into Bath’s play and what a thrilling spectacle it was for the neutral. You name it, everyone you would have expected to score for Bath, scored.  Kyle Eastmond, Anthony Watson, Semesa Rokoduguni, George Ford, Ollie Devoto and slammin’ Sam.  Gloucester’s much changed side scored four tries in reply from McColl (2), Ludlow and Robson.

They will now face a play-off with Connacht for a place in next season’s Champions Cup.  But Bath’s taste buds will be tingling for more after that rocketing confidence boost ahead of this colossal semi-final next weekend.  Great work this season Gloucester, you are so exciting to watch!  And of course, Good luck Bath – we’re hoping for that Eureka! moment. 

So Leicester were through, who’s joining them you ask?

Well, we knew Saracens would run rings around London Welsh at the Kassam Stadium but it wasn’t as easy peasy first half as they may have expected, running in at half-time with only an 11 point lead, 17-26.  However, Mark McCall’s half time talk must have done the job because in the final forty, the flood gates opened for a try fest.  It was Chris Ashton who scored a staggering three tries in five minutes – yes you read correctly – it was the fastest Premiership hat-trick on record!   What an absolutely outstanding performance by the winger.  

This contributed heavily to ensuring Saracens were well on their way to fourth place in the Premiership; The other tries coming from David Strettle, Alex Goode, Juan Figallo and both of the Vunipola brothers and when Charlie Hodgson completed the tally, running in for Sarries tenth try of the day, it reaffirmed that it was job done, that try fest was just enough to nudge Exeter into fifth place 17-68.   So we say thank you and bye-bye to Tom May and London Welsh and Saracens now head to Franklin’s Gardens next Saturday to play

Northampton Saints in the first-leg of the Aviva Premiership Semi-Final, KO 2pm.  Ooooer!!

With the top four locked in, I could only feel for the supporters, players and playing staff at Exeter Chiefs.  This has been quite a season for them and they may be frustrated not to reach the play-offs but what an incredibly high note they ended on at Sandy Park on Saturday.  It was a humongous final surge that saw Chief’s score seven tries of their own in a 44-16 victory over Sale Sharks.  Ian Whitten, Jack Nowell, Ben White, Henry Slade, Byron McGuigan and Matt Jess (2) all went over in their bid to make the play-offs but the try of the afternoon was scored by Sale’s giant lock Josh Beaumont, who charged down the wing from 30 metres out to score in the corner. 

Sale’s retiring Mark Cueto remains the Premiership’s record try scorer but the curtain came down on his illustrious career a little bit earlier than he’d hoped. He was yellow carded ten minutes from the end, but still left the field to much appreciative applause.  So Sarries have pipped Chiefs to the post in terms of points scored to secure fourth place in the Premiership.  That said, this Devonshire side have the X Factor.  They’re likeable, incredibly powerful, a modest and cohesive unit and Rob Baxter’s contribution and leadership has been remarkable this season.  Every team is wary of playing at Sandy Park and for that matter, playing Exeter Chiefs at all. They’re a clean, well respected side, but deadly in their facets of play.  Watch this space. 

Will Exeter win the LV next year? I hope so. Will they reach top four? Most definitely.   

The Madejski saw a 9,295 crowd witness a tightly fought try-scoring ping pong contest, with another eighty-pointer game and ten tries, leaving it level, 40-40 on the final whistle between London Irish and Coventry Wasps.  What. A. Game.  Thompson, Tagicakibau (2) Miller and Haskell all scored tries for Wasps and Fenby, Lewington, Noakes and Short (2) replied for Irish.  It was Andy Short’s late try that enabled Irish to cling on and although fly half Shane Geraghty’s attempt at a match-winning conversion with the last kick of the match could have stolen a win, it went narrowly wide; but actually the Exiles were pretty much on point throughout the match which made it even more gripping. 

As for Wasps, they finish off their season in style, sixth in the Premiership and securing their European Champions Cup place for next season.  Fantastic play Irish and way to go Wasps!

Newcastle Falcons also finished off their season in style with a 37-21 victory over the Harlequins. Did you expect it? I did. Falcons are in fine form at the moment and even though they haven’t won for twelve weeks, Saturday proved to be a turning point … better late than never.  And a fitting send off for Mike Blair who touched down for what will be his last match for the Falcons.  It was Andy Suall though who put the final nail in the coffin for the Harlequins in the eightieth minute to send the Falcons flying off into the distance.

Harlequins have had a troubled season to say the least but finishing eighth means they must make time for some soul searching over the summer ready to regroup and aim high next season.

So now we know. After one of the tightest Premiership seasons on record, Northampton will be at home to Saracens and Bath will have home advantage against Leicester in the play-off semi-finals.

But what a finale to the regular season, with Exeter missing out on fourth place by just point’s difference.

So with the semi-finals in sight and the Aviva Premiership rounds laid to rest for this season, there’s only one thing for it…roll on the final!

See you on the other side. 

Round 22 Results:

Bath 50-30 Gloucester

Exeter Chiefs 44-16 Sale Sharks

Leicester Tigers 22-14 Northampton Saints

London Irish 40-40 Wasps

London Welsh 17-68 Saracens

Newcastle Falcons 37-21 Harlequins

Aviva Premiership Table

Pos

Team

P

W

D

L

BP

Points

1

Northampton Saints

22

16

1

5

10

76

2

Bath

22

16

0

6

11

75

3

Leicester Tigers

22

15

1

6

6

68

4

Exeter Chiefs

22

14

1

7

10

68

5

Saracens

22

14

0

8

12

68

6

Wasps

22

11

2

9

13

61

7

Sale Sharks

22

11

0

11

10

54

8

Harlequins

22

10

0

12

9

49

9

Gloucester

22

9

1

12

10

48

10

London Irish

22

7

1

14

10

40

11

Newcastle Falcons

22

5

1

16

12

34

12

London Welsh

22

0

0

22

1

1

By Rhiannon Chandler-Day

@RhiannonCDay

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

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